Brandon Wade has built a controversial online dating empire based around the concept that it’s perfectly OK for people — men, mostly — to pay women for dates and relationships. Wade even believes in bribing women to go out with you.
He’s best known as the founder of SeekingArrangement.com, the web site for “generous” men who are OK with paying for dates, and the women who are happy to accept the money.
He’s also a master of PR and word-of-mouth marketing. Just look at his media clips: From The New York Times to Playboy, editors can’t resist his unapologetic mix of sex and money.
Last September Wade started yet another dating site in his empire, which now numbers five major sites. Carrot Dating is a mobile app that literally requires men to offer bribes to women for dates, with gifts ranging from chocolate to jewelry. Wade believes it’s a humorous way to kick off a relationship.
When Business Insider talked to Wade, he told us how he got into paid dating in the first place, and how he met his wife, after years of being too shy to even talk to women. He also gave us some personal pictures from his early life to illustrate his story.
'In the very beginning I was a very lonely, shy and perhaps socially inept child who grew up being really lonely. That was really me. I was very much a nerd. My mother saw me in a great deal of pain, so she told me to focus on my goal: To study very hard, because if I was successful later on in life and I had the financial means, and I could be generous, then dating would be easier for me. I followed that advice! It worked out well!'
'I got accepted to MIT. I studied physics. Eventually I graduated with that degree as well as an MBA from the Sloan school of management. That was in 1993, the MBA was in 1995.'
You might find it distasteful, but there is a reason Wade has such an odd approach to dating in both his personal life and his business:
'I was almost always shy,' he once wrote. 'I remember asking my dad, why I didn't have the courage to walk up to the girl I like in school to just ask her out. My dad said, it was because I'm afraid of rejection, and the fear of being rejected was what's keeping me away from her. He urged me to try, and reasoned that even if I did make a fool out of myself, that I would no longer be afraid since I would have nothing more to lose.'
'... I mustered up courage one day and walked up to her, except while I was doing so, I tripped in front of her. I had meant to tell her while I was usually very shy, I wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, but the only words that did come out of my mouth that day was 'I am shy.''
This is Wade with his parents and his wife.
'I joined dating web sites and I even joined a dating agency, one of those old-fashioned ones with a video camera. I would watch other people's videos and decide if I would like to date them. The problem was I was super-nerdy.'
Wade is a former software engineer who moved to New York to work as a consultant at Booz Allen. He later joined GE as a technology infrastructure manager.
'(It's) where men can be generous and women can be pampered. It led to a male/female ratio of one man to every 10 women.'
'On most dating sites there is in fact more men than women.'
'I was using the site for several years. I was very impressed with the people I have met. I have over and over again heard from members telling me the calibre of the women they have met is incredible.'
SeekingArrangement has grown to over 2.7 million members worldwide.
More than one million university students have registered. Wade tells us there is a direct correlation between 'Sugar Baby' sign-ups and increased fees for students. In 2013, the site saw a 54 per cent increase in student sign-ups. Students are now more than 42 per cent of the site's total Sugar Baby membership.
'The difference is SeekingArrangement allows any sort of arrangement, even married men are allowed. We had quite a few users reaching out to us saying, 'The last thing I want is to be hit on by a married guy.' So it's more of a millionaire matchmaker where only single people are allowed and surprise, surprise, it is obviously not as popular as SeekingArrangement.'
'On Seeking Arrangement, 40 per cent are married men. The average age is 39, he makes on average $US200,000 and is worth roughly $US5 million. And he spends approximately $US3,000 a month on pampering the Sugar Babies.'
'The idea came about because of my love of travelling. That is really how a lot of people fall in love, by travelling. I traveled with my then-girlfriend and now wife.'
On MissTravel, men advertise for travel partners -- as long as they're willing to pay the airfare and hotel.
Wade met his wife, Tanya, at work. 'I met her because she was interviewing for a job. She works with me now. We tied the knot on Feb. 2, 2012.'
'As humans we're controlled very much by our genes and hormones. For men it's a visual thing. That's why women upload photos that reveal their skin and show off their figures.'
'Women tend to look at men in terms of how successful they are, what sort of job they have, how much money they make. ... I think it's OK to use the elements to attract the opposite sex in the very beginning.'
'We have the Google Images API (software which detects when photos have been copied by someone else). We look at what people write in their profiles.'
It's paid off: 'The annual revenue for Seeking Arrangement is almost $US10 million. That's our biggest web site.'
'Because it's a relationship. Just because money is exchanged in a relationship doesn't make it prostitution. My mother stayed at home and she got an allowance from my dad. Others pamper their girlfriends with gifts and shopping and spa treatments.' Wade says he has never had inquiries from prosecutors looking for lawbreakers.
'Carrot dating is the first mobile application that combines dating with bribery ... on Carrot Dating, if you see someone you like you offer them a bribe. And if they accept the bribe, you're on your way to a first date.'
'I think we have a situation where there's really a huge divide in this country. The older baby-boomers view this and take a much harsher view.'
'I heard a woman on television criticise the site and the next night she went to dinner with her daughter. The daughter said, Mum, all my friends are doing this. You live in a different generation. As the baby-boomers fade away and the new generation grows up, this is going to become more acceptable.'