Brandon Wade, a 42-year-old Singaporean, knows all about persistence; he had a string of spectacular business failures before finally getting it right with an online dating company.
In 2000, the former software engineer started his own internet advertising business. At first the firm was a success. Then disaster struck when the dotcom bubble burst and advertising revenues plummeted. After six months trying to rescue the situation, Wade admitted defeat and returned $5m to his investors.
Over the next six years he tried his hand at everything from internet start-ups to ‘Duck Tours’ (tourist trips in special amphibious vehicles) in San Francisco, but they all ended badly. Yet Wade wasn’t disheartened. “The path for a successful entrepreneur is always going to be strewn with some failures.”
In 2006, he began work on his next idea – a dating website. The idea came from his own unsuccessful love life. “I was never good with women, I was too shy. I didn’t have a girlfriend until I was 21.” He tried internet dating, but quickly realised “the problem wasn’t me. It was that there were too many guys on these sites and not enough women.”
Wade spotted the obvious gap for a dating site with more women on it than men. But how to attract enough women? He came up with the idea of a site where men pay women for their company. The new site, Seekingarrangement.com, would be a meeting place for ‘sugar daddies’ seeking beautiful partners.
Wade paid a couple of thousand dollars for the right software, then locked himself in a room for a month and coded furiously until a basic version of the site was ready. Then he began to look for members. Marketing is one of the biggest costs for dating sites, but Wade used the personal sections of internet notice boards to do it on the cheap.
“Nowadays you couldn’t get away with it because they remove multiple posts that are basically adverts.” He also let women sign up for free while asking men to pay a monthly subscription charge. Soon he had the 2,000 members he needed to launch.
The site rapidly drew media attention – and not all of it positive. “People were attacking it, saying that it was a form of prostitution.” But the media controversy proved a blessing in disguise. The story was picked up by The New York Times and the publicity led to a rocketing membership – annual sales hit $500,000 within a year. Thanks to low costs, the firm was also more competitive than its rivals.
Wade began to branch out: Whatsyourprice.com allows men to compete in an auction for a date with a woman. The sums involved are generally a lot lower than a full subscription to Seekingarrangement.com, so it’s “opened the concept to more people”. Keen to capitalise on a now popular formula, Wade has produced French, German, Spanish and Chinese versions of his sites.
It hasn’t all been plain-sailing. These days Wade is engaged in “almost continuous” legal battles against copycat rivals. It’s hardly surprising; last year annual sales reached $10m. Wade’s latest venture is Misstravel.com, a site that matches wealthy men with women who enjoy travel. His own love life is also looking up – he got married last year.