OnlyFans blurs lines as lockdown demand drives success

Tim Stokely, Founder and CEO of OnlyFans, set his sights on a career as a real estate surveyor before launching what has become arguably the world’s most fashionable social media platform.

“I think that was the growing popularity of baby channels on TV,” the 37-year-old said of his decision ten years ago to go into the world of glamor modeling on his own.

Essex-born Stokely’s first three businesses – adult performance sites GlamGirls and Customs4U, along with a platform connecting people and traders – have never grown as big as OnlyFans, the start-up of five years which, during the pandemic, lifted global subscriptions from 20m to 120m.

The platform on which sex workers, celebrities and influencers charge fans for photos, videos and personalized content increased transactions by 615% to £ 1.7 billion last year, making it makes one of the UK’s fastest growing tech companies.

OnlyFans is rapidly becoming mainstream in the music and influencer industries, with rappers Cardi B and Bhad Bhabie uploading content and Madonna last month telling Instagram followers that she was considering streaming a concert on the platform. But critics say the site is forcing more people to consider sex work.

Katrin Tiidenberg, a sociologist at Tallinn University who studies online sexual culture, said the idea of ​​sexy self-expression on the web has always caused “that kind of ‘thinking of children’ worry. She argued that people were posting and submitting nudes long before OnlyFans, which she said made it easier to monetize content.

“All we’re talking about is the changing job market, the future of work and creative work,” Tiidenberg said. “Why isn’t that part of the conversation when it is obviously there?”

Rapper Cardi B is among the musicians to upload content to OnlyFans © Daniel DeSlover / ZUMA Wire / Shutterstock

Stokely downplayed the idea that the family-owned OnlyFans is primarily an adult content platform, saying he had from the start inspired influencers from all walks of life to join.

“We’re really proud of how OnlyFans has welcomed all content creators from day one,” he said, adding that it was the 18-year-old age limit that made it a place. natural gathering for adult artists.

The first designer on Stokely’s platform was Dannii Harwood, a glamorous model who now manages the OnlyFans careers of nearly 270 clients, including adult artists, chefs, fitness bloggers and a clairvoyant. She is one of 300 creators who, according to OnlyFans, have made more than $ 1 million from the platform.

Harwood considers herself an old friend of Stokely, whom she describes as “tenacious,” having first met him in 2010 when the young entrepreneur spotted her on baby channels and suggested she join GlamGirls.

“He showed up in a Savile Row business suit, his hair scraped back, with a briefcase and a copy of the Financial Times,” she said of their first meeting. “He was not the usual type of person you would meet in this kind of industry.”

£ 300m

OnlyFans’ pre-tax profit expectations this year, up from £ 53million in 2020

She added that the Stokelys were “not the kind of family you would associate with a billion dollar business – they are very humble and very close.”

Stokely employs his father Guy, 77, a former Barclays investment banker who retired in 1998, as OnlyFans chief financial officer and his older brother Thomas as chief operating officer. If anything, the business allows for “interesting conversations at family reunions”.

As with his previous ventures, he had approached his father with the idea of ​​OnlyFans, asking him for a loan of £ 10,000.

“After I loaned him money to start various other businesses, I said, ‘Tim, this will be the last,’” Guy Stokely said, adding that he had his money back by the end of the year. ‘year. OnlyFans, which is cutting subscriptions, expects pre-tax profits of over £ 300million this year, up from £ 53million last year.

The company prides itself on not raising any additional capital, but would not disclose how much Leonid Radvinsky, an entrepreneur behind the MyFreeCams porn site, paid in 2018 for a controlling stake in OnlyFans’ parent company, Fenix ​​International Ltd. .

“So Leo sent an email in 2018 and we were really, really impressed with his thoughts and we quickly realized that we shared a similar vision for the platform,” said the managing director of the partnership.

Being the younger brother of the Stokely family, Tim said the company does not have “your conventional relationship with the CEO.” He recalls being reprimanded by his CFO when, in 2016, he predicted that the following year transactions would hit a record £ 400,000.

“My dad absolutely scolded me, he said, ‘Tim, you always give me unrealistic predictions and here’s another one.’ OnlyFans transactions reached £ 2.4million in 2017, Stokely added.

Stokely is used to working from his home in Hertfordshire, from where the company ran the company until 2018, but he is looking forward to meeting some of the celebrities who registered on the site during the pandemic.

“I’m not buddy with Beyoncé,” he said of the singer who helped OnlyFans gain popularity in the world overnight when she mentioned the platform in a song. “I would love to be if it was possible, but unfortunately not at the moment.”

OnlyFans is growing particularly rapidly in Latin America and continental Europe, and the question is how big it can get. “Whether it’s fitness, sports, fashion or gaming, we’re starting to see more and more different creative genres built into the platform,” Stokely said.

But he declined to speculate on whether OnlyFans could become the next Instagram. “My forecasting skills are usually not very precise,” he suggested.

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