Founders of platform can thank lockdown rush to use adult content for £1.7bn of sales, accounts show
The Essex family that founded the sex-worker social media platform OnlyFans extracted tens of millions of pounds from its parent company in the last year, as it profited from a lockdown-induced rush to use online pornography.
OnlyFans – run by Tim Stokely, his brother Tom and his father Guy, a former investment banker – handled £1.7bn of sales during the year to November 2020, up 615% on the previous 12 months.
Although the company likes to boast of the income it delivers to the “creators” who upload the videos, its newly filed accounts suggest the owners are the real winners. The company’s highest-paid director earned a £2m salary last year and it paid £20m in dividends to its backers. OnlyFans also paid £23m to acquire a separate business owned by two members of the Stokely family.
The over-18s social media platform allows individuals to sell videos and messages directly to customers. Although OnlyFans has been keen to emphasise the presence of celebrities and fitness instructors on its site, its main business is selling adult material. It benefits from the lack of other options for many adult performers, with payment processing companies often making it difficult for them to receive money from the public, enabling OnlyFans to charge a 20% cut for use of the platform.
This has proved to be highly lucrative as sex workers had few other options during the pandemic. However, OnlyFans also acknowledged in its accounts that its business model could be threatened if illegal underage material – or videos featuring individuals involved in modern slavery or trafficking – were found on its site. The company’s directors said they were increasing their efforts to keep such material off their systems “as any lapse in this effort could bring government sanctions from a wide range of countries and regulators”.
The company is striving for legitimacy and is keen to emphasise that it has non-pornographic uses, with its latest filings making clear the enormous scale of growth at a UK-based business which is now more financially successful than many long-established mainstream British media companies.
OnlyFans said it had added 69 million active customers in 2020 mainly in the US, with most joining after the site was namechecked by the likes of Beyoncé and Cardi B. Pre-tax profits rose from £6m to £53m and company accounts show the business held £200m in cash at the end of November.
The financial returns also show the extent to which the wider Stokely family, which is based in rural Essex, is entwined with the business. Deborah Stokely, 61, is a former director of OnlyFans’ parent company, Fenix International, while Tim’s brother Tom serves as OnlyFans’ chief operating officer.
This family-first approach extends to their acquisition policy. In December OnlyFans bought a small company controlled by Guy Stokely called Delivery Code Limited, which it said provides the technology to build online “wishlists”. Although Delivery Code’s accounts show it had just a few thousand pounds in the bank, OnlyFans paid £23.65m to acquire its intellectual property and personnel – delivering another financial benefit for the Essex family. The company did not respond to requests to clarify the financial transaction.
Two years ago the family sold a majority stake in the business to the US-based online pornography veteran Leonid Radvinsky, who largely chooses to avoid the media.