Since it was founded in 2016, subscription website OnlyFans has paid out £1.5 billion to the content creators who publish videos, pictures and writing (and, no, it’s not just adult entertainment) to an audience of more than 100 million users. Here’s what its founder has learned…
Born Harlow, Essex
Drives Range Rover SVR
Relationship status Single
Hero Tom Brady
Monetise something that already exists
When OnlyFans launched it was the first platform of its type and it was deliberately set up to host all types of content creators. There were a lot of creators already producing incredible content, but on free social media. You could see the explosion of influencer marketing, but the influencers were getting paid via ad campaigns and product endorsements. Our thinking was always, “OK, what if you could build a platform where it’s exactly [the same] or very similar to existing on social media, but with the key difference being the payment button?” So all of these creators, making this amazing content for free, had a very simple way of earning from that content.
Build a product that scales down as well as up
On other platforms, there was no one-size-fits-all solution to monetise content beyond product endorsements or sponsored ads. That business model was only catering to maybe the very top percentage of influencers, whereas ours works for all content creators, regardless of the size of the fanbase.
Find a niche
We made a decision from the start that it was a sensible and safe rule for all users to be over the age of 18, primarily because of the payment element to the platform. But, of course, with all users being over 18, and all content being securely hidden behind a payment wall, that allowed us to have more progressive and liberal content policies than other social media platforms. But, from day one, OnlyFans was launched for all content creators – we never marketed it to any specific industry.
Use your own product religiously
We’re an incredibly fast-growing company, looking to hire people who really, really buy into the concept. It’s important that staff, and everyone within the company, are using the platform. You’ve got to understand the product. In my own case, I’m subscribed to James Haskell and Chris Robshaw. As a rugby fan, it was fantastic to see those guys join up.
Develop based on direct feedback
We have more than 100 million users. There’s a lot of feedback. A good example of [implementing feedback from users] is paid messaging. We started, quite early on, to get feedback from creators saying, “Hey, it would be really good if I could send messages to all of my fans [which the fan can then pay to access].” Another example is the livestream. We had multiple requests from creators who wanted us to provide a way for creators to co-stream and so that’s something in development that we’ll be launching shortly.
Don’t assume that because you’ve built it, they will come
I worked on previous platforms prior to OnlyFans and one of the mistakes I made was to focus on building what I felt was a great marketplace. But I didn’t, through inexperience, give enough consideration to the growth plan: how was I going to get users onto this marketplace? [That problem was] solved, in the case of OnlyFans, by creating a referral programme, which incentivised third parties to bring creators onto the platform.
Learn from your family…
My father is the company’s CFO and a result of that is work conversations can tend to dominate [family occasions], but I really enjoy it. One of the bits of advice he taught me, which is particularly relevant now, was the importance of compartmentalising, particularly in the tech industry, where you’re working across all time zones.
…as well as your idols
[Choose] an entrepreneur or businessperson whom you admire and go from there. I’m a big admirer of Warren Buffett – I have been for a while. I regularly find myself reading through his quotes and also one of his books, Warren Buffett On Business. From an investing point of view, I like the quote that says, “Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy.” [That is] great advice.
Don’t underestimate a high-profile endorsement
We were witnessing strong growth towards the end of 2019. There were definitely events that accelerated that growth, whether it be the Beyoncé name-drop [on her verse on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage Remix”] or Cardi B joining the platform. One of the first things she did was drop the official behind-the-scenes video for “WAP” onto her OnlyFans. That’s a really great example of how celebrities are using the platform.
Interaction trumps name recognition on social media
You’d expect to see a clear link [among OnlyFans creators] between income and how famous the creator is – how many followers they have, for example. But, actually, it’s not just celebrities making money, there’s a much wider range of creators doing really well. That comes back to interaction, which seems to be a bigger factor than anything else for the most successful accounts.