Brandon Wade seems harmless enough. His kind eyes peer at you through rectangular-framed geek-chic spectacles. A designer suit hangs ever-so-awkwardly off his slight frame. His hair is cleanly parted to the side, like a high-school yearbook photo. He doesn’t look like the man whom CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin branded an “M.I.T.-educated pimp” on Dr. Phil .
And yet, the 41-year-old tech entrepreneur currently lords over a $10 million per year “Sugar Daddy” web empire. Wade’s websites include SeekingArrangement.com, which matches “Sugar Daddies,” usually rich men, with “Sugar Babies,” or younger women who like to be spoiled; SeekingMillionaire.com, that operates like an online version of the TV show Millionaire Matchmaker; and WhatsYourPrice.com, where rich people—typically men—bid on dates with beautiful women. The troika of sites hosts a combined 2.3 million users.
Wade’s latest controversial venture is Miss Travel. According to the site, it pairs “generous travelers who hate to travel alone with Attractive travelers who would love the opportunity to travel the world for free.” Since its launch three weeks ago, the site has accumulated close to 40,000 users, as well as a wealth of controversy. Gawker labeled it “the #1 prosti-travel website,” alleging it’s no more than a front for prostitution, while sites like Jezebel have questioned the safety in traveling to the other side of the world with a complete stranger.
“We live in a society that’s very materialistic, and unfortunately, money plays a big role in how we express our love and care for someone,” said Wade in an interview with The Daily Beast.
Born in Singapore to strict Chinese parents, Wade was raised in what he describes as a “Tiger Mom–type of upbringing” consisting of studying and not much else. Every time he committed even the slightest of indiscretions, he was whipped with a cane. Despite being a member of the Toastmaster’s Club in Singapore, which helps to overcome public-speaking fears, and delivering speeches to adult crowds since the age of 12, he was terrified of girls.
When Wade reached the 11th grade, he transferred from an all-boys school to a co-ed one, and finally mustered up the courage to approach a girl. He nervously paced around the school for an hour practicing his speech to her. When the moment of truth came, he went up to her, tripped over his shoelaces, stood up, and said, “I am shy!” “I still feel nervous about that whole experience,” he says.
An aspiring physicist, Wade went to MIT and, at the age of 21, finally kissed a girl. However, she got back with an ex not long after, leaving him devastated.
After graduating from MIT, he worked as a software engineer for a few years before returning to MIT’s Sloane School of Management to get his M.B.A. After graduating, Wade moved to New York City to work for consulting firm Booz Allen for two years as a management consultant, and then joined General Electric Power Systems, where he managed the IT infrastructure. After leaving GE, and failing to start a business that specialized in targeted Internet ads, he decided to try his hand at dating websites.
“I felt so much pain in my life trying to date and haven’t been very successful,” says Wade. “I’ve used dating sites. I even joined one of those old-fashioned, video-based dating agencies, and I couldn’t get a date! I figured there should be a website for guys like me.” He pauses. “My mom always told me: study hard, and when you grow up, you can be generous and you’ll have options.”
Wade launched Seeking Arrangement in 2006. The site matches wealthy Sugar Daddies, who pay $50 a month for access to the site (or $200 to be a “Diamond User” with verified income), with Sugar Babies, who can enlist for free. It’s by far the most popular of Wade’s dating sites, hosting approximately 1.2 million users, including 100,000 Sugar Daddies, 900,000 female Sugar Babies, and 200,000 male Sugar Babies. According to Wade, the average age of a male Sugar Daddy is 39, and he makes about $200,000 annually and is worth roughly $5 million. Typically, he’ll spend in the neighborhood of $3,000 a month pampering a Sugar Baby. Also, about 40 percent of the users on Seeking Arrangement are married men, but that doesn’t seem to bother Wade much.
“Some married men need to stay with a family because of their kids, but they’re in a loveless relationship,” he says. “And, as a guy, you need to get your outlet somewhere else. You have your sexual needs and wants, and the website provides a service to keep the family together. In a roundabout way, as morally wrong as that is, it’s providing a service that keeps the family unit together.”
In addition to taking heat for advertising on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show in the wake of the Sandra Fluke "slutgate" furor, Wade takes issue with the “pimp” label he’s so often given.
“There’s a big difference between running a dating website and being a pimp,” he says. “I don’t make money from the money that the women get from the Sugar Daddies, nor am I promoting prostitution in any way. We’re getting a subscription fee from a dating service that we’re providing. I’d like to think of myself as a telecommunications service provider more than enabling a specific lifestyle.”
Wade then created the aforementioned Seeking Millionaire (600,000 users) and What’s Your Price (500,000 users). And then came Miss Travel.
“Generous” users of the site (a.k.a. Sugar Daddies) purchase 100 credits for $50, which gives them the ability to communicate with up to 10 “Attractive” users, who are typically beautiful women who wish to travel the world for free. According to the website’s guidelines, there is a strict “NO ESCORTS” policy. But why would a rich man want to foot the bill for a woman’s lavish vacation if he isn’t expecting sexual favors in return?
“So many businessmen travel overseas alone and don’t have the money or the time to meet someone,” says Wade. “They are willing to spend money because they want the company of a beautiful woman. And there’s the possibility that they might fall in love.” He adds, “We can tell people: you can aspire for sex, but you shouldn’t expect it.”
A bigger cause for concern, it seems, is safety. The site relies on member feedback for vetting potential psychos, and will, according to Wade, introduce a background check/criminal history option over the next month for a fee. But what happens if a woman travels 5,000 miles away with a “generous” Miss Travel user, and then refuses the man’s sexual advances? Potentially, the man could threaten to abandon his “attractive” traveling companion in a foreign country with no money unless she meets his demands. And, of course, there’s the high potential for sex trafficking.
“It’s like a disease—we focus on prevention, but once the disease is there, it’s too late,” he says. “We made a video to teach women to travel safely, and encourage women not to travel overseas with someone they just met.” He adds, “We’re educating people and giving them as much information as possible, and by doing that, I think we’re helping to prevent things like trafficking.”
As for Wade’s own personal life, he got married in February this year to one of his Seeking Arrangement employees. And he hopes to launch a new website every year with the shared theme of “generosity can go a long way.”
“In our society, the dating game is about an exchange of some sort,” he says. “A guy is always looking at a woman’s body and thinking how attractive she is. That’s how a man measures a woman. And a woman is always looking at a man wondering if he’s dressed well, and if that means he has a good job and has money to support a family in the future.” He pauses. “I think people are offended because these sites are so brutally honest about it.”