When romance spells finance

Sugarbook, a platform that caters to those seeking ‘sugar dating’ — a term for relationships between young women or men and older men or women founded on money

By NG MIN SHEN / Graphic by TMR

IN A world where online dating has become commonplace, it isn’t enough to just be another Tinder, Match.com or OkCupid.

Enter Sugarbook, a platform that caters to those seeking “sugar dating” — a term for relationships between young women or men (Sugar Babies) and older men or women (Sugar Daddies or Sugar Mummies) founded on money.

Chan’s short-term goal is for Sugarbook to have 500,000 users, which he expects should happen by end-2019 or 2020. (pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL/TMR)

The Malaysia-based dating website is the brainchild of founder and CEO Darren Chan, who believes money can’t buy love, but money makes it easier for love to develop. Sugarbook’s tagline — “Where Romance Meets Finance” — says it all, it seems.

In a recent interview with The Malaysian Reserve, Chan spoke of a particular success story involving a 30-something divorcee with two young children, who had little luck with other dating apps as potential dates always backed out upon realising she had responsibilities with significant financial bearing.

“Through Sugarbook, she met a Sugar Daddy with whom she is now in a relationship, and he supports her and her children financially. That, and having achieved 200,000 users to date since the launch in 2017, are among our milestones so far,” he said.

Chan’s short-term goal is for Sugarbook to have 500,000 users, which he expects should happen by end-2019 or 2020, although he isn’t content to rest at that — the 30-year-old wants Sugarbook to hit one million users eventually.

“It’s all the way for me with Sugarbook. I’m focused on growing the app and expanding it to Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Tokyo,” he said.

China and Japan in particular are challenging as the needs and wants of their citizens can be quite different from those of Malaysians, thus getting started in Hong Kong will open the doors to China for Sugarbook.

Chan isn’t worried either about competitors replicating his model in other countries, as he views all competition as healthy.

“Our competitors at the moment are mainly from the US and Sweden/ Belgium. But in Asia, we’re the only one,” he added.

4 to 1 Ratio — Sounds Familiar?
Sugar Babies comprise around 60% to 70% of the 200,000 users, making the ratio an average of four Sugar Babies to one Sugar Daddy.

While having one man “juggling” four women may seem like a handful, it isn’t a negative for Chan.

It shouldn’t be unfamiliar to Malaysians, given that it’s perfectly legal for male members of the majority community to have four wives.

“It’s a good problem to have. To investors, it may be seen as a problem because Sugar Daddies equal revenue, but also the more Sugar Babies we have, then the more Sugar Daddies will come on board and that brings in more revenue,” Chan said.

At least half of Sugarbook’s users are from Malaysia, with the rest including expatriates from Hong Kong, Singapore and the US, among others.

Many Sugar Babies are tertiary students, from universities including Taylor’s University, Sunway University and Limkokwing University of Creative Technology. Students also get premium memberships for free, on the basis of students being less likely to have deep pockets. Students also have many friends and can spread the word quickly, thus bringing in more Sugar Babies.

The reasons these young women seek out older, wealthier men are many, said Chan. Some need help in paying their bills and tuition fees.

Some, like the aforementioned single mother, have more responsibilities than the average young woman. And some are terribly concerned with maintaining social appearances.

“There are some students who come from wealthy families and drive Bentleys to school. But, they view their family’s fortune as separate from their own, so they need to find a different source of income to maintain their status,” he explained.

Sugar Babies are generally aged between 21 and 26, and receive allowances of between RM2,000 and RM5,000 monthly from their partners.

Meanwhile, Sugar Daddies range from 30 to 45 years old, with the average age being 38 years. The average annual income of these men stands at around RM150,000, Chan said.

Many of Sugarbook’s users are Chinese, although there is also a good proportion of Malays and expatriates, indicating that the oftennegative feedback towards such apps and finance-based relationships may not be truly indicative of public opinion.

While the majority of sugar relationships are between older men and younger women, Chan said there is also great demand for Sugar Mummies from younger men.

Sugarbook, according to Chan, is “definitely profitable”. It derives revenue and earnings mainly from the subscription fees paid by members.

Memberships fall into standard and premium categories, with the latter costing between US$39 and US$50 monthly for Sugar Daddies, and around US$7.99 per month for Sugar Babies.

There are also plans to launch a US$200 (RM840) per month Diamond membership for Sugar Daddies, something which has been requested by elite members of society.

“We’ve received requests from prominent people such as businessmen, lawyers, bankers and politicians for this. Having a Diamond membership elevates their status on Sugarbook as Sugar Babies can instantly see it on their profiles, and the price point isn’t a problem as they should be able to afford it if they’re Sugar Daddies,” Chan said.

Operating in Malaysia, a country known for its diverse cultures, ethnicities and races hasn’t been as difficult as one might think. The main thing is to educate people and ensure that they have the right perception of sugar dating, which Chan said is far removed from prostitution.

With Sugarbook, it basically creates a win-win situation as both parties are encouraged to state their needs and wants from the get-go, thus ensuring the Sugar Babies receive the money and/or gifts they want, while the Sugar Daddies or Sugar Mummies also get the kind of relationship they so desire.

Spreading the Sugar Across Asia
While the company is self-sustainable, it is on the lookout for funding in order to extend its wings.

“Potential investors currently include a former ED of Goldman Sachs Group Inc and former director of Nomura Holdings Inc. I’m also talking to someone from MindWorks Ventures, a Hong Kong-based venture capital firm. Things are looking good,” Chan stated.

The platform has also received many advertising requests from tobacco, condom and alcohol companies, although it has yet to open its doors to that revenue stream.

“Maybe in a year or two we’ll open up to advertisers. We just don’t want to flood users with advertisements. The best kind of advertisements would be those that blend in well with the platform,”