The Founder of Malaysia's First Sugar Dating Platform Wants People to Build Honest and Transparent Relationships
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“Love is not enough. Relationships need more than love,” says Darren Chan, the 31-year-old founder and chief executive of Malaysia’s first and only sugar dating platform Sugarbook.
Since January 2017, Chan has been working hard to build a community that could help people connect based on “financials” and “build honest and transparent relationships”. Sugarbook’s tagline explains its core idea the best: Where Romance Meets Finance.
The Common Thread
Chan learned the importance of money early in life. He was brought up in a traditional career-oriented Asian family where the degree of financial capability was often regarded as the metric to success. “Not only have I experienced broken relationships, but I have also witnessed friends, family and marriages fall apart because of one reason: money,” he shares.
As he moved forward, he found a passion for technology and founded Gigfairy, Malaysia’s first live music booking platform, which later got acquired by Tune Studios of the AirAsia Group. Then he decided to dive into the online dating industry, which was, and perhaps still is, dominated by brands such as Tinder, Badoo and Match.com. He knew he had to be different. “When I came across a set of data that suggested 40 per cent of people chose ‘financials’ as the No.1 criteria they look at before getting into any relationship, I knew we’ve found our niche and we were going to build a platform and community to help connect people based on financials,” he says.
According to Chan, sugar dating is a modern kind of dating. “We believe the recipe to a successful sugar relationship is to always state down your unique wants and needs before getting into any sugar relationship and that includes monthly allowance expectations, paying tuition fees, house rental, shopping expenses and exotic travel arrangements,” he explains.
He followed the same policy when it came to naming the company. The plan was to build a dating platform without any judgments and that every member was able to be upfront, honest and transparent about what they want in a relationship, he says. “If we were to market the platform as an Honest Dating app, I doubt we would be able to attract any members. So we started naming our male members the Sugar Daddies, our female members Sugar Babies and the coexistence of the largest social networking platform Facebook, also contributed to this factor hence the name Sugarbook.”
The Success Story
The platform, which is available ias a mobile app, has over 300,000 members from 60 countries, predominantly from Malaysia, the US, Singapore and the Philippines, in that order. Over 70 per cent of the members are student "Sugar Babies" from universities, single mothers and divorcees. As for “Sugar Daddies”, they range between the age of 30-55, with an average annual income of USD$150,000 to USD$300,000.
As for revenue, in 2018 they saw an increase of 1,500 per cent or 15x growth from the previous year. It recently raised a six-digit figure from an undisclosed benefactor.
The journey has not been easy though.
Chan was bootstrapping from the beginning and it took him over four months to be able to pay his first hire. “Back then, I often showed up at a local café every day and interviewed at least 30 developers on a daily basis continuously for two months. Everybody I interviewed thought I was crazy to start a Sugar Daddy dating app in Malaysia which is a Muslim country,” he confesses.
At that time, over 50 investors rejected his idea. Late last year, however, an angel investor with an investment banking background from one of Hong Kong’s largest venture capital firms came to the rescue. Chan now plans to expand to not only bigger markets but also much more developed markets like Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Sugar dating has always existed, Chan says, “we just redefined the concept and made it easily accessible via an app.”
How do you ensure the identities of clients are not exposed? “We utilize financial institution grade HTTPS for secure and encrypted connections at all times and that includes HTTPS secure web connections, secure cookies and penetration scanning,” he explains.
The reason sugar dating is growing in popularity is mainly because of education, Chan believes. “People start to realize and feel safe to come out of the closet because they started to understand that it is nothing wrong to be a Sugar Daddy or Sugar Baby and that sugar dating is not prostitution; it is perfectly legal.”
In the era of #MeToo, platforms like Sugarbook can be called out for being anti-feminist and perpetuating patriarchy. But Chan has his answers ready: “In most third world countries, most girls do not have a choice to choose who they want to love or have a relationship with, without being judged or shamed by doing so and we aim to provide this luxury.”
He points out that over 60 per cent of the people working behind Sugarbook are women. “At Sugarbook, we believe in the freedom of choice.”