OnlyFans, the platform for sex workers and celebrities to sell subscription content, has boomed during the pandemic, with transactions rising seven-fold to £1.7bn.
The group’s popularity exploded during lockdowns, taking it from less than 20m users before Covid-19 struck to more than 120m, as bored consumers went online for entertainment and out-of-work entertainers turned up to provide it.
The service allows content creators such as fitness instructors, musicians and erotic stars to sell video clips, messages and articles direct to fans who pay between $5 and $50 a month.
OnlyFans’ move towards the mainstream was cemented last year when singer Beyoncé referenced it in a song.
The UK-based company said its revenues rose 553 per cent to £281m in the year to November. OnlyFans takes a 20 per cent cut of payments; the net revenue number was depressed by a tax ruling. Pre-tax profits rose from £6m to £53m, according to the company, whose accounts are due to be filed at Companies House on Monday.
The size of revenues and growth rate suggests OnlyFans could have a multibillion-pound valuation if it went public, making it one of the UK’s leading tech companies.
But the Middlesex-based company remains closely held. Chief executive Tim Stokely, 37, and his father Guy, 77, a former Barclays investment banker, established the website in 2016.
Tim had spotted a gap for social media influencers to monetise content other than through sponsored adverts or promotional deals.
It was the sixth business started by his son that Guy, now OnlyFans’ chief financial officer, had backed and, he said, he vowed it would be the last: “The money was paid back to me by the end of the year. We’ve never bothered to borrow any other money and never bothered to increase the capital of the company.”
The business also employs Tim’s brother Thomas as its chief operating officer.
In 2018, Leonid Radvinsky, an entrepreneur behind the porn site MyFreeCams, bought at least 75 per cent of OnlyFans’ parent company, Fenix International. The Stokelys declined to give a figure for the value of the deal but said that Radvinsky brought “a lot of expertise” and shared “a similar vision for the platform”.
The success has encouraged the Stokelys to widen OnlyFans’ audience by launching OFTV, which is available on platforms such as Apple TV and Roku.
“Our job is to constantly think of new features that can help creators interact with their fans,” said Tim.
Number of OnlyFans creators earning more than $1m
To boost viewings, the company is producing a show called Unlocked, which “dives deep into the personal lives” of OnlyFans creators who, aside from sex workers, increasingly include influencers from the worlds of fitness and music.
The pair declined to name the biggest earners but said the platform had more than 300 creators who earned more than $1m.
Those that have more recently joined the platform include celebrities such as US rapper Cardi B and English rugby player Chris Robshaw, looking to monetise their vast social media followings. The fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff joined OnlyFans this year to show behind-the-scenes footage of New York Fashion Week.
Thousands of students and out-of-work freelancers have also turned to the website to make an income during the pandemic, prompting criticism from campaigners that the site has moved the boundary of what constitutes sex work.
Meanwhile, some creators have complained of having their accounts frozen without notice. “We have no plans to shut down adult creators,” Tim said.
His father added that the company had 300 words that trigger an alert for inappropriate use, including references to drugs and weapons. The company closes about 30 accounts per month, out of a total of about 2m.
The pair would not comment on future plans for any sale or flotation, saying only that the company was focused on growth, especially in Latin America and mainland Europe. OnlyFans expects pre-tax profits to be more than £300m in the next financial year.
The company, which has increased from about 150 employees before the pandemic to more than 400, is embroiled in a court battle with UK tax authorities over a change in ruling over VAT that left it with a £14m tax bill which it has paid but continues to contest.