Ever wonder who created Ashley Madison, the world’s most used online cheating site? Well guess what – her name is not Ashley and “she” is a he. We sat down with Noel Biderman, the CEO and mastermind behind the naughtiest site in the world…
Noel Biderman is used to being judged. He doesn’t necessarily think he deserves it, but as the CEO and co-founder of Ashley Madison, an internationally-known online service used to facilitate extramarital affairs between consenting adults, one can expect to get the glare or choice words.
With an annual pay cheque of $5 million that helps him sleep at night – and buy sheets with the perfect thread count – his success is not to be ignored. The numerous business profiles on Biderman in reputable magazines like Forbes and GQ are framed and mounted on the lobby walls of Avid Life Media, the Toronto-based parent company to Ashley Madison. The former lawyer has no regrets about leaving law to start a website that generates money by simplifying cheating and making it more discrete in the era of digital trails. He’s not pushing anyone to do anything they weren’t already thinking about doing.
That said, we had a lot of questions — from how he plans to hold onto his position in the marketplace, to his honest feelings on whether or not Ashley Madison has made cheating more rampant in Western culture, to what his wife thinks about his day job….
Vv Magazine – You’ve been around a really long time; how long has Ashley Madison existed?
Ashley Madison– It started in 2002, so in terms of the internet space, we are like a grandfather – that’s pretty old, 13 years.
VV- You get a lot of negative criticism, but you’ve also been featured in GQ, Forbes, and countless other high-profile magazines. How do you defend the business plan when you get criticized?
AM– It becomes less violent over the years, and maybe that’s because the story has been told, but here’s the defence: If I started this in 2002, nobody who is even rational would say, “Oh, there were no affairs happening before 2002.” What’s the causation of an affair? Is it a relationship or is it my TV commercial? Nobody, if they’re being morally honest with themselves, believes that you can influence infidelity – that I, as a stranger on TV, can convince somebody to forsake that vow. So I think the defence is that this is a human condition. We are better off as a society if we recognize that and then put these people together where they are not roping unsuspected people into it.
The genesis of the Ashley Madison website was because dating sites were being overwhelmed with married people. When internet dating blew up, you were self-publishing what you wanted. We are better off if single women don’t get roped into affairs – because they would feel very violated. I think that’s a fair justification. No one is giving me a humanitarian award any time soon. My Noble Prize is not in the mail, but I think it’s a fair defence to that criticism.
VV- I just read in the UK mail that Facebook is a big cause of divorce because people are meeting and messaging old flames and leaving a trail…
AM– I think ’cause’ is an unfair word because it’s just a factor. If you are now discontent in your marriage, you can do a bunch of things. You can decide to get breast implants, seek out an affair in the work place, or reach out to a past lover because they will validate you as someone who they find attractive or interesting. Facebook is not causing that either, we are. But it is a factor in this whole equation, so, yes, it’s interesting to see these divorces time after time where Facebook is mentioned.
“If anyone tells you that they don’t fear hacking, they are lying to you.”
If you think about Tinder and its brilliant simplicity, it’s great but it’s not competition for me. Is a married person going to post a photo? Probably not. My business is a discretionary business. The secret to an affair is meeting someone and not being discovered. Tinder isn’t designed for that and I think it has helped my business because there was probably a large swap of people married who were online dating. So I think there is a direct correlation in traffic growth thanks to Tinder. And the uniqueness of our brand and its technology versus Tinder probably helped us. Tinder is going to disrupt many traditional dating models.
VV- Why do you hold onto it as a company? What keeps you from wanting to sell?
AM– We would never sell it for the amount that people want to give us. The return on the investment is so extraordinary for us, why would we ever sell it for less? That doesn’t make any sense. In four or five years, if we hold onto it, we can make all that money in dividends. If someone came along and said we will give you 10 billion dollars for your company, then I think that my investors and I would sell, but for anything less…
VV- Is there any fear of hacking?
AM– If anyone tells you that they don’t fear hacking, they are lying to you.
Our database is all anonymous. You could be using my service right now and I wouldn’t know. On the credit card side, we’re not interested in that level of security. That’s not what our organization is about. We are a social network so we hand it off to companies who are suited to that. Putting the data in a bunker away from everybody else is our approach. But everyone is fearful of it. We have done a really great job of making sure our data is kept secret; the anonymity of it hopefully gives comfort to our members.
“If I had to say the one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that female infidelity is a modern phenomenon. We’ve taken away all of the social inhibitions to infidelity.”
VV- And who are your average users?
AM– The word “average” probably doesn’t apply all that well to infidelity. We cater really well to the first time affair seeker. In particular, that guy whose now in his early 30s, probably just had his first child, his sex life use to go 100 miles per hour and now it goes 4 miles an hour. This is a way for them to explore that in a safe way versus the work place or through Facebook.
I think we also cater to that empty nester crowd. People in their late 40s or early 50s who, for the most part of their life, have dedicated themselves to raising families and now want to do something more for themself. You can call that selfish but maybe they feel that’s what they are entitled to. We have a lot of that demographic.
We also have hundreds of thousands of men over the age of 65. There is only so long you will live lonely and neglected in a relationship before you seek companionship.
Women also want passion and romance and if their partner doesn’t care about any of that then they are going to look to change it. Those women end up being less stressed at work, less angry with their partner, sexually liberated, and typically healthier. If I had to say the one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that female infidelity is a modern phenomenon. We’ve taken away all of the social inhibitions to infidelity. 50 years ago in Canada, if a woman had an affair, she could lose her kids. That would never happen today. In a sense, society has endorsed infidelity. We don’t punish people the same way. Dependency has evaporated. Considering all of these factors, it’s no wonder that female infidelity has risen 500% over the last decade.
VV- What is your take on love?
AM- You can believe in love, I just don’t know if there is a permanence to love. People confuse attraction and love. My grandparents are in their 90’s and I don’t doubt that they love each other. Are they still attracted to one another? Are they still having sex? People mistaken those behaviour patterns, and they are not the same thing. When it comes to romantic love, we seem to believe that we can only love one person at a time. I have two children, no one would ever say to me, “You can only love one of them.”
“…half of Toronto has used my service, whether it is to have an affair or to see if their spouse is on it.”
VV- What do you see going forward? What are you interested in?
AM– What’s fascinating about Ashley Madison is that affairs happen everywhere. There are places on Earth where women can be put to death for having an affair, yet they still do it. I have been able to export my brand globally. I am successfully in more countries than Amazon. I have 120 million visitors from diverse cultures and languages, which says more about the nature of my service than me as a businessman. That’s how powerful it is.
VV- How does Toronto measure up in terms of numbers and the market place?
AM- Toronto has been a huge market for us. It was our first market ever. I looked around and thought this is a very multicultural place and pretty conservative for the most part. If I can make it here, I can probably make it everywhere. Because of its longevity, half of Toronto has used my service, whether it is to have an affair or to see if their spouse is on it. I don’t have to do any more marketing in Toronto because everyone knows the brand. Very few people know that it is based here because the media doesn’t want to talk about it.
VV- How does your wife feel about Ashley Madison?
AM– That was my biggest concern when starting the business: Was my own partner going to see me differently? Was she going to judge me for the actual husband I was versus the one I was being portrayed as on TV? Were my kids going to be able to digest all of this? Not that I was doing anything wrong. I knew I would get the thank-yous and the fan mail. I get more of the positive then I do negative. It’s so illogical to point all of these fingers when we have that culture. Take a look in the mirror – you control your own destiny for the most part, so stop blaming.
“I think I’m like most other people. I don’t recall sitting down with my wife and saying, ‘Hey, what’s acceptable in the sense of monogamy? Am I allowed to go to strip clubs? What am I allowed to do at strip clubs? Can I get a massage?'”
VV- Do you ever address that in your own relationship? What would you do?
AM– I think I’m like most other people. I don’t recall sitting down with my wife and saying, “Hey, what’s acceptable in the sense of monogamy? Am I allowed to go to strip clubs? What am I allowed to do at strip clubs? Can I get a massage?” I don’t recall any of those conversations. I think what’s ironic is that now that I sit on top of all this data and research, I have a bit of a road map and know the pitfalls. You have to have one relationship of significant fail on you in order to know how to do the next one right.
What are your thoughts on Ashley Madison? Would you use it? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.