Notoriety cuts two ways for adultery website

Notoriety cuts two ways for adultery website

No matter how much global controversy it engenders, there is nothing illegal about AshleyMadison.com, the contentious Canadian website that promotes only one product - infidelity.

While founder and chief executive Noel Biderman claims both growth and profits, the site that was launched in 2001 has nonetheless found itself in more than one cul-de-sac.

Notoriety cuts two ways in this case - it attracts customers to sign up in droves, but simultaneously alienates investors.

Expansion into new markets always brings the need for a substantial cash injection. But unsurprisingly, Mr Biderman has been repeatedly burned by major banks and big-budget investors.

Even the bankrupt United States city of Detroit is giving the cold shoulder to the site's attempts at alternative exposure.

Last week, the website made a formal offer of US$10 million (S$12.4 million) for the right to change the name of a Detroit island park to AshleyMadison.com Island for the next decade.

Remember that in July this year, Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history, with estimated debts of US$18.5 billion. That dire financial situation notwithstanding, the city shows no sign of jumping at the current seven-figure offer.

It is not the only major rebuff since its launch. In 2010, Avid Life Media, which owns the infidelity site, had to abandon a plan to go public on the Toronto Stock Exchange where it hoped to attract an estimated US$60 million in an initial public offering.

In the past, at least one big bank is said to have rebuffed Mr Biderman's quest for funding with the explanation that his core business does not fit with its conservative values. This brand of rejection is a recurring theme, even as his site has been welcomed in new markets around the world by users hoping to find partners in sin.

It is really no surprise that the company has echoed US foreign policy and engaged in its own pivot to Asia. The simple economic reality is that today's Asia is a serious commercial haven not just for bricks-and-mortar companies that offer trade and a variety of financial services, but also for expanding e-commerce sites.

Accordingly, the company entered the Japanese market in June this year and CNN reported last month that Mr Biderman claimed the foray attracted 500,000 members in the first three months.

It then extended its service to Hong Kong last month. Now, predictably, it has its sights on Singapore because the Republic's growing financial importance makes it the Switzerland of Asia.

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