"There's no secret formula to making things work. It is all hard work and dedication."
These words were what 30-year-old Darren Chan said to us about his sugar dating platform, TheSugarBook, celebrating its first year of operation next month in December.
Since their launch-and despite some outrage that sugar dating platforms have received in the past-TheSugarBook has built a member base of over 56,000 users, which Darren characterises as a milestone. This to him, marks that Malaysians are slowly picking up the sugar culture.
After all, it can come as a surprise that this sugar dating platform both originates and operates in moderately conservative Malaysia.
However, since TheSugarBook positions itself as a social networking platform, they tell us they have not faced any difficulties on this front-even when asked specifically if any conservative groups have maligned TheSugarBook and its members.
We were all thinking the same thing, so we asked Darren point blank if he's ever been involved in a sugar relationship.
I was raised to be a traditional gentleman, where the male always provides, cares and shares life's luxuries with his partner.
A TheSugarBook representative confirmed that Darren's not involved in a sugar relationship with anyone on the platform, either.
TheSugarBook came about from Darren's childhood fascination with human behaviour.
By extension, Darren has always been interested in psychology, and what drives people to succeed.
But the decision to channel this interest into a sugar dating platform seems to be a pragmatic one. Darren is not blind to the rise of dating apps over the past few years.
"To be just a regular dating app, we would be competing with the big boys like Tinder and Match.com," said Darren.
His own research into the area revealed that around 40 per cent of potential daters on those apps chose "financials" as one of the top criteria when it comes to relationships anyway.
Coming into the development of TheSugarBook with a history of running event-management platform Gigfairy (that has since been acquired), Darren set out to develop his own dating app.
Its goal? To connect like-minded people who can form and develop mutually beneficial relationships.
"What I learned was to only start a company if it is my obsession. And that if I'd have an exit strategy, it's not an obsession."
In pursuit of his obsession, Darren also thinks that learning every day is essential to growing a business. Patience and the ability to adapt is crucial for a startup such as his, no matter how well-laid-out the plan is.
To him, flexibility is key to reach their goals.
Of TheSugarBook's 56,000 members, approximately 70 per cent of them on the platform are sugar babies.
This number mainly includes university students, divorcees and single mothers. In fact, TheSugarbook has a student programme available, which offers them a free premium membership as long as they sign up with their university email addresses or show proof of their enrollment.
This startup has even expanded beyond our little nation, with members coming from Malaysia, Philippines, USA, Singapore and India in that order.
"We're working towards expansion to Thailand, Indonesia and the global economic superpower that is China," added Darren.
Contrary to what some conversations regarding them may imply, Darren stated that, "Sugar babies are smart, goal-empowered individuals who know what they want in life."
Darren also had an answer to those might equate sugar relationships with prostitution.
"Just like you and I, they have the freedom of choice to choose who they want to be with. People tend to misunderstand the concept of sugar dating."
Furthermore, the team confirmed that TheSugarBook's members are all above the age of consent, and that sugar dating doesn't necessarily focus on trading sex for money or gifts.
A mutually beneficial relationship between mummy/daddy and baby may not always involve sexual relations.
"It could be a lot of other factors in play. A sugar baby recently commented to us that she's received more job offers from our platform than from a recruitment website."
At its core though, it is still a social networking platform for individuals of mutual interest, and Darren stated that they do not condone any illegal activities. This means that there can't be any nudity, adult content, or any form of solicitation on the platform.
They've launched a blog site called Sugarficial, for sugar babies to share about their experiences.
On the platform, sugar sisters from all over the globe chat in forums, offer advice to other sugar babies, and contribute articles about their own experiences, as well.
Articles on the site-based on our own cursory glance-include topics like "The Art Of Negotiation In Sugar Dating", "Let's Talk Oral Sex", "5 Reasons Why Old Men Are Hot AF", and "Sugar Baby Confession: Why I Want A Sugar Daddy".
Sugar dating as a concept has had its own share of negativity.
Every time sugar dating reaches public consciousness, it's usually accompanied by detractors and naysayers.
"There's nothing much I can say," said Darren. "In any business or venture that you're in, there will always be keyboard warriors that have something to say. Educating the public is one of the key steps for debunking any negative connotation."
As for more concrete plans, TheSugarBook aims to expand into events and activities such as speed dating, though this is still in the works.
On the business side, TheSugarBook is currently a self-sustaining business, and in their aim to connect the people of Asia by giving them the "power to build honest and transparent relationships", they're looking to dip into a bigger market.
To achieve this, TheSugarbook is currently looking for funding, and in fact, they already have a few offers on the table.
Darren hopes that the general attitude towards sugaring will grow to be more open and accepting. After all, people should be able to be upfront, honest and transparent with what they want.
"There are so many people who can value themselves when it comes to negotiating for a salary before they accept a job or ask for a pay rise. But when it comes to relationships, they tend to accept shortfalls because of what society dictates them to be or family pressure, and so on and so forth," said Darren.
"We shouldn't be ashamed to want what we want and pursue them."
This article was first published in Vulcan Post.