[inline:1] Noel Biderman was once "booed" by the studio audience of "The View." "The Tyra Banks Show" crowd cheered at the idea of Biderman getting his ass kicked by an outraged husband affected by his business. His billboard and television spots frequently invoke public outcry. To many, Biderman is a devious, sleazy homewrecker who profits on heart break. To others, he's a marriage-saving saint. So why all the hate? Biderman is the entrepreneurial founder and public face of Ashley Madison, a thriving online community of five million-plus members (and, full disclosure, an advertiser on some corners of this very website). Conceptualized as a dating website for unhappy married couples, Ashley Madison is an online platform that facilitates discrete extramarital affairs for cheating couples. The founder frequently defends the company's mission by firmly asserting that no particular website or advertisement will lead a person to infidelity. BroBible got Biderman on the phone earlier this week to discuss Ashley Madison's post-Valentine's Day spike in female membership, how a bachelor can use the service, and his company's quest to break down the stigma and taboo of adultery.
BroBible: What's the story behind Ashley Madison's tagline: "Life's Short. Have an Affair?" It's one of the more recognizable aspects of your brand. Noel Biderman: I think you have to put the history into perspective. We actually launched the service in 2002. Five years later we thought we were ready to start marketing it. At the time we had a tagline. It was "When Monogamy Becomes Monotony." I can't tell you how many hundreds of times people mispronounced it or wanted us to clarify what it meant. Although we thought it was witty, I realized it was just above people's heads. When we starting marketing the service in 2007, we needed something way simpler and way clearer to what we do. So we trademarked "Life is Short. Have an affair." It seemed pretty direct. We also had an opportunity for some outdoor advertising and we thought that this would raise some eyebrows. Right away we saw increases in our web conversion. Ultimately, messaging is important. Every dollar I spend cuts into my margins. If I can create messaging in six words that really succinctly tells people what my service is about versus something that is more ambiguous, it's just a good business choice. Ashley Madison's advertising often becomes high profile and controversial. Does the public outcry drive membership to your site? We are the epitome of the concept "Any PR is good PR." You can have a conversation about infidelity and Ashley Madison in any sort of light. Right now, there are a number of people who are in those life throws. It's not the conversation about infidelity per se that's going to make them pursue adultery. It's not my advertising. It's what's happening in their life situation. So it doesn't matter if my brand is raised in a glorified position or looks at me as an entrepreneur. As long as it's reaching a diverse audience. As long as you're talking to people in general -- whether it's through newspapers, TV, websites, radio shows -- ultimately you'll be speaking to a small percentage of [those] who definitely get what you're saying and see the value of Ashley Madison. So yes, we think the earned media aspect of it is critical. That's why I agree to do these interviews. Because I know there are people out there who will benefit by my service. How can a single guy use Ashley Madison? They're not excluded. There's no need for them to lie and say they are an attachment. However, one of the reasons why people come to a service like Ashley Madison is because they are in a relationship and looking to stray. For the most part, what they tend to be looking for is people who understand that. That comes in one of two fashions: people who are in a relationship and can relate with the risk factors at play or there's a greater culture around a lifestyle that a person engages in. For example, a person could be a mistress or have been a mistress before, and that's what they like. Single men on Ashley Madison don't really fit those notions of the community and the culture. I think for a casual relationship, a fling, or a liaison, there are definitely some women who may have a fantasy about the person's profession, their body type, or ethnicity. That definitely happens. But I don't think that's what the vast majority of people are seeking. I think there are probably better services out there for single men such as Established Men, Fling.com, and Sugar Daddy. [inline:3]I read that there is typically a spike in female membership right after Valentine's Day. Any reason as to why this happens? A couple of things just to clarify. It's not always marketing that drives my business, it's life. There's always a spike after anytime an expectation is set and not met. This tends to happen around New Year's, Valentine's Day, Fathers Day, and Mothers Day. You have an expectation about what your partner will or won't do and how that's going to proceed. All of a sudden that becomes a very unsatisfactory experience and it might be the last straw. It might be the thing that pushes you to pursue an affair. Valentine's Day is a great example. Both men and women go into this with a lot of expectation about romance and sex and a lot of times that goes unfulfilled. So that now becomes the catalyst for seeking someone else. Our servers our inundated and we're as busy as any time of the year as we have been on the last two days. [inline:2] What's the current breakdown of men to women? About 70% men and 30% women. That varies in certain cities, but there's never been a city that's had more women than men. In the past you've said that relationships have been saved by Ashley Madison. Can you describe these customer testimonials? The first misconception is that infidelity ends marriages. When you look empirically or anecdotally at the Bill Clintons, Elliot Spitzers, Kobe Bryants of the world, and these embarrassing high-profile incidents, their partner still stays with them. I think it's really important to realize that 75 percent of marriages survive infidelity. Infidelity ends up being a catalyst to probably improving and changing, so it's not this end all and be all. That's the first misconception. The second is the e-mails I get all the time which say thank you for building this service. These e-mails say, "It couldn't have been easy for you just like it wasn't easy for me to make the decision to cheat on my partner. I love him or her. I cherish my children, my life, my family, my economic situation. But I can't concentrate anymore. It's been two years and I've tried to invoke intimacy with my partner but it doesn't seem to work. We don't seem to have it anymore. I don't know what to do. I'm not interested in going to a hooker. So I went into your community and started talking. I found out I wasn't alone and other people are going through the same thing. I did meet somebody and we have an intimacy now that makes me a better parent, a better partner, a better friend, a better boss, a better employee because I've removed this distress from my life." There's a reason why strip clubs and massage parlors exist in every city in America. They're cathartic outlets for a lot of people. Look at Las Vegas' really successful marketing campaign over the last few years. They were saying, Come here, shed your skin, and then go home and be a faithful, good person. I think that you have to understand what makes people people. If you do, you really come to accept that it doesn't make someone a bad person just because they've strayed. It probably just means that they have something going on -- a need in particular -- around their intimate lives. On the flipside, do you hear from people who have had an affair using Ashley Madison and are worse for it? Well, that's the thing. When you have 5.2 million members, you're going to have a whole different continuum. We've had people who have left their spouses and married each other. We've had people who realized there was no salvation for their marriage. They were so much happier in the arms of somebody else and ended up seeking a divorce. There isn't one case scenario that probably hasn't happened when you have a community that large. How do you protect member identity? The whole service is built for anonymity. I get asked all the time what celebrities, athletes, or politicians are on the site. Truthfully, they're on there, but I would never know because the entire service is anonymous, including your photos. The way we bill you is totally anonymous. Text messages and voicemails are the digital equivalent to the lipstick on the collar. How many high profile infidelity cases do we see now where they say, 'Here's the voicemail they left' or 'Here's the text message they left.' If you keep all that communication in a community like Ashley Madison where it gets deleted at a push of a button or no one can access it but you, it's not going to be discovered. It's not going to be accessed. By joining the right community and keeping everything private, you run a much smaller risk. There have been so many public infidelity scandals in the last few years . You reached out to Tiger Woods in December. Who is your ideal celebrity endorser? [inline:4]We tried to reach out to Tiger Woods, but ultimately our biggest endorsement ends up being pop culture. In the Academy Awards this year I don't know how many movies had themes of infidelity based on them where people were cheating or cheated on. It seems to me the most romantic movie of our time, "Titanic" is really about a women cheating on her fiancee if you look at it a bit more objectively. It seems to me, from an entertainment perspective, we find the notions of adultery interesting, intriguing, and exciting. But when it comes to our personal lives, we find it to be an abhorrence. Ultimately my biggest champion is the changing culture. Those kinds of changes come slowly, but ultimately Americans will stop to look at infidelity as some sort of graveyard and start understanding it more as the human condition. If that happens, we can be more successful. The Internet is in a brave new era since Ashley Madison first got started at the beginning of the last decade. Do you worry about free services such as the "Casual Encounters" section on Craigslist killing the market demand for the premium service Ashley Madison offers? It works the opposite way really. What you find on Craigslist is ultimately a place for hookers to post opportunities. If you're interested in finding a hooker, Craigslist is a great place to find an hourly rate. We're the exact opposite. We don't allow any profiles on our service that we haven't reviewed and if anyone is soliciting, they're automatically removed. Craigslist isn't building a community. They're building a transaction platform where people can exchange sex for money and all the risks associated with being caught or busted. I think someone was recently murdered from meeting someone on Craigslist. That's the place that you play in for free. I think most men looking to pursue an affair are not looking to meet a hooker, being extorted, or violently attacked. That needs to be mitigated and we try to do our best to do that. It's a sense of security. I've never viewed it as a threat. When people really want something, they're totally happy to pay for it. So $49 dollars to become an Ashley Madison member, if you can find some happiness, that's a great investment. You usually get what you pay for when something's free.