By Germaine Lim
Got money, will have honey?
US-based dating website WhatsYourPrice.com is banking on that crass cliche.
The site categorises users into "generous" members who offer from US$20 (S$24) to even US$1,000 for a date and "attractive" ones who can then either accept or decline the offer.
The "generous" category comprises mostly men while the "attractive" members are mostly women.
Its very name, "whatsyourprice", is as contentious as it gets, and the US media is incensed.
US talk show The O'Reilly Factor called the site "sexist". It's no different from prostitution, said US news websites such as Gawker and MSNBC.
So is it entrepreneurial or contemptible?
The negative attention is exactly what he had hoped for, founder Brandon Wey claimed.
Indeed, the Singapore-born 40-year-old, who is now a US citizen, picked that name because of its potential to stir controversy, as indicated by a survey he had conducted.
Speaking from Las Vegas where he lives, Mr Wey told The New Paper on Sunday: "The survey showed that people were offended initially because it's very confrontational and people said they would never use the site.
"But after they rationalised it...they realise it's not prostitution...You're really paying to break the ice."
Since the site launched in April, it has attracted more than 50,000 members - 60 per cent of them men - and has arranged more than 10,000 dates.
Mr Wey, who was from St Andrew's Secondary School and Hwa Chong Junior College, is also behind US-based dating websites SeekingArrangement.com and SeekingMillionaire.com.
ABC News called SeekingArrangement.com a "sugar daddies" dating site.
At WhatsYourPrice.com, which is hosted in the US, a date is arranged after a price is agreed and the website takes a 5 to 10 per cent cut of the final price.
The "generous" member pays his date the remaining sum when they meet in person.
Money becomes a good filtering tool that people can use, Mr Wey said.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate speaks from experience.
When he was younger, he was so shy that the mere thought of going up to a girl to ask her out was petrifying.
So the website is for guys like him who can use money to "buy the ice-breaker".
"If you're an attractive person, time is very valuable because you get a lot of attention and asked out a lot of the time. This is an opportunity for you to be compensated.
"The monetary component incentivises you to give someone a chance. We're turning dating into a free market where the opportunity of a first date can be bought or sold."
But with female users posting scantily clad photos of themselves and using highly suggestive language to describe themselves in their profiles, it's little wonder that Mr Wey has been accused of running a seedy site.
The New Paper on Sunday also came across some users openly seeking partners for threesomes.
Men are very visual creatures, Mr Wey said, so it's not uncommon for women to put up pictures that get the most attention to attract the best men.
"They can certainly hint at something on their profiles. They are welcome to describe personality or even the kind of fantasies they have," he said.
"They cannot say outright that they are an escort or want a certain amount of money to do (sexual acts)."
He said users have abused the website to peddle their services, but quickly added that he has a team which polices the site.
"We've removed hundreds of members including scammers and 'cam girls' (who sell sex over the webcam). We rely on the members to report on (dubious users) that so we can kick them off or force them to change their pictures.
"We also look at suspicious activity. We can look into a user's mailbox to see if this person is asking to be paid for her time, which would make her an escort."
Then there are also users who openly seek "discreet affairs", "married dating" and "casual encounters".
Mr Wey divorced his wife, who is 13 years his junior, two years ago. They have no children.
He doesn't get judgmental.
"As counter-intuitive as it is, a lot of men use the website to keep their marriage. It's a challenge a lot of men have. I've gone through it myself," he said.
"You make a decision to get married because you fall in love. But as you grow older, you earn more money and you have attention from more women. I found it difficult to manage that."
"It's not my job to be a moral judge. But if people ask me if it's right to cheat, it's not. There's a market demand and I'm providing a service."
Korean and Hong Kong businessmen have knocked on his door with franchisee offers.
But Mr Wey has his sights set on China.
And he reckons Asia will be more accepting of this bold concept than the West has been.
"I know the Koreans and Japanese have no problem paying for women's company in (underground) lounges.
"With a website, everything becomes more transparent and honest when it's out there in the open."
This article was first published in The New Paper.