Since its founding in 2016 by former CEO Tim Stokely, OnlyFans says it has paid out over $8 billion to creators—whether they are adult film practitioners, workout coaches, celebrities like Cardi B and Carmen Electra, or any of the other two million people who claim a profile on the platform. OnlyFans says it has 200 million registered users. Unlike other social media platforms, though—where most content is free and the influencers and tech companies behind it make their income through advertisements or sponsored content—OnlyFans has a different approach. Users must pay for individual subscriptions, and OnlyFans takes a 20% cut of those fees.
That might seem steep, but to Gan, it’s simply the price of doing business in an industry in which the platform must incur high costs to meet safety protocols. Based in London, OnlyFans has more than 1,000 employees, over 80% of whom Gan says are primarily dedicated to content moderation and support. And many of the creators aren’t complaining: more than 1,000 of them have earned over $1 million each, OnlyFans reports.
“We’re a unique organization, because we are the most inclusive platform, allowing a range of creators, including adult creators, to have a safe place to share their content,” Gan says. That wasn’t always the case; a year ago, in August 2021, OnlyFans announced a ban on explicit content due to what Stokely said were banking restrictions. That ban was quickly reversed following significant backlash from creators, and Stokely stepped down, making way for Gan soon replace him as CEO. “I’m very proud to represent this community, and to be able to provide opportunities to our creator community that are not available elsewhere,” she says. “I think that we’re still at just the beginning of what this platform is.”
Gan spoke with TIME about how the company approaches online safety, misconceptions about the business, and her plans to grow OnlyFans’ streaming platform.
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This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You came to this position as CEO from a marketing and communications background within OnlyFans. You also previously worked with a cannabis cafe in LA. What’s been the most surprising part of your transition into the CEO role over the past year?
My leading the company is just another example of how OnlyFans is a disruptive organization. We’re not a traditional business. I was doing so much behind the scenes before being appointed to this role that internally, everyone was like, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ I’ll never forget when the executive announcement came out towards the end of December, I don’t think any of us expected it to be as big of news as it was. But we’re OnlyFans; there’s an added spotlight on everything we do. It was just one of the most overwhelming things, where you’re getting this outpouring of positive comments and sentiments. Most importantly, it was our creators, the messages I got from them. I really took everything to heart, because they felt like, Oh, here’s someone that I can identify with who will have my back.
You are an unusual leader in tech: you’re a woman of color in a space traditionally run by white men. And you’re leading a company that often works with women who are disenfranchised by traditional industry structures. What did it mean to you to be able to take the helm in this role?
I’m someone with a non-traditional background, but someone who also has a very strong point of view. I’ve been passionate about getting to know our community and getting to see how the business has been a disruptor for the creative economy and the adult entertainment industry.
How have you addressed ongoing concerns about safety?
There’s been a lot of misconceptions publicly about OnlyFans—who we are and who’s running this company. Honestly, most people don’t even know what the business is, because they’re reading tabloid-type headlines. Our business model isn’t the same as big tech companies. It’s very straightforward: we have our 80-20 split, and we’re an 18-and-over creator platform. And ultimately, it’s up to the creator to decide what types of content they feel empowered sharing. As long as they are over 18 and follow our terms of service, we are proud to be an inclusive home for a range of creators, which includes adult creators, glamor models, music artists, sports professionals—really across the board, which I think is so cool.
Safety is ultimately the foundation of our entire business, which is a surprise to most people. One of my goals is really to be a leader in online safety. For example, we have no anonymity on the platform; we know who everyone is. That prevents against bots, trolls, some of that noise that you’re getting elsewhere. We also have very robust creator verification; someone that wants to sign up to be a creator has to provide their first and last name, email, social media links, a photo of a valid ID, a photo of themselves holding their ID. They also go through a third party biometric scan and third party ID verification, and in the U.S., you have to provide a W9 form including social security number. All of this is reviewed by a human before someone is approved to be a creator on the platform. A lot of people don’t know this, but over 50% of people who apply are rejected, because we’re asking for so much information.
We also have very robust content moderation. Everything on OnlyFans, we see it, we’re able to view it, moderate it, and make sure that everyone is following our terms of service. While we do use some automated technologies to help us prioritize content, ultimately everything on the site is reviewed by a human.
Also, we’re subscription based. All content is hidden behind a subscription paywall. We have zero tolerance for bullying, or harassment. It’s very easy for a creator to block someone and report them, making the platform even safer for creators to engage with their fans. And we’ve also launched our safety and transparency center this year.
What do people still get wrong about OnlyFans? Adult content was the buzzy topic in the past; have you tried to get people to think past that impression?
A lot of people don’t realize that we are a safe platform. But that’s where I strive to be a leader, and also a leader in having an inclusive platform, meaning that I’m very proud to embrace our adult content creators, and also all of our other creators.
I’ve been very personally excited to see the range of creators, especially in the past year, that have been able to thrive on OnlyFans and call it home. For example, Carmen Electra—she’s a name everyone has heard throughout the years, and she just turned 50. I thought it was absolutely incredible that her launch with us was this global news story. The way she was talking about OnlyFans, it’s like, Oh, I finally have control of my image. I’m my own boss. Even I was kind of taken aback by that, because here’s someone who’s had multiple decades of a career in the entertainment industry, and they just now feel like they have that control over their image. That’s exceptional.
Previously there were influencers, and now everyone’s a creator. And they’ve realized that their content, their personality—that’s what’s valuable. So they’re looking at how they can monetize that and connect directly with their community. That’s where OnlyFans comes in. It was truly a platform before its time.
OnlyFans existed before the creator boom, but it really flourished during the pandemic. It was one of a crop of companies, like Zoom, that benefited from the shift to remote work and stay-at-home conditions. Now that most of the world has returned to normal, some of these companies are struggling to keep up momentum. How are you leading OnlyFans through this next era?
We actually haven’t seen any sort of slowdown in terms of subscribers or creators. We’re continuing to grow as a business overall. That just shows the power of connection. That’s what OnlyFans is providing, a safe place where you’re not getting the noise of ads and algorithms. There’s a lot of barriers to seeing people’s content these days, but we’re doing it differently. We are part of what’s called the gig economy, but I don’t think of it as the gig economy. I think of it as people finding ways to do something they’re passionate about.
I see growth as a priority. I see a lot of global growth; Latin America, for example, is a market that I’m looking at, as a huge opportunity for us. OFTV [OnlyFans TV] is a huge priority I’ve been personally investing time in; it’s a streaming platform, available exclusively to creators to submit content to, and it is widely available on like Apple and Roku smart TVs, and because of that it’s all safe-for-work content. It’s given creators a way to share more about who they are and create their own shows, with a range of content from blogs to cooking shows to workout videos.
But we’ve also been developing our own original content, like our OnlyFans Creative Fund: Fashion Edition, which was a reality-style competition. The winner received real prizes and feedback from leaders in the fashion industry, including a mentorship with Rebecca Minkoff. Our biggest announcement recently was a collaboration with the U.K. stars the Sims family; they were on a previous reality TV show [“The Only Way Is Essex”], and they didn’t really have control over what was said about them. They were looking for a new opportunity. That’s where we came in.
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What has been the biggest challenge for you during your tenure? What have you learned from it?
It’s still the misconception of the business. Or that we don’t embrace our adult creators. Those are two things that I’m actively working to change. The adult community hasn’t necessarily felt that support in the past. I’ve been very outspoken about embracing our adult creators. I have my own personal OnlyFans account that I use to see what the community is doing, follow creators, and most importantly, be able to connect directly with them and send them messages.
Other tech platforms have recently gotten into hot water over concerns about privacy and the primacy of algorithmic feeds; just look at Instagram this week. How do you differentiate yourself from other creator platforms? What is the OnlyFans value-add?
OnlyFans is the new future of social media because we’re different. First, we’re safety focused. Our business model is a lot different from all these other tech platforms who are making money off of data, ads, things like that. Our business is the 80-20 split. We don’t make money unless our creators make money. And the subscription model takes away the frustrations people feel on these other platforms.
I do believe the future is both paid and free social media. But it’s really about creators having control. Other platforms have taken that away from creators.
What do you think that you personally have brought to OnlyFans, as a leader and as an individual?
I’m a very relatable person. You have business leaders that went to fancy Ivy League schools; they’re not approachable. I’m the exact opposite. Even internally, anyone knows that they can send me a message. I genuinely like meeting our creators; I message tons of them on the platform very regularly. I think that shows.
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