"The intimately revealing story of a man with an unfaithful
wife and an affectionate, warm-blooded secretary."Blurb and detail of the painting for the paperback digest cover
"Very Private Secretary" by artist Isabel Dawson, 1952.
The business Ashley Madison brands itself as an adultery website. How did it begin? From a BusinessWeek
"After spending several years as a sports agent at Chicago's Interperformances, Biderman founded Ashley Madison in 2002, naming the company after the two most popular names for baby girls that year. A large chunk of his work as an agent involved helping professional basketball players juggle their wives and mistresses, so when he read somewhere that 30 percent of users of Internet dating services were pretending to be single when they weren't, a light went on, pointing the way to an underserved online niche market. What would happen, Biderman thought, if cheaters had a website all their own?"Of course there are more men than women on the site. But does it actually encourage adultery or merely help enable existing adulterers? Or is it really just another way for people to hook up for sex whether they're married or not?
An ad for the infidelity web site Ashley Madison
"Promoting adultery and creating a market for it has made Biderman rich. It has not made him popular. "Nobody knows how many people are adulterous. But there is something important here," says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist specializing in love and relationships who is also a consultant to the dating site Match.com. "Even though some people are predisposed to adultery, we do have a big cerebral cortex with which we make decisions—some people are predisposed to alcohol and they give up drinking, drug addicts overcome addiction. This guy is preying on human frailty. It's a little bit like pimping if he's making money." Still, "they certainly own that cheaters' market," said David Evans, publisher of Online Dating Insider. "It's quite lucrative and successful."Cheating, Incorporated, At Ashley Madison's website for "dating," the infidelity economy is alive, well, and profitable, BusinessWeek>>
What Ashley Madison does is legal. It's also illicit, in that it helps users violate their marriage vows and engage in deception and secrecy. This presents enormous branding challenges as well as financial ones: How many fund managers want to go home to their wives and announce, "Honey, I found the perfect investment opportunity!" Some of Avid Life's employees don't publicly admit where they work for fear of jeopardizing their spouses' jobs, provoking family disapproval, or seeing their houses pelted with oranges; Biderman says he sometimes worries about his security. All of this puts him in a unique position: He is running a budding empire built on an activity that most people would say is wrong. Is that the easiest thing in the world or the most difficult?"