The elusive porn baron behind OnlyFans

Onlyfans digital
Onlyfans digital

As Vladimir Putin’s war machine rolled into Ukraine, the country’s diaspora rallied to fund humanitarian aid. Even OnlyFans, the adult subscription website, made a $5m donation, including millions in cryptocurrency tokens from its otherwise reclusive owner: Leo Radvinsky.

“Given our strong personal ties to Ukraine, we wanted to support,” Amrapali Gan, OnlyFans chief executive, said at the time.

It was a rare moment in the public glare for Radvinsky, the 40-year-old Ukrainian-American internet porn magnate who acquired OnlyFans from its founder, Essex entrepreneur Tim Stokely, in 2018.

OnlyFans is a hugely popular online subscription website that allows adult performers to charge fees to fans for exclusive videos and photos – including sexually explicit clips.

Based in the UK, it is about as close as Britain has come to a consumer tech success story to rival Silicon Valley. It is used by 2.2 million performers and last year reported a pre-tax profit of $433m, according to its latest Companies House accounts.

Since the pandemic, it has attracted 187 million paying “fans” who pay subscriptions of £5 per month or more to view “not-suitable-for-work” pictures and videos from adult stars, as well as content from celebrities such as Cardi B, models, chefs and fitness coaches who share non-explicit posts on the app.

Sex sells, and OnlyFans said its “creators”, as content sharers on the platform are called, netted $4bn in payouts in 2021 and have shared $8bn since it was founded.

cardi b rapper - ROBYN BECK /AFP
cardi b rapper - ROBYN BECK /AFP

It has also been exceptionally good business for Radvinsky. The US citizen has taken out $517m in dividends from Fenix International, OnlyFans’ UK-based arm, over the last 20 months.

A spokesman for OnlyFans says Radvinsky is “not involved in the daily running of the business”, with operations and safety investment managed by Gan, its former head of marketing.

Radvinsky almost never gives interviews and has only recently begun to reveal titbits about his personal life, philanthropy and investments.

His personal website, leoradvinsky.com, details his donations to cancer charities and his personal investments, which are typically into open source internet projects. Hobbies include helicopter flying, with 95 training hours in a Bell Jetranger.

Radvinsky also has a venture capital fund, Leo.com, which offers founders investments of up to $1m. The site describes him as a “respected e-commerce pioneer and experienced company-builder”.

Legal filings and public records in the US and UK reveal further snippets of Radvinsky’s two-decade career in internet pornography.

Born in Odesa, Ukraine, Radvinsky’s family emigrated to the US when he was a child. He settled in Chicago and became fascinated by IT from an early age. As a teenager, worked on the video game X-Com: Apocalypse, according to investigative website Forensic News.

He quickly put his coding talent to use in the booming world of online pornography.

In 1999, when Radvinsky was aged just 17, he helped incorporate Cybertania Inc. The company was behind a flurry of sexually-explicit ventures, many of which were sites redirecting users to adult content. It launched websites including Ultra Passwords, which claimed to offer “hacked” passwords and “illegal teen passwords”, Forbes reported.

These links did not actually lead to illegal content, but instead were a form of underhand marketing designed to redirect users to other, legal, pornographic videos, according to an investigation by Forbes and the Internet Watch Foundation. Radvinsky’s companies would earn affiliate revenues from funnelling the traffic to porn sites.

In 2002, Radvinsky graduated from Northwestern University and in 2004 set up the highly successful adult streaming website MyFreeCams, where adult models broadcast themselves stripping or performing sex acts online in exchange for tips from viewers.

His early ventures were hit by legal complaints. Amazon and Microsoft sued Cybertania in 2004 for sending spam emails. Amazon said at the time: “Radvinsky sent millions of illegal and deceptive e-mail messages to [Microsoft] MSN Hotmail customers, including messages that were falsely labelled as coming from Amazon.com.” The case was settled out of court.

Still, MyFreeCams was a success, claiming to reach 30 million users each month. It became one of the most visited sites on the internet.

Radvinsky, who owns a penthouse in Chicago and a mansion in Florida, did not found OnlyFans. Essex entrepreneur Stokely set up the company in 2016 with a £10,000 loan from his father - who told him: “Tim, this is going to be the last one”.

The suave entrepreneur, typically impeccably dressed with slicked back hair, cut an unusual figure in the world of adult entertainment.

OnlyFans enjoyed modest growth in its early years but got a shot in the arm when Stokely received a cold email from Radvinsky in 2018. He agreed to buy 100pc of the business. It is not clear what he paid, although OnlyFans later paid £23m to buy a separate business owned by the Stokely family.

OnlyFans website - SOPA Images /LightRocket
OnlyFans website - SOPA Images /LightRocket

The timing was perfect: the pandemic helped OnlyFans explode in popularity. By April 2020, it was so mainstream that pop singer Beyonce even referenced it in the song “Savage”, with fellow star Megan Thee Stallion. The name check gave the website an appearance of legitimacy and catapulted it further into the mainstream.

OnlyFans provides videos, streams and exclusive clips to fans from creators - most often adult stars. It takes a 20pc cut, and the creators get the rest.

Despite the world reopening from Covid lockdowns, it is still growing quickly, analysts say. Scarlett Woodford, a senior analyst at Juniper Research, says performer sign-ups were 33pc higher in May this year compared to January, which “clearly indicates that OnlyFans continues to gain popularity”.

Its rise has not been without controversy. The BBC reported last year on dozens of instances of under 18s who had managed to create accounts or post content on OnlyFans. In one instance, police found a 14-year-old girl had managed to use her grandmother’s bank details to sell explicit images.

The company says it has a strict over 18s policy and uses ID verification and photo analysis to ensure users are who they say they are.

OnlyFans will come under renewed scrutiny over its moderation with the advent of the Online Safety Bill, which is due to come into force in the UK.

While Radvinsky has managed to extract half a billion dollars from the company, some creators complain they are being used.

Last year, OnlyFans briefly announced that it would be banning sexually explicit posts. Stokely blamed the company’s banks and payment providers, but sex workers fumed they were being forced off an app they had helped create. A U-turn followed and sexual posts remain common on OnlyFans.

The Telegraph can also reveal OnlyFans is facing a UK High Court legal case over the fees it pays creators. OnlyFans performer Denisse Muniz, who calls herself NinaUnrated, has sued the company for changes to a policy that offered creators a “lifetime” 5pc cut of future revenues when they referred a new star on to the site. OnlyFans later changed the terms to cap the amount that she and others could receive under the deal at $50,000.

She claims to be owed $75,000 by OnlyFans, according to a US legal filing, and accuses the company of fraud and breach of contract. The US case has been dismissed on the agreement of parties to hear the case in the UK, US records show. The company is understood to view the claim as without merit. A spokesman for Harrison Clark Rickerbys, which is representing Ms Muniz in the UK, declined to comment.

OnlyFans has tried to clean up its image. It has launched OFTV, a version of its app that only features “safe-for-work” videos, meaning it can be featured on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android store. Analysts at SensorTower say this app only has around 3.5 million downloads globally, and it only scores a 2.9 out of 5 in user ratings on iPhones.

Woodford, of Juniper Research, says the launch of OFTV has put it into “direct competition with other streaming services such as YouTube”.

The company has also brought in new leadership since its change of ownership. Gan replaced Stokely as chief executive in December. She has insisted the site is committed to safety and diversifying beyond adult content.

Gan says the company is “dedicated to being the safest and most inclusive social media platform in the world. OnlyFans’ market leading business model enables creators to keep 80pc of all payments on our platform and empowers them to have true freedom of expression”.

Even with Gan in charge, OnlyFans remains closely linked to Mr Radvinsky and his Cybertania business. Its accounts also reveal payments of $46m and $14m over the past two years to Cybertania for “server storage costs”.

Gan says the team is “wholeheartedly supported by Mr Radvinsky in his capacity as a shareholder and director of OnlyFans”.

After years in the web’s shadows, the success of OnlyFans appears set to finally haul Radvinsky into the public eye.

Radvinsky did not respond to requests for comment.