Scott Rosenbaum has thousands of people available to keep you company -- for a price. But he's no pimp, and his website, RentAFriend.com, is no escort service. Pay $24.95 a month (or $69.95 a year) to become a member, and you get to choose from a vast menu of "friends" with whom you can play Parcheesi, go to the movies, or perhaps use as a fake relative. Almost anything, as long as it doesn't involve sex.
While some may think it sad that people are willing to pay for the most basic human companionship, Rosenbaum (pictured) views it as an underserved niche and a promising business opportunity. He thinks of his venture as the antidote to dating and sex sites like AshleyMadison.com, which facilitates extramarital hookups. "I want to take it a step backward," he told WalletPop. "It's about platonic friendship. There's a complete void in that market."
As for the hourly rates, the RentAFriends settle the terms on their own with paid members -- fees generally range from $10 to $150 an hour -- and they keep the cash for services rendered. It's an odd way to make money, but for some RentAFriends it's enjoyable work.
Granted, most of his customers who claim to be merely looking for a pal tend to choose a member of the opposite sex. But Rosenbaum writes that off as human nature. The intent just better not be nooky. While some of his RentAFriends dress provocatively in their profile photo, it's all about context. Someone wearing a cleavage-baring cocktail number at a party is one thing; flaunting that same dress in a come-hither pose on the bed is another. And Rosenbaum has made it a mission to view and approve every profile.
Rosenbaum launched RentAFriend.com in 2009. He was inspired by a Japanese service that employed the same concept, but that site was aimed more at avoiding social embarrassment. For instance, someone without a father might hire a friend to fill the role at an important function. Requests in the U.S. seem to lean toward less-complicated circumstances. Jennifer Morrison,a married 31-year-old RentAFriend from Las Vegas, accompanied a shy computer programmer to the Pinball Hall of Fame and helped a stay-at-home mom fill her scrapbook, an Associated Press story reported. She charges $20 to $30 an hour.
Lori Thomas, who is in her early 40s and is from Southern California, recently signed up as a friend for hire. She charges $40 an hour. "I did already have one request to go walking on the beach, but the person had to reschedule for next week since he had to go out of town," she wrote in an e-mail to WalletPop.
RentAFriend.com now boasts more than 209,000 "friends" available for the site's 2,100 paid clients to choose from. These clients just need to type in their zip code to find out which RentAFriends are located nearby, and to view their profiles. Registrants post at least one picture accompanied by descriptions including "ethnicity" and "body type." To make contact, visitors must then fork over the dues, which Rosenbaum pockets.
"I don't care if I get paid," Doug Hardy, a 25-year-old RentAFriend from Encinitas, Calif., wrote in an email. "I just enjoy hanging out with people." Hardy liked the concept of being borrowed as a buddy. "It gives people an opportunity to jump into any type of social niche without having to wait several years to gather friends," he said
Rosenbaum, a married father of two who lives in New Jersey, rises at 2 p.m. and works until 5 a.m. in order to keep RentAFriends.com running smoothly.
"I want to grow it to where someone comes along and wants to buy it for a lot of money," he said. Yet, Rosenbaum says he sees the site as more than just a way to make cash. While he says many of his members are frequent travelers who don't want to eat alone while on the road. There is the other half, too."There are lonely people who don't have a lot of friends, who want to be social," he said.
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