Starter Story

Starter Story about entrepreneurship in the escort industry

On October 5th, Starter Story published a case study about our high class escortservice. Starter Story is an online platform where successful entrepreneurs are interviewed and share the stories behind their business. In each interview, they are asked how they got started, how they grew, and how they run their business today. The stories are inspiring and also provide specific advice and insight into starting a business. By sharing these stories, Starter Story wants to help others get started. The interview can be found on the website of Starter Story and be read below. Make sure to subscribe to this platform, it is full of interesting interviews!

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Marike van der Velden and I am the founder and owner of the largest high-end escortservice in The Netherlands: Society Service. The service we offer is called the Girlfriend Experience, which means spending time with an escort will feel similar to spending time with a girlfriend. The experience is very intimate of nature and often includes eroticism, but this is not the main focus of the experience, merely the cherry on top. The social aspect of booking is just as important, if not more.

At any given time, there are around 55 male and female escorts working with Society Service. They cater to clients from all walks of life, from ambitious businessmen to nervous virgins and curious couples. The aim is to create a mutually enjoyable, memorable, and extraordinary experience. This experience does come with a price tag of at least $1,000 per booking, resulting in a multi-million dollar annual turnover.

Picture from the book I wrote: Escort Bible (in Dutch)

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

In primary school, I was asked what I wanted to become when I was older. My classmates came up with answers such as firemen for the boys and nurse for the girls. But not me. I wanted to become the first female prime minister of The Netherlands. I saw myself becoming the boss of an imperium, but could have never guessed that would turn out to be an imperium in the escort industry.

Some years later I started my studies in Business Administration at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. But as time flew, I found it difficult to decide which Master I was going to do. I had this vague idea of becoming a consultant, but a consultant in what? To make the choice easier I decided to do two internships. And that did indeed make the choice much easier because I quickly learned I am not the type for a 9 to 5 lifestyle. Neither am I a very good employee. I should have been grateful to the boss of the French company where I was doing an internship. Great opportunity, he even paid for my housing. Instead, I pretty much called him an amateur bungler. I still feel ashamed, thinking back on it. Lesson learned; I need to be my boss. Luckily that year a new Master was introduced; Entrepreneurship and New Business Venturing, which I decided to choose.

During my Masters at university, I met a young lady from the same university at a party. She was doing social studies and worked as a glamour model. She was often approached with requests to spend time with men for money, as were her other model girlfriends and this is how she got the idea to start an escortservice. However, she was lacking the business skills to do so and that’s where I came in.

We were going to be queens, ruling, and revolutionizing the escort business and founded Society Service in 2006. Starting an escortservice requires very little capital. A couple of thousand Euros for a permit and a website was enough. The low capital requirement was appealing, although I must admit the controversial nature of the business had its appeal as well.

My business partner and I were a golden team at the start and we were a very interesting subject for the press; two university students started an escortservice. From the very start, the press was interested in our story, but this exploded when we started the Virgin Experience; a special service for clients with very little to no experience in the bedroom. The press was all over us, both in The Netherlands as well as internationally. But all good things must come to an end and this was no different for the cooperation with my business partner. After a long legal haggle we agreed on a buy-out fee and I continued Society Service alone from 2008.

I may be the only person who manages Society Service daily but is assisted by a team of freelancers who assist me with the website, cybersecurity, legal and administrative issues, recruitment and so forward. I have been working with most of them for over a decade and can say that where Society Service stands now is a result of a team effort.

Some clips of publications I was in

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Unlike most other businesses, you can’t find a lot of information about how to run a high-end escort service. There is very little information available, and the information that is put out there is usually overly romanticized or dramatized. From the get-go I decided to go on three things:

  1. My gut feeling
  2. My morals
  3. What I learned during my studies on how to run a business 

I figured basic business strategies may just as well apply to an escort service as they would to any other business. And turns out that is very much true. I have to pay taxes like any other business, offer an informative website that seduces the right clients to book and keeps the wrong people out, complies with laws and regulations, keeps our clients and our employees happy, and their personal information safe.

In many ways, running an escort service is no different from any other industry. It is just the type of service that varies. With these basic principles in mind, I started Society Service.

Being new to this industry I had no clue what to expect. And since there is no information available, I kinda just “winged” it, hoping for the best and adjusting by trial and error. The setup of the escortservice was easy. I applied for a permit at the city of Rotterdam, found an accountant through a friend, and had a basic website built by a fellow student who just happened to be rather handy with computers. My business partner at the time and I both invested 2,000 Euros, which is no more than 2,500 Dollars each.

Finding the right people to work with turned out to be one of the most important factors for the success of my business.

The most impressive part about starting the company must have been the procedure to obtain a permit. To sell escort services is fully legal in The Netherlands if you have a permit to do so. The application process was just some paperwork and payment. But turns out there is a screening attached to it, a so-called BIBOB screening. Part of the process is a chat with the prostitution and human trafficking team of the local police. Sitting in a room with five very serious police officers was rather impressive, considering that I was just 21 at the time.

Me at 21 years old, graduating for my Bachelor degree

Describe the process of launching the business.

All the attention from the press certainly had its benefits. It immediately attracted men and women who wanted to work for Society Service and clients who wanted to book with Society Service. There were some additional expenses along the way, but I would say the break-even point was reached just a few months after starting the escort service.

In 2007, when the Virgin Experience was launched, my business partner and I were not prepared for what was to come. An article about our brand new service appeared on the front page of a large Dutch newspaper and attracted lots of other national and international press.

But what exactly this brand new service entailed? We had no clue yet. We told all potential clients of the service it was so busy, there was a waiting list. During their waiting time, we prepared for the new service. Once we were ready, bookings followed, resulting in a modest revenue. The revenue we created in the first year was enough to pay for all of our expenses and even give ourselves a bit of salary. We never needed a loan. Luckily, because being in this controversial industry means no bank is willing to provide a loan. A personal mortgage to buy a house is also out of the question.

One of my first television appearances, together with Rebecca, owner of luxury Amsterdam lingerie boutique Pleasurements

Behind the scenes for a television show in my old living room

An escort service does not have many expenses, other than the salary of the escort who executes the booking. With a computer and a phone, you can go a long way. In the first year, the biggest expense was most likely the accountant and the costs for the permit. My dorm room was our office and the lounge of a local luxury hotel, the setting for all interviews we conducted with the press and applicants.

Advertising escort services are often not allowed, for example on social media or search engines. This means you depend on organic traffic and direct traffic for your website. Meaning; people who heard of us through the press and the “natural” ranking of the website on search engines. The very first website was rather amateur, and after the buyout of my business partner, it’s one of the very first things I changed.

Website of escortservice Society Service throughout the years

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Operating in a controversial industry comes with its very own set of advantages and disadvantages. A major advantage is that my work is versatile, no day is the same. I have all the freedom in the world to work where and when I want. I enjoy my work and sexy choice of business and have made enough money from it to be financially independent.

The way I choose to run my business and the personal morals I stick to, make me feel like I can make a difference in an industry that is overshadowed by stigma. I am confident I offer an environment for both the client and the escort to safely and happily explore their desires.

Behind the scenes at a photoshoot for the escorts, a fun business activity

Having said that, operating in a controversial industry also has its downsides. My very first accountancy firm kicked me out the minute they reviewed their integrity policy. To host something as simple as a website or telephone number is difficult; you either pay a premium or you are declined. The same goes for most banks and payment platforms. Insurance for either yourself or your business is not available.

You are treated as a liability at best and a criminal at worst when you introduce your business somewhere. That all may sound terrible (and at times it can be) but in general I’ve always seen this as an opportunity to be creative and look beyond the standard solutions to everyday business challenges. Every business will come with challenges and opportunities. To treat a challenge as an opportunity will make your business grow.

The controversial nature of the business comes with another major challenge, which turned out to be a huge opportunity; people judge me as a person and don’t take my business very seriously. This means expectations are low and it is very easy to exceed them. Clients have often experienced these prejudices to be true with other agencies, mostly in countries where running an escortservice is not legal.

By just running a professional business, I am already exceeding expectations. Imagine how happy clients are when you provide them with not only a professional and well-managed service, but also live up (and exceed) the expectations they have towards the experience with the escort. This makes it very easy to generate return clientele. Besides, I never make a promise I am not sure I can keep. I am as honest as I possibly can with clients and rather decline a booking request than knowingly introducing a client and escort who I know are not a match or risk the wellbeing of an escort. Not everything is for sale at Society Service. Clients appreciate this honesty and knowing they can trust me is of great importance to them.

Another thing that has helped my business grow is to be very open and transparent about my company. From how to run an escortservice, what it is like to work as an escort or book one, and more. The only thing I will not discuss is who my clients and escorts are. Their secrets are safe with me. Other than that, I’m literally, an open book. In 2014 I even wrote a book about it, called Escort Bible (in Dutch). Had I only sold one book it would have still been a great investment; it generated a lot of press and provided a form of legitimacy to my company. I was voted one of the 400 most inspiring and successful power women of the Netherlands the year my book came out.

I understand you may be curious… so here’s an overview of my greatest business expenses:

First of all: 60 to 70 percent of the revenue goes to the escort, it is her gross salary. From what is left I spend annually:

  • ±20K on Accounting and legal advice
  • ±20K on Cybersecurity and managed to host of servers
  • ±15K on (Online) Advertisements
  • ±25K on Office space
  • ±35K on Website development and custom admin system

Nothing out of the ordinary right? Oh… and I pay lots and lots of taxes. Examples of the taxes that I pay:

  • 21% VAT on all services provided
  • 37 - 50% Income tax on the salary I provide to myself and the escorts
  • 25% Dividend tax if you take the profit out of your company
  • 21% Corporate tax over any profit you make annually

Plus lots of other small taxes like capital taxes, healthcare law tax, and so on.

Despite the expenses and taxes, my business allows for a very comfortable lifestyle. Throughout the years, the more comfortable I got, the easier it became to balance my private life versus working. The choices I now make are not solely based on the amount of revenue they may generate but also on how they affect my private life.

For instance, a couple of years ago I decided to change my opening hours. I changed the latest time we could be reached from midnight to 10 PM. This may not seem like a big difference, and in revenue, it wasn’t, but it does allow me for more uninterrupted private time to spend with my loved ones. I am also outsourcing more tasks that I do not enjoy, which also gives me more spare time but cuts a bit of profit. 

For the future, I see myself making similar choices. The opening hours will be more limited and I may outsource some more tasks. Most likely this will result in lower revenue and profit margin but I am okay with that, as it also provides me with more time and flexibility to spend on my other passions, such as traveling. I have no desire to become very wealthy. My lifestyle is currently comfortable and it would be great if I could keep this up. A bigger car or bigger house will not make me happier. Although flying business class may.

Black tie events such as the annual VIP opening party of the Masters of Luxury are not on my weekly itinerary

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Throughout the years I have learned many lessons, some more expensive than others. I have learned that people may surprise you, both in a positive and a negative sense.

This certainly applies to the ladies and gentlemen who work as escorts with my escort agency. My gut feeling is not always right when it comes to judging the trustworthiness of the escorts. Some have ended up stealing from me - money, clients, and more - yet some have provided me with great ideas, loyalty, and the kindest feedback.

I try not to hold onto negativity, but I would say that’s work in progress. The right people to work with turned out to be one of the most important factors for the success of my business. I am not just referring to the escorts, but also the other freelancers I work with such as my webmaster, lawyer, accountant, and onwards. They may not always have been the most economical choice but reliability and quality of service are of much greater importance.

My business is usually excluded by the larger firms, therefore I was forced to work with mostly independent freelancers. This also turned out much better than anticipated. The personal and informal approach, combined with the dedication to their work has great benefits.

A poor business decision. At an early age, I (and many others) invested money with a high-ranked executive of a Dutch fortune 500 company, who turned out to be a conman. He used the money to pay for his extravagant lifestyle, including this fancy party where he insisted the fake Robbie Williams was the real deal. The party was fun though.

Another thing I have learned is that I am good at working alone, but I need feedback from others. I am the sole owner of Society Service and the majority of my work is done alone from home. Luckily, I am good at working alone from home and have the discipline to keep up with all my tasks. However, I have found it very important to have feedback now and then.

When looking at the people I socialize with, most of them are entrepreneurs in a similar position. We enjoy spending time together and organize dinner parties where we all bring a new friend or business contact to the party for new input. These dinner parties are very valuable, both on a social and business level.

I have also hired several consultants who have provided me with many ideas and insights that I would not have come up with on my own. I have even formed somewhat of a friendship with the owner of a competing agency and we both enjoy sharing experiences over lunch. In short; sharing experiences and being open to feedback from others has been of great value to myself and my business.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Due to the nature of my business, most (social media) platforms do not offer advertising options. The same goes for advertisements online and in print. This means your main way to generate clients is through organic search engine traffic. The Society Service website is completely designed to be as search engine friendly as possible and my SEO expert advises me on how to maintain a high ranking position. An example of something he advised is our Escort Blog, a weekly blog is published about one of the escorts or something else I believe clients may find interesting.

Our escorts are tutored throughout their time with Society Service on different aspects, such as etiquette, striptease, safety, bondage, and more. This is a picture of a massage training

Discretion and confidentiality are of great importance to my company. For that reason, most platforms are not an option as they do not offer the security I require. One of the most costly - yet very worthwhile - investments I did was in a custom-built CRM system. It allows me to manage bookings, escorts, and clients with the level of discretion and security as I desire.

It cost me around 100K to have it built and another 15K annually for maintenance and updates. I choose to have it built abroad. My SEO expert was familiar with a party abroad who offer the same (if not better) services as a Dutch firm would, at a third of the costs. For security reasons, I will not list the name of the company here, but for those interested, feel free to contact me. It turned out to be a great investment because it saves me about two hours of work a day and offers the escorts many benefits in managing their bookings and availability, amongst other things.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

My biggest resources are other entrepreneurs, such as my entrepreneurial friends. I enjoy spending time with them and pick their brain on how they run their business as well as more light-hearted topics. I also enjoy watching documentaries and reading books written by or about successful entrepreneurs.

I have friends who swear by the power of Tony Robbins and religiously visit his events. That is not my cup of tea though. Another source of inspiration for me are the escorts and clients. They often provide very useful feedback that makes me consider new options and ideas to implement in my business.