PHOENIX, Ariz. – What began in 1999 as a hobby is now one of the most successful independent companies in adult entertainment. Lightspeed Media recently celebrated its 10th anniversary (April 3) and to borrow from the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it's been.
Founder Steve Lightspeed has been called an industry "party animal." He's been behind some of the most memorable promotional stunts in adult, including motorcycle giveaways, go-kart races, paintball wars and stunt plane flights.
"I started this just for fun," Lightspeed told AVN Online. He launched Lightspeed Media as a side business and wound up walking away from a 13-year job as a $200,000 computer systems designer to focus on porn. His Lightspeed Cash program has become synonymous with the teen solo-girl niche, promoting amateur models such as Tawnee Stone and Jordan Capri.
"I thought it would be great if we could do a thousand dollars a month. Then I realized I could quit the full-time job and be able to work from home and make more money than a 'regular career.' I never expected it to be where it is now," he said. "I'm back where I need a new hobby -- maybe I'll start programming again for fun."
Lightspeed has seen numerous changes in the adult industry over the past decade.
"Back when I started, there were only a few established companies — the second generation hadn't come in yet," he recalled. "Everybody wasn't niche or newbie-friendly. I'd be at seminars and people would say, ‘Why would anyone want to start a paysite?'
"But I wasn't really doing it for the money anyway — I really didn't care," he said. "I just wanted to make enough money to keep going. I kept showing up to all these industry things and it really wasn't until summer 2001 that it all really took off."
Lightspeed developed the solo-girl niche and ran with it.
"Solo girl was one of the things we helped push along," he said. "It was amateur before that, so we hired models to play a role and created opportunities for them. It was a little different than anybody had seen before."
Technical advancements and mainstream consumer equipment were also part of its growth as a business.
"One of the biggest things was digital cameras," Lightspeed said. "It made it so easy, so inexpensive to produce content. All of a sudden, so many people were producing content and tons and tons of sites popped up. The cost of entry went down to nothing and we saw a flood of new people starting about 2003. Actually, it may have hurt the industry in the long run, but it's hard to say."
Lightspeed told AVN Online one of the keys to his company's success and longevity has been branding.
"We were one of the first to brand all our sites with our name," he said. "'That's a stupid name,' some people said. I can remember one model I met in Hawaii saying that. But it's a name people will remember."
Lightspeed has been the name for a semi-conductor company, a brokerage house and also a California business that sells science-fiction and fantasy art.
"We were the first one to use it in the adult space and branding really made a difference," he said. "We started putting it on multiple sites every year and had the surfer's trust. That's a big part of long-term success; you've got to have trust from your fan base."
While the company continued to develop and evolve, Lightspeed finally made a decision to step back for a time and let it run itself.
"It was always evolving, but I actually took a bit of a breather the last couple of years," he said. "I'd done so many industry shows, like a hundred in row, and I burned myself out. So I took some time off to spend with my kids. And that's one of the lucky things I've been able to do. I can get by with just five hours a week at work."
Even with his good fortune and an enviable lifestyle, Lightspeed admits even his company hasn't been immune to the global economic downturn.
"This economy is bad for everybody. We're down. I don't think anybody can deny this industry is seeing a slowdown," he said. "We cut our expenses quite a bit, but profit-wise, we're still where we were."
Those belt-tightening moves included slashing a staff of about 30 to seven or eight people now, Lightspeed said. The company also cut production, programming, marketing, and advertising.
"We used to run ads in every magazine and sponsor every show," he said. "But I've meet most of the people in the industry I wanted to meet; now I just punch up the numbers on my cell phone. It got to the point where we were saturated. Of course we'll still go big at the Phoenix Forum, which is in my backyard, so we start early and the four-day show turns into an entire week."
Despite current economic hard times, Lightspeed is positive about the future of his companies Lightspeed Media and affiliate program LightspeedCash, as well as the entire adult industry in general. Some will drop out, but those who stay true will continue to last.
"Well keep going with what we do," he said. "I think our approach keeps us afloat when a lot of other people won't be around. I've always said honesty is the key to this business and I still stick to that."
For more about Steve Lightspeed, read last year's AVN.com interview.