As of deadline, it's been about six months since federal judge James Ware ordered Stephen Cohen to return Sex.com to Gary Kremen, and about six weeks since Kremen tapped Daron Babin to manage the growth and evolution of the mega-domain. AVN Online interviewed Babin at that time, and he was predictably thrilled and overwhelmed by what he was about to take on, but a lot can happen in six weeks, so we sought him out for an update.
We'd heard many rumblings from within the industry about deep resentments over Babin having been chosen in the first place, but also several off-the-record expressions of extreme displeasure at the manner of his choosing. Those complaints persist to this day, but you wouldn't know it from speaking with Babin, aka SEGuru, master of search engine placement, who understands the forces at play. "It's going to be that way for a variety of reasons," he said, "whether because they just don't like who I am or are upset because they would like to have seen the business model go in a different direction."
In fact, the affable guy with the thin moustache and boundless energy maintains an almost blissful ignorance regarding negative comments. "I'll be honest, I haven't heard anything like that," he said, adding, "I come into this from a neutral position. I even talked with someone who was in the running for management of Sex.com, and they said, when they heard that it was me that they were also talking to, that that made sense for them. They as a company felt that, in the long run, they would probably make more money with me running it than with them."
Or maybe they realized what a pain in the ass managing the site would be. As expected, Babin has been literally inundated by people and companies who want a piece of what promises to be both a formidable portal and one of the most voluminous traffic-generators ever seen.
Has reality kept pace with expectations? "Regarding our initial plans,' said Babin, "I would say we're still on track. Obviously, it's been a tremendous learning experience, especially in regards to the traffic and what it likes and what it's responding to. A lot of people would kill for this type of data. We're actually stepping the pace up to begin to get a better idea of what the demographics are and what the users want, and are beginning to put measures into place that will allow us to compile the data. Right now, though, we're just watching traffic flows, the statistics, that sort of thing."
So, will Sex.com be a consumer portal or a Webmaster resource? "It's actually going to be both," said Babin. "We're just in the background working on that quietly, solidifying the features that we would like to see and setting the plan for implementation. We see that with the product evolving the way it is, we're setting things in place that are win-win for surfers, for Webmasters, for advertisers, for Sex.com in general."
"Right now," continued Babin, "Sex.com is providing a landing place for visitors from all over the world to find specifically that which they like. In the future, we feel that Sex.com will be not only a place to find things... but [will] provide a platform for them to hang out on. We want them to come and hang out on a regular basis. I want better than repeat guys. I want guys that will come here two, three times a day. I want women that will come here two, three times a day, if not more."
But will that conflict with its role as a traffic portal? "No, because we plan on implementing the features necessary to keep them (surfers) right there at Sex.com. Now, let's not confuse that with paid advertisers who want to promote a product or service within something that's targeted. By all means, we're going to sell that inventory. The first six weeks have shown us that not only are we in a position to have all these extra features, but we're in the unique position to become an incubator for dynamic small companies that have a hell of a lot to offer but don't have the traffic to get it done. It gives us the ability to go in and take a piece of equity and start pouring some traffic into a resource that's going to help make Sex.com sticky."
Will any of these deals include the big boys? "To be quite honest," said Babin, "a lot of the big guys have come on board as advertisers and we've pretty much kept it at that. I won't say that we're not looking to cultivate joint ventures with any of these guys, but right now the big established ones aren't necessarily seeking those types of deals with us right now. So I'm not worried about that." One company that they are already partnered with, though, is Vivid. "The VOD (video on demand) is something that we're working on with Vivid. We're [also] working on a strategic partnership with Vivid on some stuff that will of course be mentioned when it's done."
But Babin obviously has his sights set on other things than the usual adult Net fare. "We've got so much more that we're looking at outside the box, and outside what the industry knows," he said. "There's so much out there that's not saturated that we feel adds more value and benefit to the end user experience. A good portion is foreign traffic. We have to have a broad mass appeal that actually allows them to filter themselves. So, really, right now we see there being more joint ventures with companies that have not necessarily gone out and made their millions."
Would that include mainstream companies? "I'd be lying if I said no. Let's be honest, I really see there being much more available to the end user that types in "sex" than just a hard cock and fake titties, which don't necessarily equal sex to everyone. We're looking at avenues where we could encroach into the mainstream and still keep everyone happy. It's going to be a very thin tightrope to walk." He adds, "There are going to be those [mainstream] companies that we could pursue business with. If Maxim wanted a better Web presence, we could have Maxim.Sex.com. Tell me that a good share of American visitors would not like to see that? It's those sorts of things that we're looking at."
The revenue model for Sex.com includes bid-for-placement, participation in affiliate programs, banner exchanges, advertising, joint ventures, and product development, as in hat, shirts and mugs, but they also see an opportunity, or responsibility, to encourage the bringing together of people. "We really want to push this to a whole new level of community, and I think just because of who we are we've got the ability to pull it off."
The main principles of Sex.com include Kaos Marketing and Grant Media. "Kaos was created to be one of the managing partners of Pan LLC, which is the corporate entity that is the partnership between Kaos and Grant Media. Kaos is my company, Grant is Gary Kremen's, and the two combined add up to Pan LLC, which actually stands for Pick A Name." Other participants include Scott Rabinowitz, aka Traffic Dude, and Greg Geelan of YNOT, who, according to Babin, "is reviewing contracts, providing administrative overview, helping us with the organization, throwing in opinions on the business development side when a deal comes to the table, things like that."
Regarding where Sex.com will be by this summer's Internext, Babin said, "Roots are being stuck down into the earth from twenty different directions. Where do we see this at show time? We should be in full swing with bid for placement and growing the webmaster community with Sex.com at the same time. But I would venture to say that by that time the webmaster community within Sex.com won't be as big as we'd like it to be because it will be brand new, just a few weeks old."
That's okay. We're looking forward to watching the growth of what Babin has to believe is the greatest gift he's ever been given, and one he will surely help nurture from it's current toddler stage, through adolescence into formidable adulthood and beyond.