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Don't Go There!: The "Don'ts" of Starting Up A Successful Web Site

Don't Go There!: The

Failure, like its more specific (though common) cousin, loser, is not a particularly pleasant idea to think about, but as a spoken word there's an agreeable Irish cadence to it.

Say it: "Failure."

Feel it as it forms, flowing smoothly from the lower lip and upper teeth, through the tip of the tongue as it lightly tags the roof of the mouth, then issues forth into the world with an easy and deceptive amiability. Of course one can always give it a guttural snarl that's particularly satisfying when aimed at more efficient co-workers or inferior offspring, though most of us still prefer the "loser" label in those situations. But whatever choice is made, the unavoidable fact is that Americans, whether they admit it or not, have a profound love affair with the concept of nonsuccess in all its variations, using the words superstitiously, as verbal talismans to ward off the odious possibility of, well... failure.

Which is why we at AVN Online have decided to look this monster squarely in the face. Our aim is to explore not how but rather how not to create a prosperous Web site. How, in short, to fail at your business. We spoke with the heads of a few of the more successful adult sites in the industry, to try and glean from their experience how to most effectively botch it.

Because this negative spin is unusual territory for us, we imposed few guidelines, preferring to lay out the theme and let the interviewees run with it. Any similarities in response, therefore, only prove that there are indeed consistencies of experience in the adult Internet business as it now stands.

However, we did ask the respondents to direct their comments to the start up of pay, rather than free, sites, if for no other reason than to maintain a semblance of control over the scope of the article.

Colin Rowntree, president of the venerable and literate fetish content-provider Wasteland.com (www.wasteland.com):

"First, don't put your new site on a free host, like GeoCities, because they will throw you off. They will eat all of your content and then you won't have anything. You may think, 'Okay, I'm starting out, but I don't want to spend any money so I'll put it on a free host,' but it says in [GeoCities'] terms and conditions 'No Adult Content,' so your site will be croaked very quickly.

"Second, don't put it on a cheap host. That would include AOL or any of your other local or regional ISPs. If you put it on an ISP that's not able to handle it or is not set up for adult business, it will get slower and slower because they don't have the bandwidth capabilities to handle the traffic that goes through an adult site. Not too far down the road, you will get a bill in the mail for several thousand dollars for bandwidth, after they've suddenly discovered that you are using all this bandwidth that crawls along at a pitifully slow rate but adds up anyway. They work on a whole different scale, used to servicing real estate agencies and hairdressers who need an online presence with two pages, that might do a meg a day or a meg a week. In our business you could very quickly be doing a hundred megs a day without even thinking about it.

"First and foremost is to do your homework and find a good, reliable ISP that specializes in adult hosting. A good place to look is AVN Online and the big fat display ads that are splattered all over it. It's the difference between starting a retail store and putting it in a nice building or setting up a tent in South Florida on the beach in a hurricane."

What about having your own servers?

"Never ever, ever - even if you're the biggest company in the whole wide world - should you own, operate and maintain your own server. It's much better handled by outsourcing it to companies that do nothing but stare at these boxes all day."

Got it.

"Next, be really careful who does your credit card processing. This is where more people have been burned than have not. One way to go is with a third party processor, DMR, iBill, Paycom. The downside is that those are not your customers. You're simply wholesaling your content to them. They're using their merchant account, and for your thirteen to fifteen [percent] cut they take all your headaches away and handle the customers and the chargebacks and whatever. But if you ever want to leave, or if they go under, all those customers you worked so hard to get are no longer yours. You walk away with nothing. So you don't want to get in with an unstable company."

How do you know if a company is unstable?

"You've really got to look around. The best way is to go to ia2000 and ask around; read the Web master boards, YNOT, Netpond. You'll hear pretty quickly the scuttlebutt. As soon as something happens it goes on these boards. Probably the worst thing you can do is not pay attention to what is going on around you, or not do anything, hoping it will get better. It won't. Get out."

What are the warning signs?

"Things like suddenly getting an E-mail or letter saying, 'We're changing the way we do business. Now you need to have a certain minimum that you run through us. Without this minimum, we want you to send us two thousand dollars,' or some other thing where you have to kick in money to subsidize them."

What about content?

"Go steal a whole lot, put it on a free site with a domain that's registered in your name with your phone number and E-mail address on it. You'll get sued in a hurry. But a real mistake you can make with content is to make it too narrow, too focused. Don't make it 'German Businessman's Rubber Inflatable Masturbation Toys.' Also try to be diverse within the niche that you're in. It's about personality. A common mistake is slapping up pictures without giving the site a feel, making it into a living being that's got a presence to it. You've got to make it feel different."

Rich Botto is head honcho at RJB Telcom (www.maxcash.com), owners/operators of many adult sites as well as one of the largest partnership programs on the Net:

"One of the biggest mistakes people make is misrepresenting the content on the inside of the site against what they present in the tour. Surfers are more savvy today than they've ever been. People are going to go from site to site, sign up for the trial and cancel if they're not happy. Many'll do that anyway, but more likely than not they'll cancel if what's inside is not what's promised outside. That'll lead to massive chargebacks. Another thing that people do wrong is go for the quick buck by being deceptive to the new member, making it hard to cancel or hiding their terms and conditions, not making it clear that a trial subscription will automatically become a term after three or five days.

"Also, many people out there still think they can go to news groups, take as many pictures as they want, throw them onto a pay site and open it that way. They think they can get free hosting, free pictures, free everything, and get on the ground paying nothing. That's not the case. They're leaving themselves open. Content providers are now extremely careful about protecting their material. If you don't have model releases and you're not using the pictures legally, most of them will take the time to hunt you down."

Is there content you don't want to go with now?

"It's very difficult for anybody to come into the market now and put up an all-inclusive site like Kara's [Adult Playground (www.karasxxx.com)]."

How much would you have to spend to do that?

"I would say a million dollars, minimum. There are a few that have established a stranglehold in this area, so what most people who are new are doing is opening niche sites, which is what I recommend. I feel there are a lot of areas that can be attacked."

Are there dangerous niche areas?

"Not as long as it's behind the member's area, that's their right. That excludes things like pedophilia and bestiality, even though bestiality sites still run rampant. The idea behind running an extreme site is to keep the tour censored."

What's a common mistake you've seen made recently?

"What I've seen literally three times in the last month is people coming to me offering to sell me their pay site - and these were pretty big sites for new sites. What they did was they had all these videos and live shows and they laid out all this money for content, let's say thirty or forty thousand dollars, and then they tried to run it through a program, paying out three bucks a signup, and they didn't have the backing to survive four to six months. By the time they come to me they're in a desperate state to unload the site. They're saying to themselves, 'I'm going to throw up a pay site. I have the content to support it,' not realizing that if they're offering a three dollar trial and paying out thirty-five dollars for that trial to all the Web masters involved in the program, it'll take months to realize a profit. Plus during that time they need to stay up with the competition. You have to plan accordingly."

Jonathan Lieberman is owner and founder of the Internet empire known as Naughty (www.naughty.com). His advice echoed much of what our other experts had to say, with one point he wanted to emphasize:

"The number one thing you're going to do is take too much time worrying about making it beautiful and not enough time worrying about how you're going to get your traffic. We hear from people every day who have gone through a ton of money and people doing beautiful graphic design and neat functionality and are now broke and have no traffic. They ask us, 'What can we do?' We tell them, 'You have no money, it's a little late.' There is so much content that you can buy and lease out there. I encourage people to build as little as they can. Use what's out there, billing companies, hosting companies that everybody uses, and don't set yourself up to pay for content until you're ready to start your promotion. If you're leasing content from people, tell them you want to put the deal in place but not that day, and focus at least half of your energy on figuring out how you're going to market your site. Getting people in the door is the top goal when you're starting a new site. Focusing on that goal instead of content is the key to success."

Well, it isn't easy getting people to speak in the negative, especially successful people, which is probably one of the main reasons they are successful. So maybe that's a good point to remember. Be positive, legal, smart, attentive and do your homework, and you too can make a lot of money in this crazy, crowded, carnal business.

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Tom Hymes

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