Bjorn SkarlenThe Swedish native has made a mint serving Europe with his online billing expertise since the mid-’90s.
A city by the sea, with immaculate weather, a pulsing liberal culture, and a great business environment. Sound like SoCal’s world-famous adult entertainment mecca? For more than a decade, Bjorn Skarlen has made his home in just that sort of town … 6,000 miles away from Los Angeles, in Barcelona, Spain. The Swedish native has made a mint serving Europe with his online billing expertise since the mid-’90s.
Skarlen knew the real IPSP treasure chest lay across the pond. So he recently forged a triple-X triumvirate with American companies DHD Media and SegPay. The bold transnational chess move earned the alliance the Strategic Partnership of the Year trophy at this year’s XBIZ Awards.
The Bjorn supremacy in the world of third-party online billing (CG processed 10 million transactions last year) has come, Skarlen says, thanks to the time-honored business principles of working hard and building client trust. And he has sage advice for companies struggling to compete online. His number one tip for any entrepreneur? Punctuate even the toughest days with a little laughter.
Tell me about the history of Commerce Gate.
In 2005, my colleagues and I saw that the trend of payment online — especially in European markets — was going toward credit cards. People were more comfortable putting their credit card information online because there was better security. So we moved in that direction, starting Commerce Gate three years ago. A year later, we set our sights on the U.S., and made this partnership, and invested in the two companies, SegPay and DHD Media.
The number of IPSP companies is growing as adult entertainment expands its Web presence. Are you worried about the playing field becoming too many middlemen fighting for the same turf?
You always have to position yourself to be the better alternative. If you want to be on top, you have to act like you’re on top. It’s tough. You have to win the clients’ trust. That’s especially true in payment services, where we are taking care of other people’s money.
We stay on top by giving our last customer the best service, confident that he will refer us to his colleagues.
John Stagliano, the owner of Evil Empire, recently admitted his company has been slow to exploit the Internet, and is trying hard now to establish its Web presence. What advice would you give to a company like his?
I’d say to brick-and-mortar DVD companies entering into the online business to learn by using people. Our biggest asset at CG is the people who develop our product. I think the brick-and-mortar people assumed that because they knew how to do porn, they could break into the Web without strong, talented human resources.
Also, when those companies are looking to sell their products, they go find the best channels for distribution. There’s no difference on the Web. You still have to make agreements with the best online companies. There are no shortcuts.
Let’s say I’m a potential client for you, but I say, “Bjorn, CG looks great, but I’m going to save some money by doing my own billing.” How would you convince me to use your IPSP services?
I wouldn’t! I would simply explain to you that with controlling all of your own money flow comes a lot of liability. You’d probably prefer to focus on what you’re best at — providing members with the best content and marketing your products. And if you come to me, I will handle what I do best, which is taking care of your money.
One of the biggest problems in adult entertainment right now is free content. How is that affecting your business?
I’m trying to get my current and potential clients to not be afraid of free content. Free content is just an opportunity for more business. There is no tube site today giving away free content without having constant advertising, and everything ends up in some paysite solution. So use free content as an advertising mechanism. You’ll have people paying you for more services. The ones who understand that, they win.
Enough shop talk. What’s next for Bjorn? You travel a lot for work, but what do you do for fun?
I go home to Barcelona! I’m addicted to golf and I play as much as I can. I enjoy time with my friends and family. And I’m always having a laugh. If you laugh a little everyday, your life will be so much longer. That’s my advantage, that I am always happy.
This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of AVN Online. To subscribe, visit AVNMediaNetwork.com/subscribe.