Exec Seat: Q&A With FriendFinder's Sean Christian
Sean Christian, FriendFinder Network’s vice president of sales, is gearing up for a banner year in 2014 for the company that derives revenue from dating, live cams and the Penthouse brand.
FriendFinder, which just emerged from restructuring, is moving forward with new product changes and new leadership.
We checked in with Christian to find out more about him, as well as what to expect with the company in the coming year.
XBIZ: How did you get involved in the industry?
Christian: I was living in Sacramento and had developed my own body piercing jewelry company. After I sold it, I had the intention of moving to the coast (Santa Cruz) and taking a marketing and distribution position at a company very similar to the one I had just sold.
After moving to Santa Cruz, Legendary Lars and I became friends and spent quite a bit of time together hanging out. He asked me to come to work for him for about two years before I finally agreed to do some contract marketing work for his company. I didn’t really like the idea of going into the adult internet business at that time. I had the common misconstrued ideas of what the work would be like. After a few months of working with Lars, I went to my first convention in Las Vegas and was amazed. It seemed to literally be a think tank of technology and creativity driven by online guerrilla marketing. I was sold on it.
XBIZ: What do you do for FriendFinder Networks as vice president of sales and how long have you been with the company?
Christian: My contracting started with Lars’ webcam company Streamray in 2000, and I went full time in 2001. Streamray and FriendFinder merged in 2005. The two companies have a natural affinity for each other and have similar markets. This made my personal transition into the FriendFinder family very simple.
My position at the combined company FriendFinder Networks focuses on business development and customer acquisition. I really don’t sell anything at all; I am primarily looking for new traffic streams. Internally, I am the champion of the affiliate and work with management to come up with programs that are win-win.
XBIZ: FriendFinder last year decided to go back to its core business, slashing co-branded white label websites but continuing to have an affiliate program. How important are affiliates to the company?
Christian: We have over 200,000 participants in our marketing affiliate program from which we derive a substantial portion of our new members. Payments to our affiliates last year were over $50 million, and we are always looking to grow that side of our business. You could say our affiliates are an integral part of our business.
When we first rolled out the automated cobrand tools three years ago, the management at the time didn’t fully understand the value and benefit of our core dating brands. We also didn’t have a team in place to make sure that the 35,000-plus automated co-brands were at a quality level that our members demanded and had enough traffic to warrant a manual review. About a year ago, we decided that we would convert the smaller co-brands (e.g., had less than 100 uniques in the last 6 months) back to promoting our main brands. We ended up closing the tool to public use although we still continue to produce new cobranded white label websites for substantial partners.
XBIZ: How much success has FriendFinder had when it comes to the mobile space in relation to dating?
Christian: We are proud to say that FriendFinder has been pushing the limits in the mobile arena since the mid 2000s. We are currently making some very exciting redesigns with new technology for both dating and webcams.
With Android starting to really breakout and iOS maturing into common use, we are converting mobile traffic better than ever. We expect to see mobile revenue surpass desktop revenue in 2014.
XBIZ: What sector of the online adult business is driving the market these days?
Christian: What is interesting to me is the new generation of affiliates and webmasters who are changing the face of Internet marketing. Traditional methods of marketing are starting to wind down and we are seeing innovations again. Tube sites are not the only place you can find large traffic sources these days.
XBIZ: Where is most of your business coming from? And are there any regions and/or market segments that you don’t currently service but would like to in the near future?
Christian: Half of our business is generated internally and by reputation alone. Sit down at any bar and ask a few people if they have used AdultFriendFinder and you will get smile and a great story that always starts with, “There was this night ....” We were one of the first social networking websites and we were the first casual dating site. I have employees who met their spouses on our network, and we have tens of millions of success stories. This level of customer engagement and success is a great confirmation that we are on the right path.
What areas do we want to service, but are not currently? We have an entire team dedicated to that working on this question full time, every day. We are open to any ideas. We welcome anyone with new ideas to contact us.
XBIZ: As FriendFinder Networks has just emerged from restructuring, what can you tell us about the direction of the company?
Christian: The biggest change is that the original founder and CEO, Andrew Conru, is now again the primary owner and CEO. Andrew is a product guy who really understands what our users want and how to get them to convert. We have already made hundreds of design and product changes.
XBIZ: What’s a typical work day like?
Christian: My workday will always start with opening the analytical reports over coffee. What email providers are doing well that day? What countries are over-performing? What are the forecasts for unique visitors? What are the results of testing new creatives? How does the sales funnel look? What emails are urgent? Then I try to get out of bed to officially start the work day. The office is dominated by meetings and one-onones with team members.
Our affiliate marketing staff is amazing. The department starts working around 6 a.m. and does not stop until after 6 p.m. It’s quite a bustling office on any given day.
XBIZ: When not thinking about the biz, what do you like to do?
Christian: When I am not at the office in meetings, preparing for meetings, and going over meeting notes, I try to get some work done. So when I am not thinking about the immediate business at hand, I think about what business I still need to get to. Like this interview.