Danni.com Turns 10
Danni Ashe, dancer, Internet model and budding webmaster, heard the call and began forming the mold for a female-run web operation that has since grown into a full-service, multi-platform adult entertainment empire.
The empirical evidence supporting Ashe's popularity at the apex of her career is utterly astounding for a company that was started by a single woman operating a sole domain. Ashe's acknowledged entrepreneurial savvy and sophistication was the driving force behind the creation of one of the web's best-known and most-viewed Internet portals.
From Danni.com's launch in 1996, to the time her image was downloaded for the billionth time in January 2001, Ashe developed a cult-like following, with throngs of devoted fans.
In its January 2001 website rankings, Alexa Research determined that Ashe was the most popular female personality based on total page views. Hits to Ashe's official site, Danni.com, dwarfed those of Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Britney Spears, Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson and Madonna's flagship web destinations.
The Guinness World Records named Ashe the Internet's "Most Downloaded Woman" in 2000, and Ashe could boast more than 240 million downloads of her image in 1999 alone.
For the past 10 years, the Danni's Hard Drive network of sites has been one of the web's pre-eminent destinations for glamour-infused, erotic girl-on-girl content.
Now, a decade later — a veritable lifetime in Internet years — and with Ashe herself removed from the day-to-day operations of her eponymous company, the biggest challenge for the team at Danni's is to maintain its popularity without its founding personality.
The turning point for the company came in November 2003, when Ashe decided to slowly step away from the camera to assume a behind-the scenes, administrative role. It was then that Ashe brought in a management team to helm her enterprise. She currently maintains ownership of a piece of her brand and sits on the company's board of directors.
Among the new hires was Layne Thrasher in the accounting department, who was eventually promoted to vice president of operations, the position he currently holds.
"Having Danni step away from her role of running daily operations was going to be the biggest challenge the company faced — and we knew it," Thrasher said. "I think in a way, we underestimated her star power and her cachet as a bona fide celebrity. We had to transition our business plan to reflect that Danni is the company as opposed to just her home. I think we're still in the process of meeting that challenge."
Synergistic partnerships to help the company reach its post-Ashe potential would serve as the building blocks Danni needed to ease the transition of losing its founder. The budding corporate philosophy of "getting off the island we were on," as Thrasher calls it, was a testament to his background in operations for various record labels, including Warner Bros.
Along with marketing manager Bill Rix, also with a mainstream music background, Thrasher instituted what he refers to as a "street marketing mentality." This meant Danni had to resort to previously unconventional and nontraditional means to brand the company's new initiatives.
One of the newest and most fruitful partnerships Danni forged was with Pure Play Media, which functions as the official distributor of Danni's DVD line. While the success of the exclusively filmed DVDs makes Danni a valuable branch of the company, it also introduced the biggest wrinkle into the Danni's marketing mix — selling hardcore girl-on-girl content.
'Danni's Hard Cut'
Until the debut of its "Danni's Hard Cut" home video line, the company was softcore only under the "Danni Presents" label. Between both imprints, the company's library stands at more than 30 titles, releasing about two per month.
"I think some people were surprised we moved into filming some harder footage," Thrasher said. "We saw the market shift to that type of content, and while there is still a huge market for erotic, stylish girl-on-girl — something we will never deviate from — we realized that in order for our DVDs to compete in the marketplace, we moved in that direction when we needed to."
Thrasher added: "We film about 8-20 hours a week at our in-house studio in any given month. I'd say we film about a quarter of our productions on location too, so we maintain an ambitious shooting schedule."
The rest of Danni's strategic alliances read like a who's who of adult industry power brokers. Its affiliations include personals with AdultFriendFinder, domestic and foreign cable sales with Mark Bruder's CED, a toy line with Topco Sales, online live chats with Danni models through Video Secrets Flirt4Free program, products and memorabilia for auction with Truition's backend, an online store with Gamelink, pay-per-view and video-on-demand platforms with HotMovies, AEBN, AllAdultChannel and more.
Rix believes its mainstream-friendly, softcore content was an integral part of Danni's growth in forging partnerships and helped cement the company's ability to deliver content across divergent platforms.
In an effort to replace the star-powered erotica Ashe brought to the table (her 32FF all-natural bust line being the most glaring omission), Danni developed the Danni Model Network in 2005 to add unique personalities to the company's growing number of subscription sites.
Thrasher was quick to point out that Danni still maintains a healthy reserve of photo sets of its busty and brainy founder that it releases judiciously.
Working in conjunction with the signature model, Danni quickly snatched up the official sites for Penthouse Pet Crystal Klein and Playboy Special Editions Model of the Year Erica Campbell. Next, the company acquired MishaOnline.com, home to the famous photographer and current creative director for all of Danni's web products.
However, the foundation for the model network was GirlNextDoor.com, launched in partnership with New York's Gallery Magazine.
All four sites in the network, along with the original Danni.com, operate through the central affiliate program Danni Cash. Thrasher said as the sites grow in popularity, the company will explore establishing separate affiliate programs for each.
"We didn't have contract girls, so creating the Danni Model Network was our way of doing things," Thrasher said. "We found that our members really responded to sites that had an identity and personal touch; something that was real and allowed for interaction."
The list of models that have posed for Danni's discerning lens reads longer than a Dom DeLuise deli order: Jesse Capelli, Sandee Westgate, Aria Giovanni, Jelena Jensen, Charlie Laine, Nikki Nova, Sunny Leone, Jana Cova and Aimee Sweet, to name a few.
It was the Penthouse Pet Sweet who admired the iconic Ashe and walked in her entrepreneurial shoes when she created her own website, AimeeSweet.com, in 1999, much like Ashe did three years earlier.
"The first time I worked for Danni.com was in 1999," Sweet said. "They already began featuring several photo sets of me on the site for a while that they leased from photographers like Suze Randall and Ron Vogel. I didn't know at the time, but I would work for Danni's many times over the next seven years.
"Danni's has always held a campy sort of charm for its members and models," Sweet continued. "I've been dressed up in costumes ranging from a ballerina to a chef to a vampire, all while maintaining a sexiness that has become Danni's trademark. My favorite days working with Danni were always when I was modeling with my girlfriends like Aria [Giovanni], Jelena [Jensen] and Erica [Campbell]. We would spend the morning getting glamorous and the afternoon laughing over our scripts. The end result would always be a sexy skit with a lot of personality. Although a lot has changed at Danni's over the years, I'll always remember the something special it had that made it fun."
Sweet also was named a Danni Girl of the Month, a promotion that began in January, in which a model is featured extensively on Danni.com in several exclusive layouts and live chats with members, as well as on the "In Bed With Danni" live webcast.
As the future holds promising opportunities for adult content delivery across new media formats, Danni plans to be at the forefront of the development. The company believes it's well positioned for mobile media distribution and currently operates a Danni-branded WAP portal. Additionally, the emerging market of IPTV will be explored through partnerships with Akimbo Technologies and ITVN.
Overseas expansion is an evolving process for Danni that will come into sharp focus as part of a targeted marketing approach the company is implementing.
Thrasher and Rix approximate that 20 percent of Danni's fan base is overseas, and both assert that mobile content will aid in international development efforts.
"We're developing the company as these new technologies themselves are still developing," Thrasher said. "As far as how much content we'll put on mobile handsets or IPTV set-top boxes, I don't exactly know. We'll provide whatever the market demands."