Q&A With Steven Grooby, Founder of Grooby Productions
Grooby Productions is not only a leader in the online adult space, but a pioneer as well. Since 1996, its founder, Steven Grooby, has kept the enthusiasm moving upward for the company, one that is firmly embedded as the leading purveyor in sexually explicit transgender entertainment.
Grooby Productions offers a bit of everything for fans of transgenders erotica: Paysites, social networks and dating. And for partners, the company offers plenty of white label opportunities, as well as those for models.
We were lucky to meet up with Steven Grooby in January at XBIZ 360 to learn how he guides this sleek Cadillac of a company known as Grooby Productions.
XBIZ: Tell our readers about yourself; how did you get the idea for Grooby?
GROOBY: I’m a Northern English, film school graduate who found himself in 1996 working from London doing various jobs and just about scraping by after graduating. I was able to get a PC with the intention of writing film scripts (non-porn) but started to spend more time looking at the newsgroups and BBS for fun — and like so many who became successful in the adult industry in the early days, just started building a few sites using “HTML for Dummies” with a few different genres. I could only afford one domain name so I bought “Grooby” and had the different free sites as subfolders of that. I curated content from the newsgroups and then people started sending their own photos in for publication and it was the trans one which clearly became the more popular.
I put it onto an AVS system and suddenly was making a few hundred a week before realizing I actually had the potential to create something larger. I think like many, it started for fun and as an outlet and then we became more business savvy over the years, I certainly never would have guessed that nearly 20 years later, I’d be running a company with such a large reach as we have.
XBIZ: How many properties does Grooby operate, and which are the most popular?
GROOBY: We’re currently running 13 premium TS paysites with another six smaller ones as well as partnerships with a dozen or so TS models running their own sites. We also run the largest forum for TS porn as well as a few smaller ones, lots of blogs, some social networks, some dating and lots of white labels. If there is something related to the TS genre, we’ve probably got something going on in it.
ShemaleYum.com is by far the most popular although Shemale.XXX is starting to really give it a run for it’s money. The difference is that ShemaleYum features lots of brand new models, many different looks and types of models and is 100 percent either North American or European models. Pretty much every TS model who has appeared in erotica has made an appearance on ShemaleYum at some point, and we were the first to feature most of the top models (and award nominees).
Shemale.xxx specializes in showing the top models from almost every country we work in and has a higher quality and slicker look. ShemaleYum was the first site I started in 1996, and we’ll be celebrating it’s 20th year anniversary next year, so watch this space. It’s also my baby as it’s grown with me.
XBIZ: TEA, the Transgender Erotica Awards, takes place this month. What’s planned for the show?
GROOBY: This is by far our largest show and our biggest investment, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the ongoing support of the sponsors and the industry.
TS models are flying in from all over the world (Chile, U.K., Canada and Japan) and all across the U.S. The Avalon [in Hollywood, Calif.] is really an amazing venue and it should showcase our genre beautifully. We have very good pre-show entertainment and Stockroom is once again providing midshow entertainment. If it’s anything like last year, it’s will be awesome.
As well as recognizing the models and producers it gives everyone an opportunity to mingle, network and have fun. It’s a great opportunity for fans to come face to face, in a friendly environment with the stars. As so many people come from so far, we continue the show the second night, at Bardot for a more casual, “let your hair down” party and networking. There are a lot of industry figures coming this year, and I hope we can all try and present this as a positive show to mainstream media and beyond.
XBIZ: How about GroobyBucks? How well are affiliates doing with the program?
GROOBY: I believe we’re probably representative of a lot of heritage-style programs that produce their own content and have large exposure in specific niches in that we’ve spent years and millions of dollars developing a brand and we’re capitalizing on that now, and that means less affiliates are going to be able make new sales with us, unless they’re bringing in traffic from new sources.
We’ve worked with our largest affiliates for over a decade and there is certainly money flowing through GroobyBucks to affiliates but we’re not a company that invests too much resources on affiliate content unless they display either new traffic or come up with a unique ideas. We’d be interested in partnering with non-traditional affiliates either clubs, pageants or events — or those who’s industry may not be adult but crosses into it. It’s extremely difficult now for a new affiliate to make a living promoting any sites, unless they really have something unique.
However, our conversion ratios are generally incredible so there are still opportunities.
XBIZ: What are some of the key challenges facing the online adult industry these days?
GROOBY: I believe the challenges are the same as ever. Continue to look for new avenues of revenue while ensuring that existing revenue streams are solid. I believe piracy has peaked and that those willing to pay for porn are happy to reach in their wallets as long as they get exactly what they want to pay for and feel valued.
The attrition over the last few years on programs was huge, due to both piracy and the financial climate. But that has helped separate those who deserved to fail from those who had a better product, or worked for their customers.
As long as there are no legal complications or billing issues coming in the future, I believe many of the programs you are seeing will continue to flourish as long as they keep developing and meeting their consumers needs.
The hardest challenge may be keeping up with the new technologies and developments. Some of the things I’m seeing in billing are extremely interesting, and those who don’t keep up with that will find themselves disadvantaged.
XBIZ: How about the challenges specifically for Grooby?
GROOBY: We’re a relatively small company in terms of staffing, but we have a good presence and brand. The main challenge is people and asset management, and we’re having a few problems there that we’re trying to address. We’ve often found ourselves left behind on technical advances to larger companies who have more to invest in programmers. Our staff is spread a bit thin, and we’re looking to make a few changes (hopefully by the time this is read) in order to define staff roles clearer and make some hires to work specific areas.
I believe that we’re the top company in our niche, and it’s a challenge to hold that position — and not from a competitive standpoint. We’re the most visible, so there’s a need to represent ourselves well and represent the transgender erotic industry often as a de facto spokesperson.
XBIZ: How important is it to make a presence at the adult industry trade shows?
GROOBY: It’s been an extremely important part of our business strategy. We were actually quite late to the shows, our first being the mid-1990s, and I quickly realized how much business I’d missed by not attending.
The connections that I’ve made at the shows have been invaluable into making partnerships, which we have developed into revenue streams whether through white labeling, billing, affiliates or otherwise.
I try to get to four to five shows a year, and I don’t feel I have to go to every show every year. But I prefer some over others. I do feel the shows need to change a little further if they’re going to continue to attract new people and be relevant.
There are only so many panels one needs to see on [a certain topic]. I understand PR people and salespersons need to do their job, but some panels become nothing but five people promoting their companies. I’d love to see some form of consumer-hybrid show tied into a trade show (maybe a one-day crossover?), either inviting website members, or general porn buyers to participate in panels, focus groups and for companies to promote their products.
XBIZ: Can you name a person in the adult industry who has had a tremendous impact on you?
GROOBY: By far the person who has had the most impact for me in the industry, has been Doug Wicks. He encouraged me to start coming to the trade shows (Phoenix was my first), and he and I hit it off as friends immediately (unless it was just that he was my CCBill account rep.)
He’s made more introductions to the highest-end people than I could have imagined, and it was those introductions that either encouraged me to take my business more seriously or to develop further relationships that has helped us become the business we are.
He has encouraged me on how to develop, and has always been a sound ear to talk to about my ideas and frustrations.
We’ve became great friends over the years, and I was honored to be one of the first companies to work with Payze as they developed their systems, which has been a extremely successful for Grooby. I think Doug is an industry figure that many enjoy spending time with.
XBIZ: What’s coming up for Grooby as we move forward in 2015?
GROOBY: We’re going through a restructure of the whole company. We’re looking at every aspect of how we run from the websites through to the staff and day-to-day management. I realized over the last year how long it took us as a company to move projects forward so we’re trying to identify those roadblocks and bottlenecks and to see what we can do with that.
We had Jeff Dillon come in last year and do a consultancy for us, which was extremely useful (and I believe more companies should look at working with leaders of other adult companies like this) and helped us take new directions.
All our sites should be on Elevated X this year, which is large task. We have two to three new sites in the pipeline including a new domain from ICM Registry that may be one of our biggest sites yet.
We’re doing our Grooby Girls brand, which has went down great and and continuing to become more of a lifestyle-type company than solely porn.
XBIZ: What’s a typical work day like?
GROOBY: Hide in bed until the kids go to school, then my morning is mainly answering emails or setting up stuff for the day. We have a European crew as well as the Burbank office, so I need to make sure communication is going well. I usually go to the gym or do my chores mid morning and then work on marketing and business development for the afternoon. I usually like to make the kids dinner and ensure we all sit at the table together so I can see what they’re up to, and when they go to bed, try to get another hour of checking in on stuff or social media before joining the wife for dinner. My goal for 2015, is to sign off the computer at dinner-time instead of coming back to it later.
XBIZ: When not thinking about the biz, what do you like to do?
GROOBY: Personally, I love the biz and have a hard time to stop thinking about development, and luckily my wife will listen and add her opinion (or just let me ramble). I find it hard to stay still, so in my off-time I will try and get out into the country for strolls or hikes. I’m a frustrated chef, so I spend a lot of time shopping, preparing and cooking (with varied results).
I love being out with the family as the kids are probably the only thing that completely switches me away from business.
Oh, and you may have seen me at the shows .... I enjoy a cigar.