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The View From Paris

The View From Paris

February 20, 2007
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" TotemCash is now working on VirtuaGirl HD "

On one level, it's no surprise that a successful adult affiliate site operates out of Paris. Look at all the contributions France has made to romance and sex: Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, French kissing, French postcards.

But TotemCash and its products would not exist if France didn't also produce computer geeks, a few of whom have sent an army of pretty girls to distract desktop drones from office drudgery.

Since 1998, Richard "Rex" Excoffier and business partner Hervé Lucci have rolled out two generations of VirtuaGirl, software that sends porn actresses dancing, posing, playing and stripping on your desktop. They've also given computer users the naughty desktop wallpaper StripSaver, its PG- 13 cousin SexySaver, VirtuaGuy for the gay market and several other porn sites.

Offering free teaser software — which has been downloaded more than 30 million times — healthy conversion and complete transparency in its numbers, TotemCash has made a lot of webmasters happy.

"I can't recommend this program enough," one commentator at Adult Game Reviews said, citing a wealth of content leading to high retention rates.

Excoffier, 38, came to adult from 15 years in video games, starting when he learned how to program a Sinclair ZX81 his uncle gave him the Christmas he was 14. He traded up from the Sinclair to a Texas Instruments TI994A, an Apple II, an Atari ST and an Amiga before entering the PC world.

"Interesting to wonder what would I have done without that Christmas present at that time," Excoffier said in a recent chat with Ambush Interview.

He wound up dropping out of college to program video games, capping his career as project manager for Fox Interactive's "Planet of the Apes" game in 1997, supervising 50 people. But Excoffier was a lot more content when the projects were smaller.

"When I began, it was easy, one or two people," he told XBIZ. Fifty or more people on a project, he said, is "not my thing," and he didn't like being promoted out of the hands-on work.

"You start as a programmer, then, when you have more experience, you become a project manager," he said. "The projects were way too big for me to be a programmer any more."

In fact, Excoffier, whose idea of a good-sized shop is 15-20 programmers, is happier with Totem's staff at 20 than when the company had expanded to 45. "I'm not a good manager; I don't like it," he said. "Now it's just me and the guys."

Also, young as he was when he entered the video game industry, Excoffier felt he got in a year or two late. "It always made me feel like being after the wave, not riding it," he said.

Excoffier's entrance to the adult Internet was a friend's small site that was only making a little money but just enough to interest him and Lucci, whom he'd met programming video games. "I said [to Hervé], 'Let's jump into this and bring what we know from the video game business,'" he said referring to their background in animation and Internet distribution.

Unique Company Name
The name TotemCash was the product of an early brainstorming session. "We had to find a name quick, quick, quick, and after a while somebody came up with Totem," Excoffier said, adding that it met an important criterion: "I had to be able to pronounce it."

The first animated dancing girl TotemCash filmed could fit on a floppy disk. "At that time there was no real video on the net; the best you could get was a stamp-sized bunch of moving pixels if you had a fast PC," Excoffier said. "So it was really impressive, and we did our first sale a few hours after putting the thing online."

TotemCash quickly attracted favorable reviews and other press, and visitors and sales began to mount. During one growth spurt, when TotemCash presented a bunch of new girls and bought listings on all the major TGPs, business increased 20-30 percent every month, peaking in late 2001 at more than $1 million a month. "Not too bad for a little dancing girl," Excoffier said.

Sales drifted down after that, and since 2003, TotemCash has been processing about $400,000 a month, with spikes when new products are introduced. Totem shoots original content — more than 320 women and about 100 men since launching, with production covering about a week from shooting to publication. Excoffier is more or less in charge of sales and marketing, with Lucci working more on the technical end.

The company launched SexySaver in the summer because while it's OK in Europe to have naked girls dancing on your computer at work, Excoffier said it usually doesn't fly in the States. SexySaver now accounts for 30 percent of TotemCash's desktop wallpaper sales.

Summer 2006 also saw the launch of VideoHub.com, TotemCash's entry into the DVD download market. Excoffier set the price point at a competitive $19.95 a month, which allows unlimited access to the more than 600 films and more than 3,000 scenes on the site, including unrestricted downloading. Content covers the spectrum of adult offerings in more than 50 niches, with new content added every week. Reviewers have noted the presence of films not available elsewhere and the high technical quality of the downloaded product.

But because of increased competition in the download market, VideoHub is so far off to a slow start, though business is building each month. "It's not like the big bang we were expecting," Excoffier said, "but we're making money; I can't complain."

VideoHub joined Totem's other porn sites, OneGirlADay.com, which features solo girls, lesbian and hardcore action in exclusive video and photos from Denys Defrancesco, and VIPRoom.com, a site offering hardcore video feeds from leading producers.

TotemCash is now working on VirtuaGirl HD, which means a technological overhaul for the shop. Features that will outpace VirtuaGirl2 include images of girls up to 1,000 pixels tall, automatic downloads to the user's desktop and interactivity with the girls. Excoffier also plans to build a community of users who collect the girls.

The launch, originally targeted for January, is awaiting a new date. "I'm very happy that the technology evolved and we can present the girls in high-definition," Excoffier said.

Company Shows Numbers
TotemCash is unusual among affiliate programs in that its site has a page displaying its conversion ratios over three, seven and 30 days, its retention in real-time over 18 months and its average signup payout value. Totem works on 60 percent revshare, and Excoffier has avoided pay-per-sale arrangements.

"I know most programs don't show their numbers, [but] I personally don't care," he said. "We are a French company; our numbers are public. I never wanted to enter the PPS game and have to shave to pay $50 per signup. I might lose affiliates looking for a quick buck, but I'm more interested in the ones thinking long-term."

Excoffier also sees adult conventions as opportunities for socializing and networking, not for the hard sell. "We are past the point where we have to impress people with booths," he said.

After nine years, Excoffier still has the air of someone who is in the adult industry but not of it. Although he said he has met many people in adult who he likes, and he doesn't like the self-righteous attitude many in mainstream entertainment display toward adult, he's often reticent about his own work.

"Most times I just say I work on the web," he said.

And even though he now has chops in both video games and adult entertainment, he isn't interested in the world of adult video games. "I believe it's a dead end," Excoffier said. "The people coming from the adult industry have no idea how to do a game. The sexy part is OK, but the game is unplayable." And when gamers produce an erotic game, he said, "the game is playable but not arousing."

Divorced with two children, Excoffier lives in a lively Paris household with his girlfriend, Sam, a mother of three. He's been dirt-biking for about three years — needs for speed also have been fulfilled with helicopters, race cars and a Honda 900 CBR RR Fireblade motorcycle — and he's been making scuba dives all over the globe since 1990.

A Love for Paris
Excoffier, who was born and raised in Paris, leaves France an average of once a month, but he "can't get enough" of his home town.

"OK, the weather sucks, taxes are above anything that you would believe, traffic makes the 405 in Los Angeles look like a racetrack, and it's packed full of French people with attitude," Excoffier said. "But I love the city, its food, bars, clubs, nightlife, exhibitions, shops, monuments, and this is the culture I grew up in."

It was less than love when the French authorities went after TotemCash for unpaid value-added tax. Although Totem uses an American billing company and keeps part of its operation in Florida, the French government was determined to collect what it could, eventually settling for about $250,000.

"Sometimes I wonder why I'm the only idiot not to be incorporated in the islands," Excoffier said.

Still, with back taxes, sales dips, competition and tech delays, not much seems to faze Excoffier, who appears to be covering his bills and having a wonderful time doing exactly what he's doing.

"You can't work on all the projects in the world," Excoffier said. "I like to have a little less money and have my life."


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