Q&A With FriendFinder CEO Jon Buckheit
In this exclusive XBIZ World interview, FriendFinder Networks Inc. CEO Jon Buckheit said he’s betting on new and immersive experiences to push the cams and online dating sectors ahead.
In fact, Buckheit, who is moving into his second year at the helm of the 20-year-old company, noted that the immersive experience will be the key ingredients for all of FriendFinder’s products going forward.
“Right now we’re seeing a convergence of devices and platforms that are starting to fulfill on the promise of real, interactive experiences online,” said the CEO who joined FriendFinder’s board of directors in March 2015 and became the company’s CEO in August.
While the future looks immersive for FriendFinder, its current business model continues moving along and climbing, said Buckheit, who earned his Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford University.
Buckheit said that so far the company under his tenure is seeing better conversions, better member spending and waves of new members, along with a stronger affiliate network.
XBIZ World was very interested in interviewing Buckheit, particularly to find out how the company will now roll — without the Penthouse brand, which it sold off in February.
XBIZ: Tell us how you ascended to CEO of FriendFinder Networks? And what is your background?
Buckheit: I have a “mainstream” high-tech background, having started, run and sold my own software company in Silicon Valley over a 10-year period.
I’ve been friends with Andrew Conru, the company’s founder and chairman, for many years. We both went to grad school at Stanford at the same time, and after he returned to the company in 2014 he asked if I could lend a hand since he’s spending most of his time at his residence in Seattle.
XBIZ: The FriendFinder network of dating sites, as well as its live cam platform Cams.com, has achieved world-fame status. How do you plan on building upon its success?
Buckheit: There’s no question AdultFriendFinder.com created the social-networking space for adult dating 20 years ago. We’re proud of this.
Our strategy is to continue offering customers the best possible experience on our sites, treating them as an asset to be valued instead of taken advantage of — which I have noticed is unfortunately happening in this industry too much. At the end of the day, this is always the key ingredient for success in any business.
Our brand has really created a buzz in the industry for being customer-focused and very user friendly. We plan to build on that success by continually upgrading our sites for better mobile experiences, to improve our live video-streaming feeds on Cams.com and to continue to promote the brand in the adult and mainstream media with the help of our strong affiliate network.
XBIZ: What are some of the rewards and challenges of being in dating and cams? And how synergistic are they?
Buckheit: There’s a lot of synergy. When one looks at our flagship dating site, AdultFriendFinder, it’s really a pretty comprehensive adult social-networking experience. There are profiles, tools for searching and interacting with these profiles, and also blogs, chat rooms and live video, from both amateur and professional models — the professional ones coming from our Cams site. It really increases the customer satisfaction level to be able to do many things on the site.
The main challenge we face in dating is competing ethically with our competitors who at times utilize automated or paid model “bots” to encourage customer conversions on their sites. We pride ourselves on having real people connect in real ways on our sites and we will not change that mantra going forward.
XBIZ: How important are affiliates to your company’s continued growth?
Buckheit: Well, we are about to embark on our annual affiliate summit at a five-star resort on the Mexican Rivera. Our very top affiliates gather at the summit to discuss trends in traffic, have open discussions about attracting and maintaining new members and to generally provide networking opportunities for this very successful group of all-star affiliates. I think we’re pretty unique in this respect. If you look at the history of this company, it was one of the very first Internet sites to use an affiliate-based business model. They’re really important to us on many levels, not the least of which is getting more first-hand feedback on what customer trends we need to focus on to increase traffic.
We’re going to be doing a really great affiliate promotion during May. If an affiliate is interested in working with us, it’s a really good time to get started.
XBIZ: Do you feel mainstream business principles apply to online adult just as well? What are some of the key differences?
Buckheit: Absolutely, the key goal in any business is to make money, whether mainstream or adult. We provide platforms with which people may create content, whether adult dating or cams, but are not really focusing on the content. We focus a lot on data, like many mainstream companies do. I would frankly say the main difference I’ve noticed is much more short-term thinking in the adult space about how to treat customers. We don’t have this short-term view, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons we’ve been around for so long.
XBIZ: What led to your company’s decision to sell off Penthouse Media?
Buckheit:As I mentioned above, the synergy between our two main brands, AdultFriendFinder and Cams, allows for a streamlined business model and success across both sites. Penthouse did not have the same synergy and its diverse focus, including the publications, was something that we knew we were unable to support at maximum effectiveness going forward. We wish the new owners of the Penthouse brand great success in the future and hope they are able to continue to grow the brand and lifestyle.
XBIZ: What are some of your near-term and long-term goals?
Buckheit: We’ve really improved the products since I’ve joined the company last August, and intend to continue this trend as it’s correlated quite nicely with better conversions, member spending and attracting new members to the site which ultimately increases customer satisfaction and the financial performance of FriendFinder Networks.
One trend I think you’ll continue to see is more and more is innovation in new, immersive experiences. That’s a key ingredient in our product roadmap across all lines of our business.
Right now we’re seeing a convergence of devices and platforms that are starting to fulfill on the promise of real, interactive experiences online. Every advance you see right now, specifically in teledildonics and virtual reality, are shaping what the future of cams and online dating are going to look like in the next 20 years.
Another principal goal right now is to develop even stronger relationships with our affiliates and be more flexible in working with them to create the best mutual opportunities. There’s a lot of activity right now in delivering the right tools to our affiliates. We’ve upscaled our co-brand capabilities and added new niche lead-generation tools that are converting really well.
XBIZ: When you’re not thinking about business, what do you like to do?
Buckheit: Well when I have the time, I love traveling to exotic locations, meeting new people, discovering new music trends and perfecting my tennis game!