But rather than running a simple online shop, Levine had bigger plans and, following the promotional format of 1-900 numbers, created in 1996 what he calls the first affiliate program.
"I've been around for a while, had an affiliate program for a while, and people may have looked at it a couple years ago and said, "Oh yeah, that guy,'" Levine said. "But things have changed incredibly over the past two years and I want people to take a second or third look to see it all."
Among those changes was the corporate name change — from Convergence Inc. to CNV Inc. — and a serious company overhaul. When Levine moved to Hollywood a few years ago, he became "Mr. Party-Guy" thanks to his frequent wall-busting house parties, but despite his growing notoriety, he found his company growth begin to plateau, and despite making new hires, it continued to become stagnant.
"I realized I needed to fire myself," Levine said, "so I hired a high-end guy and he was amazing. I used to hire hourly people to give them things to work on, but this was the first time I hired someone who was smarter than me who had his own ideas."
Levine said he now has an arsenal of five professional employees making more than 100 grand a year. A few years ago, he had zero employees. With the support of this small sex toy army, Levine has been able to make what were once simple brainstorming sessions into reality, starting with building the SexToySex.com affiliate program — now renamed MyFreeWebsite.com — into a force to be reckoned with.
"I had people asking me to build their stores, and instead of me building new stores for everyone, I thought I should let them customize one basic template and get a commission," Levine said. "Now you can log in within minutes, make a site under your own domain name and create your own custom pages. Even outside of adult, I don't know of any affiliate program with this much customization."
Users are able to choose which products are available on the site with pages customizable to include company bios, news and press releases, and use various interactive promo tools — including incorporating an existing Twitter or blog account — to feature new products and create buzz.
"We run the site, process orders, ship and handle customer service," MyFreeWebsite.com states. "All you have to do is send traffic and cash your commission checks."
Levine and his team have implemented new promo tools to make this even easier for affiliates to accomplish, offering traffic-analysis tools, Google Analytics software, and customizable sliding banners to showcase new or hot-selling products.
"Even for porn stars who normally have their own websites and separate stores, we're trying to make it so that they can just use the MyFreeWebsite.com store for their whole site — with a bio, blog, store photos, etc."
And through CNV Inc.'s broadened wholesale network, Levine said his SexToyClub.com wholesale and drop-ship program is the least likely to be sold out of a particular product because it's hooked into more warehouses than ever before.
"It's not 1999, it's 2009, and these warehouses are excited for business online," Levine said. "I have the relationships, so I introduced [CNV Vice President of Operations] Erik [Van Riper] to them all. Now we're linked into hundreds of warehouses."
Levine said it initially was a slow process, for most warehouses needed to upgrade their computer systems and devote an employee or two before embarking on the online expansion, but once they were up and automated, the companies were on board and raring to go.
"Now if you come to the site and want a [particular] item, we might have it available from four different warehouses and you can price compare and choose which one to get it from," Levine said.
Levine and his team also created Q&A forums for users, who also benefit from a wider selection of data feeds, more organized categorization (making it easier to search for particular products or manufacturers), and implemented a drop-ship API that makes it easier for users' computer systems to "communicate" with the warehouses'.
CNV also has upgraded its marketplace of adult products (appropriately named SexToyMarketpace.com), which now features more than 100,000 items — which just one year ago featured a mere 8,000 — and allows vendors, manufacturers and distributors to manage their products and how they are categorized, and keep track of orders with an automated system that makes refilling orders faster and easier.
"In a sense, if someone is running a store and sending orders every day, they don't have to do anything," Levine said. "The system automatically makes the order — instead of coming to the site to submit orders, users can set up an automated shopping cart so when the order is processed, it goes straight to the system."
Levine has beefed up the product selection with more lingerie, more than 40,000 DVDs, clubwear, clothing, jewelry, candles, books, anything that's "racy" enough to still be considered adult.
And SexToy.com, the site the Levine may be most known for — hence his nickname SexToyDave — is still going strong, though he said CNV's retail component accounts for a mere five percent of sales. (SexToyClub.com contributes 35 percent, while the company's affiliate program continues to bring in the most revenue.)
SexToy.com now features more SEO and marketing tools, a blog section developed with the intention of creating content to be picked up by search engines, and a more visual product-oriented navigation bar.
"People used to think this guy Dave Levine owns SexToy.com and that's it," Levine said. "People don't realize it's a real company and that 90 percent of its business comes from helping other people market adult products on the Internet."
But quite frankly, Levine doesn't really care if everyone in the mainstream world understands exactly how his business works, as long as he's keeping the brand relevant and on people's minds.
"It doesn't take a genius to know that being on a [TV] show can help with marketing," Levine said. "The angle is the name SexToy Dave, and it generally comes out that I am the leader in selling adult product on the Internet. That's advertising, so it doesn't matter whatever the hell I'm talking about on the show, as long as my name is uttered, it's free advertising."
Levine has appeared on two episodes of E! Entertainment Television's "Millionaire Matchmaker" — during which Levine was introduced to several women who the host believed could potentially by "the one" — and will be featured on a VH1 reality show this summer.
"I think what I'm doing is good, and feel that selling adult product is good for the world, and I talk about it on the shows honestly and passionately," Levine said. "The nickname makes them want to know more, so that opens doors. I appeal to producers."
And though Levine isn't always tickled by the way he's portrayed on the shows, he said it's kept him relevant and even has indirectly brought him some business. He once received a call from a woman who said she saw the show, hated "that guy" and thought he was "such an idiot," but was looking for an affiliate program to work with and figured she'd call.
"She thought I was a horrible person, but was impressed by the program," Levine said. "[Being on TV] has not helped build my business, it's kind of a blip on the sales screen, but there are other indirect effects, like going to meetings and having the companies be more excited because I'm that guy from that show."
Levine knows that the longer he can maintain this kind of "fame," the better it will be for his growing brand, and he's currently pitching his own reality show for which he said he has a million ideas. It doesn't matter if it promotes his company, either — as long as SexToy Dave is keyed on the screen.
"The only requirement is that I'm real," Levine said. "I don't want to be produced. If I can be myself and honest, then I'm find. When I try to be phony and put on something, that's when I come off weird."