NakedSword Bulks Up

Rodger Jacobs
When the dot-com boom went bust, futures and fortunes evaporated overnight. But for those with a diversified portfolio — like the two forward-looking men behind leading gay video-on-demand provider — the fallout was nullified by a shrewd investment in streaming technology and in a product that never seemed to fall out of favor.

"What really catapulted our site was the implosion of the dot-com era," Greg Lindberg, co-founder of NakedSword, says. "A lot of traditional brick-and-mortar companies and dotcom clients of ours vaporized during that era. Yet the porn side of our business kept growing and doubling in revenue every year. That's when we saw it as a viable business and decided to invest in it more, and treat it like a client."

Cubik Media, the parent company behind NakedSword, was founded by Lindberg and Tim Valenti in 1996. The two entrepreneurs were running the interactive division for an advertising agency, helping to build sites for high-tech companies such as Fujitsu and Media Vision and producing gaming sites, including all of the Tomb Raider/Lara Croft franchise sites. The more they began to understand the medium, the more excited they became over the future possibilities of streaming video.

Bigger Things To Come
"We learned and understood the technology early," Valenti says. "We started proposing that we build sites that were more than just marketing brochures, that were actually transactional and involved video, but that wasn't what the ad agencies wanted to do — we had our sights set on much bigger things at the time."

And so at 4 a.m. one day, while working on a big project for a client, Valenti and Lindberg — Tim is gay and Greg jokingly refers to himself as "the closeted heterosexual" — came up with the concept for a gay streaming video website.

"I didn't think we were going to be able to go down and get all of Hollywood," Valenti admits. "But we were working out of San Francisco, the gay mecca of the world, and had access to some of the best producers, like Falcon, Titan and COLT, so we just started knocking on doors, trying to educate studios about where and how their businesses could grow."

Today, NakedSword, through its innovative membership model, allows users unlimited access to an online library of 4,000 full-length titles from more 100 studios including Falcon, Jet Set, Titan Media, All Worlds Video and Raging Stallion. But, Valenti cautions, NakedSword is more than "just a vending machine video-on-demand site." is an online community that features gay porn gossip, photo galleries, live video chat and original programming like "The Tim and Roma Show," billed as the world's first gay porn talk show, and "Wet Palms," a half-hour hardcore series from Jet Set Productions that revolves around a bathhouse/resort Wet Palms, set and filmed at the San Vicente Inn in West Hollywood.

"We're not just receiving boxes of movies and throwing them up onto the website," Lindberg says. "We're always looking for what we can do that's different and interesting." Valenti believes that one of NakedSword's strengths is the fact that both he and Lindberg come from strong business backgrounds.

"We understand marketing, technology and advertising," he says. "One of the things that we offer studios, more so than any other VOD streaming site, is we know how to market their brand as well as individual titles. We are good merchandisers."

When NakedSword first launched in 1997 as NakedSword 1.0, the site got popular really quickly, Valenti says. "In fact, it was so popular that we had to take it down. The way that we were selling time — we were novices at this — was in big packages, so customers would buy a big package, use it all up and then charge it back."

And this, Lindberg says, was long before sophisticated scrubbing technology for adult businesses.

"These were regular, standard merchant accounts that we would get from the banks," Lindberg says. "So we learned our lessons the hard way on the earlier versions of the site." That was when the two businessmen decided to get serious about NakedSword.

"We needed to look at this like we look at all of our clients," Valenti says. "If we were building something for eTrade or Hitachi or IBM, there was a definite procedure to go through, from developing the strategy to developing the documents and the marketing support. So we stepped back and devised a business plan, and once we got it back online, it didn't take very long for it to catch on. I think the thing we did well, and we will continue to do well, is to brand ourselves. We have a really strong brand."

In fact, the NakedSword brand is so strong that it caught the attention of porn star powerhouse and Jenna Jameson. In August, NakedSword announced a joint venture with Jameson's Club Jenna to promote a new straight-friendly gay VOD site, Club Thrust.

Club Jenna was sold to Playboy on June 22 (see story, page 4), though there has been no indication that the terms of the partnership will change because of the sale, which covers all aspects of Jameson's company, including websites, DVD titles, film production assets and retail distribution.

According to Chandie Foster, director of webmaster relations for Club Jenna, the website has always generated a large amount of gay traffic, "and we wanted a better way to convert it. So we partnered with NakedSword to create a high-end gay site hosted by Jenna Jameson."

Club Thrust aims to convert the lucrative and often under-served gay traffic available to many straight webmasters. The Club Thrust banners are purposefully non-explicit and designed to fit with the tone and style of straight sites. The site itself is heavily branded with Jameson and includes a sampling of her videos and advice interspersed among the thousands of gay titles from the studios that NakedSword carries.

Holly Ruprecht, director of affiliate partnerships at NakedSword, says Club Thrust is just the beginning of the company's relationship with Club Jenna.

"There was an immediate synergy between the two companies," Ruprecht says. "In addition to being the flagship brands in our respective sides of the industry, we are both interested in moving beyond traditional categories and expanding the adult market."

Valenti says NakedSword is in the process of revamping Club Thrust.

"I'm so excited about what we're going to do with that site," he says. "We're completely turning it around and converting it into a community of its own, and it's going to be marketed to women. We are creating cool and original content like a horny housewife column, a blog, and Jenna will do movie reviews and answer questions from women in the community. It's going to be really cool."