It would be safe to say that Michael Reul, CEO of TrafficPartner.com Group, is a serial entrepreneur.
After all, just look at the number of adult brands he and his partners have under their belt — TrafficPartner.com, SexGoesMobile.com, SGMPro.com, DatingPartner.com, CamPartner.com, Webbilling.com, MobileBilling.com, AWMPro.com, WebmasterChannel.com and DigitalPerformance.de, among others.
It took hard work but also a lot of luck to get where we are right now. We are blessed to have so many really superb, motivated and dedicated people working for our companies. This is truly our biggest asset.
Reul said that the company has grown quite a bit through the years, both organically and by acquisitions, and now employs nearly 400 in offices throughout Europe, as well as one in the U.S.
In this Presidential Suite interview, Reul reveals to XBIZ World how he got started in the biz, the challenges of running an adult conglomerate and where the companies he runs plan to go in 2016.
XBIZ: You’ve built an empire of numerous well-known adult brands. How did it all come about?
Reul: First off I would like to thank XBIZ for giving me this opportunity. I feel truly honored.
I started my very first company developing and selling software for HR departments when I was 21. Out of my bedroom. Business grew quickly and my partner Ralph and I sold the company around 10 years later.
A friend of mine, Richard, approached me — we used to party together for quite some time — and had the idea of starting a company in the adult industry.
He and his partner, Guido, already had quite some experience with premium rate numbers. First I wasn’t convinced, but after visiting IA2000 in Miami I was enthusiastic about the industry, its people and the sheer endless opportunities.
Back in Germany we started our very first affiliate program, SEXMoney.com, with four partners and two freelance developers — lucky to say that both still work for us. That was back in 1999.
XBIZ: Can you give a rundown of all your brands, and how they fit in the marketplace?
Reul: Some of our brands and companies include:
TrafficPartner.com, which is the umbrella brand for all our products and companies for the whole group, especially for sales and business development.
DigitalPerformance.de, which is our “traffic buying” company, based in Berlin, with about 120 highly motivated and qualified employees from 21 nations. They cover affiliate/networks, display, SEO, SEA, TV, social media and email. They also run a fantastic “CRO — conversion rate optimization” department as well as a “BI/MI — business/marketing intelligence” department with some of the very best “rocket scientists” in the industry. They buy desktop and mobile traffic for our own products, specifically for dating and community sites and AmateurCommunity.com. Our desktop and mobile products cover 14 countries and more are in the pipeline for 2016.
SexGoesMobile.com, which is our well-known brand for the best mobile conversions and monetization, headed by “The Captain” Andy. We consider SGM as the leading company in mobile in the adult industry, and I am extremely proud of what The Captain and his team have achieved. SGM covers 3G and Wi-Fi traffic and has awesomely monetizing offers. We convert mobile traffic for almost all geos, except North Korea and Cuba.
SGMPro.com, which is a new venture that we started in 2015. Based on all the experience our team gathered in the 3G and Wi-Fi areas, we built up this “Curated Mobile Performance Network” and for the first time shared our expertise with everyone as we identified, analyzed and picked the right products for each country and mobile carrier — also in mainstream. SGMpro uses all the experience we gathered over the years with SGM. For example, global tracking, filtering traffic by many attributes like countries, IP ranges, devices and operating systems. Only high-performing advertisers are accepted and we diligently A/B-test all products before we release them. Publishers can be sure they only find the products with maximum profit at SGMPro.
DatingPartner.com, which is our revshare affiliate program that offers a wide variety of casual dating sites. Focus for those revshare dating sites are the German-speaking countries. We see a lot of affiliates sending traffic but also a steadily growing numbers of competitor programs who send their non-converting traffic (e.g. via email or AP and/or put our banners in their members area. This helps everybody to make more money out of their existing and paid for traffic. Especially as DatingParner is focused on German-speaking users it’s proven that we monetize these countries better than just “translated” sites.
CamPartner.com, which is our revshare affiliate program that offers community and cam sites. AmateurCommunity.com is available for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, U.K., Poland and the U.S. And Live6.com is our well monetizing cam site. Both DatingPartner and CamPartner evolved from SEXMoney.com and are the more specialized successors.
Webbilling.com, which we just relaunched. The Webbilling.com 10.0 campaign is still growing in both, payment methods and merchants. We started Webbilling 10 years ago when we realized that a lot of merchants from the U.S. and other countries were not able to bill the European market in the right manner. Even today only approximately 25 percent of Europeans own a credit card, leading to the fact that around 75 percent of your E.U. customers can’t pay for your services even if they want to. This is why we offer payment methods every European customer is comfortable with, including direct debit/ELV/SEPA, Sofort, Paysafe, iDeal, Przelewy24, advanced direct pay, MobileBilling — all easy-to-integrate with our “Smart-Button-Solution.” And we just launched our PCI Level 1 DSS3 credit card gateway. This puts us in the position to not only offer the needed payment methods for Europe but also direct merchant accounts for E.U. and U.S. merchants. The best thing for our merchants: They can keep all their existing credit card relationships and just add Webbilling for local payment methods. There is so much more to billing than just offering the right payment methods without blocking too many legitimate transactions.
MobileBilling.com, which is our latest addition to the TrafficPartner group. MobileBilling offers any kind of direct-carrier billing like premium SMS, WAP- and WEB-billing. Everyone who is in need of direct-carrier billing has now a new player in our industry to check service and rates with.
AWMPro.com, which is our Adult WebMaster PROfessionals magazine, both print and online. It’s published three times a year and the print edition is sent out to 3,000 readers worldwide. We consider this a non-profit project as we want to give back to the industry, not selling any advertisements for the magazine. That said, signing up is of course for free.
WebmasterChannel.com, which is our online board and knowledge resource for all revshare affiliate programs. This is a great way to communicate with our partners and keep everyone in the loop of what’s going on, which new products are ready to be promoted, job openings, tools, tutorials, conversions, resources tips, news and more.
XBIZ: How have your companies evolved through the years?
Reul: The company has grown a lot, both organically and by acquisitions, through the years. We employ almost 400 people now and have offices in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands and, yes, Miami — Fort Lauderdale to be precise.
It took hard work but also a lot of luck to get where we are right now. We are blessed to have so many really superb, motivated and dedicated people working for our companies. This is truly our biggest asset. And I couldn’t be happier about my partners because we really complement each other perfectly. This is a true gift.
But beside the human factor it is of utmost importance that a company reinvents itself constantly. The business models we run today are totally different from the ones we started out with in 1999. If we wouldn’t have invented new business models so many times we wouldn’t be where we are right now.
The good old days where you could just buy traffic from anywhere, send it to your products and see the conversions popping up are plain over. There is no more gain without hard work, landing page tests, conversion flow optimizations and enhanced user experience tests. Out of experience, numbers leave little room for interpretation and as a growth-driven business performance related numbers are our top key-performance indicators.
Numbers crunching is key today. We run our own proprietary big data, analytic, business intelligence, tracking systems. We have a dedicated conversion-rate optimization team that only A/B-tests landing pages, user flows, conversion rates and monetization. All optimizations follow extensive forecast models and individualized benchmarks based on historical data to ensure that each channel and campaign provides a positive return on investment. I can truly say that we have become a data-driven company.
On a personal note: It is totally different to start a company from scratch and do whatever it takes to make it work opposed to run an “established” company with 400 employees. My personal work shifted from “do-it-yourself” to high-level management. I am more than happy about what we achieved over the years, but sometimes I miss the good old times when I could solve a problem directly without involving numerous people/departments.
XBIZ: What are some of the biggest business challenges that you face in a typical week?
Reul: Catching a plane on time? Wait. I also try to avoid to say “Vollgas” more than 20 times a day (Vollgas means full throttle).
XBIZ: What’s coming up for each of your companies in 2016?
Reul: Our main goal is keep on growing and expanding aggressively on a profitable basis. That means new products, more niches, new geos, more traffic sources, improving our internal data warehouse, looking for talented people to join our team, acquiring/invest in companies that complement us and making sure that the internal organizational structure of the group is set for growth are some of the top priorities.
DigitalPerformance.de will focus on further automatization of both internal and external processes. We want to make the lives of our traffic partners easier by giving them access to our internal real time stats, as well as automatizing communication regarding results of conversion rate tests on new landing pages and registration flows. Another keyword is fraud management where we are constantly improving our tools and logics for detecting fraud in each of our traffic channels. New types of fraud keeps on popping up all the time and in the end it is important for us that our high-quality partners get paid fairly and that we identify and kick out the black sheep before they have time to get a piece of the cake.
On the internal side we’ll focus even more on technology during 2016. Each of our traffic buying channels have their own needs in terms of technology that will help spend their money more efficiently or reduce the amount of manual work to improve output. On one hand we’re implementing existing marketing technology that is already proven to work in practice, but if we can’t find what we need we also have the competences and the resources to build it in-house.
Webbilling will add more local payment methods and also more banks for E.U./U.S. merchant accounts in 2016. Again, every merchant can keep their existing credit card relationships or try out our cc gateway or direct merchant accounts. Or just add the local European payment methods to bill the other 75 percent of users.
SexGoesMobile.com and SGMPro.com are both working on some very exciting improvements that will allow mobile traffic to convert and — way more important — monetize way better in the future. That is for 3G and Wi-Fi. We will also create more products on our own for mainstream and travel the world to find the best local mobile partners/advertisers.
MobileBilling.com will be present at entertainment events and shows in 2016 and support companies to put very efficient direct carrier-billing in place and therefor monetize their existing traffic even better. Try us.
As I’m personally overseeing all sales teams in our group my goals are to improve our internal CRM tools for sales. In 2016 we want to intensify way more personal relationships with our partners and my teams and I are planning more visits to the offices of existing and potential partners This will help to understand the mutual goals and how to achieve them even better. And we are always on the lookout to acquire more companies that fit in our core business.
One of our main goals — as every year — is personnel. We are always looking to hire more motivated and qualified people who want to work in a fast growing and professional company with great career opportunities. We have open positions in almost all areas like developers, business intelligence, sales and so on.
XBIZ: What’s a typical work day like?
Reul: When I´m not flying out to visit partners or attend shows I start my day in the morning at home for about two hours, writing emails and organizing my day before I go to the office. The office days are usually a couple of meetings and talks to my direct reports or being on the phone with business partners.
I never leave the office for lunch, but we made it a habit that my partners and I try to sit together for lunch and talk about what’s up. Always very funny and informative. It’s better than sending around memos.
But the best thing about my typical office day is there is no such thing as a typical office day.
I am travelling a lot, more than 50 percent of my time. There are rumors that my three partners always send me away so that I can’t mess up things in the office. But I'm sure that's not true.
XBIZ: In your time away from work, what do you like to do?
Reul:Playing golf but only when the sun shines. I’m a good-weather golfer; maybe that’s why my handicap sucks. Meeting with friends for dinner and drinks, (not enough) sports, museum or opera (both actually not really on a regular basis), travelling and reading (good) books — both on Kindle and paper versions. I can’t decide yet what I love most.
But in reality, my job is still my biggest hobby.