Steve Winyard is a dynamo personality in the adult industry, well-heeled in a bootstrap fashion, riding the entrepreneurial edge of technology for the past four decades.
From hawking fax machines in the late ’80s to building an online biz that sold for $200 million in the years that followed, to launching the .xxx sponsored top-level domain ICM Registry, Winyard is adept at predicting future trends.
I’m totally comfortable working on my own but am better when I have people I admire and trust around me. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.
In fact, he is very often the source of such disruptive ripple effects.
Now, he is leveraging his formidable knowledge, fine-tuned team and powerful connections to buck the age-verification system.
And what more noble pursuit could a veteran of his caliber pursue, than ensuring children are protected from adult material — all the while, offering the 18-plus crowd an AV solution that protects their identity?
Hitting 30,000 retail stores across the U.K., this face-to-face, free-to-use, point-of-sale AV card utilizes blockchain technology to ensure compliance with the Digital Economy Act.
And, to better understand the creative ingenuity behind Winyard’s latest venture, XBIZ sat down with the main man himself in this exclusive interview.
XBIZ: Tell us about your professional background prior to AVSecure. How did your entrepreneurial experience inform your approach to age verification?
Winyard: I wanted to be a pop star. I had a band in the ’80s and have always loved music. Whilst this was my true passion, it never paid the bills and I had to start working. I saw an advert in the paper looking for someone to sell fax machines at Eurofax. This was in 1988 and most of the U.K. hadn’t even heard of fax machines. Stuart Lawley interviewed me and didn’t want to give me a job so I agreed to work commission only and prove to him I could sell.
It was old school selling in those days, no mobile phone and no computer — just walking the streets and knocking on doors to sell office equipment. I stayed commission-only for six years, as it was ridiculous! I soon became sales director, had equity, built a big team and then the Steve-and-Stuart crew was on fire as we bought out our competitors, formed a large group of companies and then sold out. Basically, being one of the first people to sell a product into a market that was brand new technology-wise was how this all started.
The next company was also crazy fun. People in the U.K. needed to be on the internet and use email (the death of fax machines!) so OneView.net was born. I got to the office at 5 a.m., rallied ‘round my four sales guys, had them knocking on doors selling website creation with emails and the wonder of getting on the internet. My guys had cameras, would take photos and write scripts about the businesses and we would then get our designer to build a website. Hardly a door we knocked on said “no” and 22 months later, after floating the company on the London Stock Exchange and having 500 staff and 10 offices, we sold it for $200 million. That was fun.
After that, I founded various technology companies that were always at the cutting edge and most importantly they were all bringing something new to the market. ICM was exactly the same. Something new, different, challenging and the first to bring a new top level domain to the world for adult. Through the years at ICM with Stuart, we have always stayed very close to the topic of age verification and have been involved with many governments, policy makers and regulators, making sure we always had our finger on the pulse. AVSecure was born from years of work, because we knew we had the ability, resources, knowledge and understanding to deliver.
XBIZ: What lessons gleaned from ICM are you taking to heart for AVSecure?
Winyard: Think about risk all the time! One of the reasons AVSecure is such a world-class product is because we spent so much time thinking of the problems and challenges and set out to address them. Running ICM involved handling some highly sensitive data in an environment that could not fall down. This appreciation for managing hundreds of thousands of URLs, which companies depend on, is not to be taken lightly.
Time to think and bounce ideas off each other is also a trait from ICM. Never be afraid to suggest something, because it might make all the difference.
I also think having confidence is a huge part in this and any business. We know what we are doing and do it well. We have a superb team of people that are part of AVSecure and when we all have confidence in each other and the product, it makes everything so much better.
XBIZ: Describe your role at AVSecure and what a typical day looks like for you.
Winyard: I wake up early and walk my huskies for four miles. This is good for the soul, and I’m not sure I ever have a typical day. One day I’m with the government in Westminster, the next I’m dealing with our PR and marketing firm. I attend daily team meetings, whilst staying on top of the whole build and design. I field client questions, sell, promote, arrange trade shows, write articles and respond to new challenges. It actually all comes down to teamwork at its finest. AVSecure relies on its people and their passion and I am just a part of that and I love it.
XBIZ: What is your management style, in a nutshell?
Winyard: People work with me, not for me, and vice versa. I am highly driven and motivated and am the spark that often lights ideas. I’m totally comfortable working on my own but am better when I have people I admire and trust around me. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.
XBIZ: You won the 2018 XBIZ Exec Award for Community Figure of the Year, having successfully championed a brand that shook things up. What does it take to be a successful industry disruptor?
Winyard: I was thrilled to win this award. It is always a privilege to be acknowledged by people you work with and respect. Bringing new ideas, technology or solutions to a market is something I adore. Fortune favors the brave and when you get it right, people and business benefit and we make money. It is always about that hard-to-find balance of making, building or owning something that people want to have or will benefit from.
I love change as it’s healthy, and I also respect competition, as it drives us to never be complacent. The same applies to AVSecure. Define the market, decide how, what, where and why, resolve the problems, define the economics, develop a long-term strategy and build a team. Then you pull the trigger, invest, dig deep and go hard and fast to be the champion!
XBIZ: Age verification is a hot topic for 2018, with your native land on the forefront of the effort. How important is this issue for the future of the internet and how does AVSecure fit in?
Winyard: I think it was the XBIZ show in May 2012 when I first spoke on a panel about the possibility of AV hitting the industry and here we are today with the U.K. setting the standards I know most of the world will quickly follow.
The internet is an amazing, beautiful and incredible asset to the world and its hardly surprising that governments and policy makers are addressing many aspects of it with regulations and laws. Let’s be honest, when you have to show ID to buy drinks in a bar or drive a car or buy cigarettes, having a tick box saying “I’m over 18” was always a short-term fix!
This new U.K. law is trying to make it more difficult for young children to access content they simply should not see and it gets my full support. In a world where we do what we can to protect the young at the same time as offering consenting adults a massive choice of legal adult content is the way forward.
The challenge we faced now was the real world and our focus was totally on the consumer and their privacy and the website owners who would have to be compliant with the changes. As I said previously, identifying the problems that exist took months of thinking and still do today.
We had to make sure we designed and built a solution that consumers would trust and website owners would be proud to offer their visitors. We know that personal data and porn don’t mix well and respecting the need for privacy and choice at the same time as making it quick and easy to use was critical. AVSecure is all of these things. It is the best solution available for consumers and industry and our ability to have a long-term business strategy allowed us to make it free.
XBIZ: How do you plan to stay ahead of the AV curve, in terms of technology and business initiatives?
Winyard: Not being an adult company makes a huge difference in the age-verification business. It opens doors to government and regulators with ease, allows us to be trusted due to our independence and it’s hardly surprising we are in deep discussions with several countries who want to use AVSecure.
Keeping the consumer and their privacy at the forefront and not being able to track a user journey are so important. We are already way ahead of the curve when it comes to the technology. Using blockchain provides unrivaled levels of security, stability and confidence and allows us to develop our commercial strategy over time.
Once the crazy swathe of ICOs falls by the wayside, regulators step in to manage the mess and fools chasing gold are sent to jail, we will be in a great place to introduce our micro currency plans in a sensible, professional and fully regulated way that will benefit the industry and the consumer.
We feel like gatekeepers to the industry. We will be strong and bring to the fore any company that purports to be delivering a similar service when in fact they may have ulterior motives. Data mining is not part of the objective here. It’s protecting the young, encouraging and allowing the industry to benefit, and it is wrong on so many levels if people feel forced or bullied into taking solutions they simply don’t need.
We will challenge current thinking and remove the pre-conception that a cascade system is needed. It simply isn’t. We will challenge the problems consumers may face when navigating through a site that has content from multiple age verification companies. We want to make this flow seamlessly and easy. We don’t rest. We see problems, face them and find cures.
XBIZ: What’s next for AVSecure?
Winyard: “When you are delighted, we will be satisfied.” I read this many years ago and it’s always stuck in my head as something that everyone in business should think of each day. Customer service means so many things and AVSecure will always evolve and improve and set the standards others may try to emulate, but never quite copy well enough. The team members we have are so talented in their own fields of expertise, that I often think it’s impossible to stop us on our journey, and the better we get, the better you get, and for us, that is what this is all about.