"It was funny," Randall said. "I had two desks in my living room: one for the content manager and one for the bookkeeper. I had DVD stock piled to the ceiling in my bedroom."
Prior to taking the plunge into gay content — the specialty of Pistol Media — Randall had worked in online media telecommunications for 10 years, dealing with cable TV networks, satellite TV networks and software companies based in his native Australia and Europe.
"After the dot-com meltdown, I thought there must be more than this," Randall said. "All the money was either in gambling or in porn. Since I don't support online gambling I went the other way. We produced the early content ourselves. We shot all gay content, specifically for online use at first, through what is now HardGayFeeds.com."
From that tiny two-desk living room operation, Pistol Media has grown into a company employing 26 technical and production personnel in just five years. The firm recently moved into a commercial office building in Darlinghurst, New South Wales, and has employees in two other Australian cities. On top of that, its partnership with the San Francisco-based production company Raging Stallion Studios has placed another 15 creative employees under the Pistol Media banner.
"We're a very unique organization in that there is no one like us in the gay space at all," Randall said. "We distribute content through HardGayFeeds.com as kind of an online wholesale area. It's a big business. We also have our own paysites and our own programs like GunsBlazing.com, which have become some of the best-known gay programs.
"We've also got eight paysites, for which we produce content in-house and with our partners, Raging Stallion Studios. We have been partners for about 4½ years. Raging Stallion produces and manufactures my DVDs so I can look after the online presence of Pistol Media. We built a whole series of paysites around the Raging Stallion content. Now I think we are the biggest gay producer and distributor in the world."
Although Pistol Media works with several outside content producers, Randall credits the long and successful partnership with Raging Stallion to its president Chris Ward. He praises Ward as the "brainchild and driver behind our DVD sales," allowing Randall to concentrate on other important facets of the operation.
"I'm the techno-nerd in the company," Randall said. "I provide the infrastructure, the websites, the hosting and transaction processing, et cetera. Chris and his people produce the content and they know what sells so they play a very large part in our success."
And when it comes to the other producers that Pistol Media uses, Randall has adopted a unique, nurturing policy that is paying dividends.
"We developed a mentoring program in the distribution mold," he said, "whereby we partner with a producer like Collin O'Neal to manufacture, distribute and market everything involved with his DVD range. We also provide the infrastructure for his paysite CollinOneal.com, which we market through our GunsBlazing affiliate program. This has given us the chance to help fledgling producers who have a lot of talent. We can't do it for everyone so we choose only the best people with the most talent."
Randall claims that Pistol Media currently works with six other gay content producers, in addition to Collin O'Neal and Raging Stallion Studios, each one of which has proven its quality. This sets the company apart from most VOD companies, which "sign with anybody and everybody," according to Randall.
"We have a different model. We carefully handpick who we can partner with and then we'll form a true partnership where we provide a whole series of online services, advertising and branding. We do online properties that are highly respected and very successful."
The sales figures for Pistol Media product back Randall up. He claims the firm has not suffered a negative sales month in its history.
"It's really quite bizarre," Randall said. "Across the board all of our properties are selling higher and higher. For example, our hardcore fetish site FistingCentral.com is performing consistently well. At the same time, we've got a site called HairyBoys.com, which has been an ongoing phenomenon for a couple of years. We have another site called BangBangBoys.com, which we built in conjunction with another producer. It's unique in that it showcases straight and gay guys and it includes girls. We're pushing the limit on that — on what defines gay — and gay men love that."
Although Pistol Media operates its content leasing, distribution, usage and payment systems in very standard fashion — similar to the platform used by AEBN, according to Randall — the company derives a huge advantage in knowing how to market its product to the gay audience.
"We're a gay-owned, gay-operated company," Randall said, "so we're very much aware of what's going on with customer wants, and we manage to stay very much ahead of that. Gay men, by nature can be quite pedantic, and it's all about quality. You also have to be true to your promises of what you're offering. We've stayed away from those so-called reality sites where the content is not really reality, but quite contrived. We believe in offering something that's real and we don't make promises about reality content when it's not real. That separates us from the gay market as a whole.
"Otherwise, marketing to the gay genre adheres to the same principals as marketing to the straight genre. It's just knowing what kind of images and catch phrases are timely and relevant, because they change quickly. You have to know what's currently relevant and phase out what's not currently relevant. This keeps your banners and ads dynamic."
Aside from his keen eye for staying ahead of the curve of customer demand, Randall is certain that the concentration on customer service at Pistol Media is the other secret to the firm's success.
"Regardless of whether it's a paysite, a DVD or a shopping cart site, our customer service responds to all queries within hours," he said. "We take service very seriously. We also take value for the money very seriously. We're not the cheapest but we think we're the best.
"When a member joins our site they get access to the most amazing array of content, which they can't get anywhere else, because it's exclusive content. We have a few thousand gay DVD titles. Affiliates know that by sending customers to our sites they can be guaranteed that person will have a great experience, translating to a commission for them. Plus we have the best range of promotional tools and promotional content, which is updated every week religiously."
Randall has worked hard in ensuring that Pistol Media stays ahead of the pack in online technology, too. The company recently rolled out a Flash video-streaming platform, built in-house, and currently all of its sites are being overhauled to include it, along with wide-screen navigation.
"My business philosophy is that we always have to have cutting-edge technology and the most contemporary site design," Randall said. "As a result of that, our site, RearStable.com — which is essentially a paysite for Raging Stallion Studios — has had a whole new lease on life. The content is beautiful, but by adding Flash video, it's been reborn and it's growing at a fantastic rate."
Another major change is underway at Pistol Media: increasing the bandwidth and adding Flash video streaming to the HardGayFeeds.com site. Randall expects this transformation to be complete by October. He's also pleased with the debut of Pistol Media's shopping-cart site GayDVD.com.
"It offers savings of up to 40 percent on DVD sales and it's taken the gay DVD market by storm," Randall said. "Our sales have grown beautifully. You constantly hear people in the industry complain about a decline in DVD sales but we're just not finding that."
Despite the almost unbroken record of success since Pistol Media began five years ago, Randall is careful not to imagine that things will always be the same. He sees some trouble ahead for the gay genre market and he's preparing for it.
"It's becoming progressively more competitive," he said. "I think that soon the gay market will suffer from what the straight market suffered from, where a lot of the companies fell by the wayside because they couldn't compete. Just keeping your eye on the ball and doing things for your customers are the most important keys to continued success."
But despite the uncertain future in the gay market, Randall certainly can look back and smile at how well Pistol Media has done to this point. He definitely can afford that spare bedroom now.