XBIZ: How long did you feature dance before launching Danni's Hard Drive?
DANNI ASHE: I started my career as a stripper, first in Seattle and then Texas. I danced, off and on, for almost eight years leading up to starting Danni's.
XBIZ: How did you make the leap from web surfer to webmistress?
DA: In 1994, I found out about Usenet groups. Around the same time, my husband's company started to build one of the early commercial websites. I bought a modem and decided to check it out for myself. Within a short period of time, I found pictures of myself in one of the Usenet groups, and the proverbial light bulb went on.
XBIZ: What were your first years running a site like?
DA: When I found my first ISP, I asked him for a dedicated server prior to launch because I thought I might get a few hits. He was a nice guy and assured me that a public server was fine. We launched and shut down his whole system. Then he gave me a dedicated box. It was all brand new, so there was no history to draw from. I hired employees, but not in any traditional sense. They were friends of friends, and drama was the flavor of the day. But, I wouldn't trade any of it. We had so much fun the whole way through that I really consider those early years the most formative of my professional career.
XBIZ: Did you do most of the initial programming yourself?
DA: I tried to hire people to do it, but I think, like most entrepreneurs, your vision is crystal clear. But enabling someone else to realize that vision is easier said than done. So after a couple of attempts at hiring someone, I decided to do it myself. I bought a couple of books, went to the beach and, while other folks were plotting with Grisham, I learned HTML.
XBIZ: Is it true that one programmer turned down a 50-50 split to build the site?
DA: I offered a guy 50 percent of the profits to build the site out. He asked for $900 instead. I didn't want to part with the money, but I needed my site. I paid him, and, in retrospect, it was a really fortuitous thing [for me]. For the programmer, maybe not so lucky.
XBIZ: In what ways has the business changed since then?
DA: Well, the industry has gone from being the Wild West to being a real industry with well-defined success metrics and operating parameters, structures and rules. None of that existed when I started. Our business has changed drastically as well. We are a media company now, as opposed to a website, and a very successful one at that. Our content is distributed via the web, TV, video-on-demand and DVD. We also distribute content through a partnership with Akimbo Systems, provider of a set-top box that allows Internet content to be viewed on home televisions. And we're not done yet.
XBIZ: Do you see the Internet eventually eating the offline aspect of the adult entertainment business?
DA: Not at all — they coexist wonderfully. For example, e-books haven't destroyed the publishing industry; they've simply provided another way for people to access what they enjoy. I do think that DHD has a unique opportunity to create a truly integrated and complimentary online and offline consumer experience by better understanding what subscribers seek from a variety of media delivery channels.
XBIZ: Could you tell me more about some of your other business ventures?
DA: We have two subscription websites — the main Danni's Hard Drive site and a wholly owned subsidiary, Misha Online. Misha Online has been an interesting addition for us because it fills a different niche than Danni's but does so with the same female-empowering style of Danni's, one of our strongest brand elements. Then there's a production company that creates and markets adult films. Existing film lines include Danni Ashe Presents, a line of R-rated programs sold at mainstream retail stores like Musicland, and Danni's Hard Cut, a series of hardcore films. We also have licensed consumer products, including photosets and novelty items, which are sold online and via retail outlets; and we distribute content to a wide variety of sources, including the handheld devices like the iPod and other MP3 players and Akimbo Systems.
In part three we'll wrap up our exclusive interview with Danni Ashe.