LOS ANGELES — In the grand ballroom atop the Andaz hotel, industry vets and newcomers alike gathered Tuesday afternoon to hear the Visionary Keynote from Gian Carlo, founder of mobile performance powerhouse BitterStrawberry.com and premier paysite network PornDoe Premium.
Before the charismatic businessman took the stage, XBIZ founder and publisher Alec Helmy delivered an introduction. “Fearless. Trailblazer. Disruptor. These are just some of the words that come to my mind when I’m thinking about this year’s Visionary Keynote speaker,” Helmy intoned, as the room fell silent and attendees leaned forward with anticipation.
“Since the early 2000s he’s had his hand in just about every area of the business: DVD licensing, broadcast, paysites, tube sites, mobile, you name it, he’s done it," said Helmy, with a broad smile. “He is one of the most passionate individuals I’ve met in this business and I know he’s a huge source of inspiration for many of you. It is my distinct pleasure to introduce this year’s Visionary Keynote speaker, Gian Carlo!”
Enthusiastic applause broke out, as the down-to-earth chief executive waltzed onto the stage, casually dressed in a sweatshirt with the phrase “wolfpack” on it — no accident, considering the main theme of his speech would center on the importance of building a formidable company team.
Pacing with purpose, Gian Carlo adopted a bemused expression. “So, first of all, you’re sure you want to stay?” he asked innocently. Laughter rang out in response. “You can still leave,” he promised, before turning to Helmy. “I want to thank you Alec and XBIZ for giving me this opportunity,” he said. “I’m not the type of guy that likes to be on stage, but I could not refuse this opportunity. What can go wrong? We can figure out by the end, what does!”
Fortunately, nothing did go awry, and the engaged audience chuckled appreciatively. Gian Carlo briefly summarized his history in the business, speaking about his path through a great variety of market sectors. With his trademark humility, he discussed how his first major foray into content production came at the worst time, during the great recession and rise of tube sites around 2008. Catching up to the present, he explained how PornDoe Premium and BitterStrawberry came to be, and his intense passion for the work.
“One of the reasons Alec invited me, is I like to do it with full emotion,” he enthused. “If I’m into something, I’m into it for real. I like challenges, so one of the topics I want to discuss today is how much we owe to the people on our team. More and more, we forget as an industry that it’s not the product, it’s the people who develop the product that make it successful.”
For this reason, Gian Carlo invests heavily in human resources, not just to recruit the right candidates, but to retain top talent for the long haul. “The only way you can get the right people is not just money, it’s understanding what their dreams are and how they can bring value to your company,” he offered.
To find the right folks, he gives new employees a two-week trial period, filtering out 75 percent of the candidates quickly. Then, they delve more deeply into the employee’s dreams. “It can be money, morality, flexibility,” he explained, touching upon the importance of bringing individuals from the mainstream into adult, despite its stigma. Over time, as someone proves their value, Gian Carlo moves them into higher positions of greater responsibility.
Once all the best players are in position, he advised, “You have to make sure you’re always ready to hustle. You have to have a little luck, but you have to be ready to take a lot of shit. A lot of people will never support your business model, not because your idea isn’t interesting enough, but because everybody tends to decline or not accept something new. Yet, every time someone says it doesn’t work, we look into it how and why it could work.”
This determination is critical to being a successful disruptor, according to Gian Carlo. “I believe it’s very important that the people involved in the project are fully involved, even if they disagree, in your vision,” he added. “For your success, you need the support. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
As well, Gian Carlo recommends that business owners recognize they do not know everything, and that they should hire smart people who are willing to disagree with them. And, he values every kind of employee, from sales reps to the cleaning lady, so long as they prove to be trustworthy and reliable. “Even the cleaning woman has a huge respect in the hierarchy, because if she doesn’t do her job properly, I won’t be able to sit on a clean toilet, and then we all end up in a ‘shithole,’ as Trump would say,” he jested. Laughter ensued.
Heading into the finish, he said that one of the last topics he wanted to discuss was innovation. “I feel that in our industry, it’s very difficult to be innovative, because porn is porn,” he admitted. “Two or more people doing sex, but I do believe there are ways to package it differently, that can create something unique. And, if you create something that’s unique, people will buy it. A few years ago, people said paysites were dead. They’re not dead now. Content had no value, now it does. So, always innovate and try to reinvent yourself every day.”
At this point, he opened up the keynote to the room, fielding questions that covered issues ranging from preferred project management software to the future of paysites.
“Let’s talk about paysites,” he said. “It’s all about content and paysites now, because content is becoming rare. A few companies still producing content are owned by the tubes, who are learning to respect content partners. This will be a big opportunity for content producers to get back in the game.”
Gian Carlo then examined the impact of age verification, which he predicts “is going to be huge,” as legal issues arise from the U.K. and its Digital Economy Act. One of the major players in the AV game, Steve Winyard of AVSecure, asked Gian Carlo, “What’s your endgame? I’ve known you for years and you’ve been successful, but what’re you doing it for?”
In response, Gian Carlo pointed out that he will keep his team tight and filled with only the crème de la crème. “We are reducing staff to not go over 100, because I prefer 100 horses over 200 sheep,” he said. “It’s not about money, but I’ve always been someone who likes to prove people wrong, which sometimes costs me a lot of energy and money. So, my challenge over the past three years was building up a tube site, a legal one, with content that would pay off at a certain point. Content was gold and it became dust, now it’s become gold again.”
Indeed, if one theme was clear throughout the Visionary Keynote, it was this: having the right team in place and the bravery to buck trends, is not just for mavericks and rogue innovators — it is absolutely necessary to survive and thrive in today’s rapidly changing industry, lest gold become dust once more.