Q&A With Elevated X's CEO, AJ Hall

If you’ve ever operated an adult paysite, we’re certain you know of Elevated X, one of the industry’s top providers of content management software that is used on more than 2,000 websites.

We’re also certain you know of the company’s co-founder and CEO, AJ Hall, who for the past four years has offered his pearls of wisdom in regards to paysite-related information, trends, tips and strategies in the pages of XBIZ World.

Elevated X is continually morphing. New code is added daily, literally be it something new, a fix, subtle tweak, improvement or performance enhancement. Through all of this, nine years later, the price of the product hasn’t increased.

Hall’s columns, month in and month out, are perhaps the most important read for online adult operators because they offer so much insight on how to make websites attract and retain visitors.

XBIZ World recently sat down with Hall — a man who runs his company with passion, spirit and a lot of drive — for this exclusive Presidential Suite interview to learn more about his enterprising spirit, how Elevated X got off the ground and how the company’s award winning software has helped drive online commerce for nearly 10 years.

XBIZ: What was your first computer, and when did you find out that programming was something close to the heart?

Hall: My first computer was a Compaq Presario. It was the early 1990s, and I got a very late start. Believe it or not, I didn’t get my first computer until I was 19. I immediately started playing with graphics programs and within a few months had taught myself basic HTML. Back then it was all about reasonable loading on a 56k dial-up and designing for a 256-color palette. It was a very different world. I never got into programming beyond front-end coding. With Elevated X I’m more architect than engineer, although I do all the user-interface design and am still hands on with everything template and usability related.

XBIZ: How did Elevated X come about, and how has the company evolved after nearly a decade in business?

Hall: Elevated X evolved out of need. Around 2004 I was running my own design business. Design clients kept asking me for back-end coding, which I didn’t offer. They wanted simple automated scripts to handle gallery pages and videos and that sort of thing. I started outsourcing those projects to a programmer I’d met a couple years prior while working for adult studios and used him for contract coding. At that time there wasn’t much in the way of a commercial CMS that could handle the processes and performance demands of large-scale companies. After coding a couple crude and rude ones I finally approached him (Mark) and said, “What do you think about creating something as a product designed for the A-tier of adult?” A year later we had the first usable iteration of Elevated X. In 2008 I closed my design business to focus on Elevated X full time.

The company has evolved from selling a CMS product intended only for large companies to a multiuse platform used by everyone, from the largest, oldest brands in adult to solo models and tiny bootstrap startups. We’re sometimes attacked by competitors as “the Wal-Mart of adult CMS products,” which we take as a compliment. We’ve released three new versions and added hundreds of features in that time and have changed our entire template system twice. Elevated X is continually morphing. New code is added daily, literally be it something new, a fix, subtle tweak, improvement or performance enhancement. Through all of this, nine years later, the price of the product hasn’t increased.

XBIZ: Elevated X’s CMS has been described as sophisticated and seamless. Has customer input meant a big difference to the success of Elevated X software?

Hall: Elevated X has been built almost entirely on customer input and based on customer requests. We are the only adult CMS provider that does not rely on selling custom programming for a significant portion of our revenue. Other companies will quote for something, charge a customer hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for that coding then get to do the same thing again the next time someone asks for the feature.

In contrast, Elevated X is an enterprise-level software vendor, but we take product development seriously. There aren’t dozens or hundreds of custom variations of Elevated X out there. With us, everyone runs the same code base. About 90 percent of the features we add are based on multiple customer requests and get added to the CMS for free. When someone asks for a customization or requests a new feature, we compare it against an internal list of previous requests. Once we’ve gotten enough requests for something, it’s added to the CMS as a feature that’s available free to everyone who buys the product.

We’ve never taken a lax approach to development or focused on custom coding as a revenue stream or made our user base choose between waiting several years for a product update or constantly paying for custom coding to keep their business up to date.

We’re heading into our 10th year and if you look back at the updates we’ve put out consistently each year, Elevated X has been more active with new core product development than most other adult software companies combined. This is 100 percent customer driven. At this stage in our maturity I can say that every thing we’re doing is a result of more customer involvement than ever before.

XBIZ: Does Elevated X have any major product updates or new tools on the horizon?

Hall: Always. We’re in a constant state of development. There are generally two to three projects going on at once at any given time, with a couple more always slated to start as others end.

We started the year with a redesigned, easier-to-use CMS admin panel interface and just released a new php template system. Support for GoDaddy hosting was also just added and we’re in the middle of redeveloping video-on-demand features for on-demand content purchasing, pay-per-download and online rentals.

We’ll also be releasing a series of free full site-design themes and an updated modernized responsive php template based design for our mobile site setup.

There’s a lot more in the works, mostly interactive stuff but nothing I’ll divulge any info on at the moment.

XBIZ: What’s your take on the future of desktop and mobile, as well as virtual reality?

Hall: As a tech company owner I’m a bit of a party pooper when it comes to my opinion of things. Having seen so many fads and trends I’ve become a realist when it comes to emerging tech and gadgetry.

Mobile is obviously reaching critical mass. I don’t buy into the hype stats about mobile use grossly overtaking desktop since much of that I believe is overlap. If I look at my own device use for example, most of it would be mobile based but I’m still using my Mac for almost all of my heavy content-related activity. I see multidevice and multiplatform optimized sites being more important than ever, the key word there being “optimized.” I don’t think just being mobile friendly cuts it anymore. Desktop use will continue to decline but isn’t going away overnight.

I think VR will be huge but it’s still quite far from being in every living room or bedroom so as someone who caters to customers paying for a platform intended for mass use by customers it’s difficult for me to get too excited about it just yet. Things are definitely heading in that direction though, be it more interactive sensually or truly immersive.

XBIZ: Can you name a person in the online adult industry who has had a tremendous impact on you?

Hall: Probably Scott Taylor of New Sensations/Digital Sin. Early on in my career in adult I was fortunate to work for him for a year from a web presence building and online marketing perspective. He’s also a CMS customer of mine and one of the few large-scale producers and distributors still thriving after the industry fallout in 2006-2008. I credit much of that to his keen sense of when to take calculated risks and never losing momentum.

Much of what we do is about always moving forward and trying new things and retooling along the way. I scratch my head anytime a newbie in the CMS game or a would-be competitor brags about having something first. If we wanted to be first, we would be. Trying something new isn’t always about innovation. Sometimes it’s about putting your own spin on existing things in ways that your own customers respond to. I think a lot of my mental flexibility in regards to business changes came from watching Scott.

XBIZ: What’s a typical work day at the office like?

Hall: These days it’s a home office, so after breakfast and dropping my three-year-old daughter off at pre-school I head back home, sit down and check email. Then believe it or not, it’s a chaotic juggling act where I bounce from project to project. Some days most of my day is spent replying to emails or working on a specific project. Other days I might spend half my day on the phone or be bouncing between several things at random. No two days are ever the same, which I think saves me from burnout. After almost 10 years running Elevated X I still love my job.

XBIZ: When not thinking about the biz, what do you like to do?

Hall: As single parent most of my free time is family time spent doing normal kid stuff with my daughter. Personally I stay pretty active and work out in the gym two to three days a week and play tennis. I bought a road bike last year and have found that to be a great way to kick your own ass workout-wise and get outside and unplug at the same time. I also have a good social network of close nonbusiness friends, so between it all I tend to stay pretty busy.