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Q&A: Yanks.com Flourishes With Commander Todd Spaits

Q&A: Yanks.com Flourishes With Commander Todd Spaits
Alejandro Freixes

Yanks.com has been creating female-produced and female-friendly adult entertainment content long before it was cool to do so … 15 years ago, to be exact. And since inception, the visionary minds behind the company — Todd Spaits and his business/life partner Billie — have only grown bolder and more forward-thinking in their approach.

What originally began as a passion project on the side for two bartenders in San Diego, with plenty of trial-and-error shoots, soon developed into a moneymaking dream machine.

I want Yanks to be a north star to others in the industry by what we do socially through our charity and as an example of a company truly empowering women in the space.

Yet, no matter the lure of quick profits and lucrative offers, Spaits and co. never wavered from their core principles and original mission, delivering on promises with utmost integrity and loyalty to their true fans, who never tire of the orgasmic all-girl content.

Even when the Great Recession blasted their company down to half its size, they filled their sails with those billowing gusts, identifying which affiliates were fair weather friends and which were worthy of deeper bonds. They then linked up with the most earnest B2B partners, engaging them on a more meaningful level, and found ways to develop mutually profitable bonds. They also went out of their way to improve review site ratings — not only to bump overall scores and generate higher traffic, but also to legitimately address concerns and incorporate suggestions from critics.

And no matter the frenetic pace of unceasing expansion and artistic videography via the latest cutting-edge gear, Spaits utilized his MBA know-how to develop a bird’s-eye view focused on proactive solutions, lest Yanks.com be caught with its pants down (in an unpleasant fashion).

Now, he is setting his sights on a limitless future, with strategic investment in VR capabilities and an unflinching commitment to fulfilling the incredible potential of his brand. Take a journey into the inspiring thought process of a genuinely inventive CMO, in this exclusive XBIZ interview!

XBIZ: Tell us about your entry into adult. What led you to create Yanks.com — which launched in 2002 as a side project — into a full-fledged (and successful) paysite? How has Yanks stayed true to its core principles, amidst 15 years of continual evolution?

Spaits: Prior to our 2002 launch, Billie (my partner in business and in life) and I were both bartenders. We worked at what was “The Spot” in SoCal at a nightclub called On Broadway in San Diego. For us, the adult internet represented a collision of adult entertainment … which, having worked in nightclubs we were already somewhat familiar with … and technology, something that we explored as a hobby during that time building computers and websites in our off time.

Right from the launch we started making money; however instead of quitting our weekend jobs, we continued to reinvest, learn about the adult industry and of course continued improving the content. Prior to our first model showing up for her shoot we had no absolutely no experience in photography or videography, so learning all this on the fly was quite a process.

Our core principle has always been honesty — honesty to our models, affiliates, vendors and customers. Staying honest to other people is a core principle of who we are at Yanks. Translating that honesty to the core stakeholders of our business was simply a matter of not interrupting its natural flow. Of course, over the last 15 years there have been plenty of offers put forth that would have gone against those core principles. In all cases we stuck to our guns and our principles. We didn’t get the checks, but we have the high ground, which is more important to us in the long run.

XBIZ: Why did you choose to focus on amateur content for Yanks? What are the benefits of ensuring Yanks content is “female-friendly” — and, how much of your audience is male vs. female? How do you incorporate data/feedback from consumers, to improve?

Spaits: In porn and entertainment in general, I suppose you always have to make what you like. As an example, I doubt there are many great vegan BBQ smokehouses out there. I am sure one will get posted in the comments section now though, hah. Back to the content, we chose amateur content for that reason; I liked it and because it offered the lower barriers to entry for someone with no photography experience. We also knew we could do better than what was out there in our niche.

Our north star for Yanks content was Ed Powers’ video series, which primarily ran from the early 1990s to the mid 2000s. However, we pivoted from Ed’s models right at the moment at which “everyday guy” Ed, with his black socks and thick-rimmed glasses, jumped on the bed with the girl or girls in the video. That model was great for him and I understand why he did it. However, for us, we always kept the focus on the girl or girls. On a side note, I met Ed once in Vegas, super cool approachable guy. I thanked him for being our inspiration. He was appreciative.

Yanks.com’s male to female ratio is 15% female, 15% couples and 70% male. We ensure that the content is both male- and female-friendly, because we focus on the totality of the sex act and the feelings and physical reactions that sex act creates vs. looking at parts being “fucked.” It is a concept that is tough to answer in a few paragraphs. In my experience, in regards to women and porn (and when I say my experience I feel that should be bolded and underlined with an asterisk), what is appealing in porn to women falls into two camps — empathy and fantasy.

What appeals to an individual person sexually encompasses millions of subtleties, so I use this crude breakdown to highlight that I believe Yanks appeals to women on both levels. Firstly fantasy, via our lesbian content — as it is extremely popular among women — and secondly empathy, because of our focus on our models having real orgasms. As an example, men like to look at a girl fucking another girl with a strap-on, whereas women in my experience like to fantasize that they are fucking another girl to orgasm or imagine that they are cumming while another woman is pleasing them. The difference is subtle, but when you get it, you get it.

For 15 years, we have been listening and pivoting. Great customer service has always been part of what we do here at Yanks. Billie handles our support specifically because it allows her to have a touch point with our customers. For my touch point, I have chosen to respond to tube comments daily so I have a direct communication link to our fans. Both of these activities take us around 20 minutes per day and it provides incredible useful feedback. We talk about content weekly and adjust as necessary. We don’t utilize data quite as much for content production. The reason for this is because we don’t typically book models via agencies and the unscripted gonzo nature of our shoots means we might not able to execute on what the data is telling us. I also channel Steve Jobs a bit here and try to give our members what I know they will like and they do.

XBIZ: When you set out to recover from the Great Recession, you revamped your revenue streams and cost structure. Can you detail what the most significant changes were, in this regard, and how they played out in the years that followed?

Spaits: When the great recession hit porn we took a huge dive. We dropped to the tune of around —60 percent. However, on the very slim silver lining of this essentially black roiling cloud of death, there existed the view of a reduction of noise. During that time, when you looked at a list of productive traffic sources the one and two sales-per-day relationships that existed prior to the recession fell off completely. For the most part, these represented legacy affiliates that were never going to be a part of our future plans. This view allowed us to see the trends of where the productive traffic and sales were coming actually from and where they were going to. From that knowledge we could then ask what infra-structure was necessary to support those sales. For example, what do the companies sending those sales need from us? What did we need to spend to get them more of the same? This last bit allowed us to ditch costs that were unrelated directly to the sales we were seeing. The most significant cost reduction we had was to stop supporting two sites that were similar enough to Yanks that combining them and their costs made more sense than trying to run them as standalone profit centers.

In terms of revenue stream maximization, the best example of this was review sites. As a company, we created a spreadsheet with every productive review site, our score on that site and what our revenue is from that score. Those two numbers create a ratio from which you can calculate a one point rise in score to an increase in revenue of $X. With review sites, this was great, because they told you exactly what you needed to do to get a better score, to essentially raise your revenue with them. Most of the fixes, like navigation fixes or features your CMS offered were cheap. We took them one by one. The steps were: read the review, make the fixes, ask for a re-review by personal email and push for a higher score using their own review as the justification. This made our sites better and drove sales.

In the years to follow we simply applied that analytical process to each potential deal. What did they need from us? How much would it cost? Was it worth it? Of course many times we’ve charged ahead because of excitement and have to do this a month or two into the deal, however we still do it religiously.

XBIZ: Given the popularity of social media, it can be tempting for a company to focus on engagement metrics that don’t necessarily translate into ROI. How do you leverage B2B partnerships to maximize revenues for Yanks? On a B2C note, what is the most effective way to cultivate meaningful/profitable connections with customers online?

Spaits: I assume that, what you mean by metrics that don’t translate into ROI, are basic follows and likes. I don’t really classify that as engagement but that is being picky, hah. I do care about interaction metrics, which I do consider engagement metrics: comments, shares and likes on posts. I believe anybody interacting with a brand in a positive way has value. Of course, those have to be measured against our followers. The metric I use is essentially adding up and assigning a weight to the various engagement metrics, shares having the most value, followed by comments and then likes, and then that is divided by the total followers. By keeping both numbers on the rise you make your brand stronger socially.

In regards to B2B partnerships we really have returned to working almost exclusively with people and companies that we have either personal relationships with, shared values and goals, or great product alignment with. Most of our B2B relationships are with those people and companies that have either weathered the storm with innovation and a quality product or those that are new to the space and have a quality or innovative product. I am much less impressed lately with bulk traffic-based companies or those with slick campaigns and brands that often fade away within a year or so.

XBIZ: Utilizing your MBA savvy, you once secured funding from a mainstream bank for Yanks.com. In what other ways has formal education (and connections) improved Yanks?

Spaits: By far the biggest value I drew from the MBA program was to be able to view various pieces of the business from 30k feet. After I graduated, I started making changes to the business based on what was really happening and what was really coming down the pipe versus what I wanted to happen or reacting to what the business or industry used to do in the past. It was allowing the data to speak for itself. However, it was also learning to remove my emotions from filtering it or skewing that data. It also gave me the benefit of having reviewed case studies from hundreds of other companies spanning many industries and being able to apply those lessons learned to my business.

Finishing grad school also gave me confidence. I didn’t graduate high school … I dropped out and got my GED. I also did not receive an undergraduate degree … I only did a couple of years of liberal arts at ASU. However, I got accepted into the University of Washington’s MBA program with a solid GMAT and a good interview. I had success in business before my MBA; analyzing that success and of course our many failures allowed me to see that I had good business instincts overall. Learning the fundamentals of business when added to those instincts gave me a deep feeling of allowing the company’s success to be my success, without ever feeling as though Yanks’ success was simply luck or timing.

In terms of connections, I had the luxury of going to B-school in Seattle, so my classmates were director level folks at Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing and other companies pushing tech forward. Through them, I was able to gain insight into their businesses; through those close friendships I have been able to keep a pulse on a very important city in terms of tech advancement. This is especially important in terms of the direction YanksVR will be headed in the near future.

XBIZ: What inspired you to explore VR for Yanks? Any unique challenges or opportunities, involved in the production of YanksVR content vs. your flagship site? How does 180-degree 3D video production compare to, say, your 360-degree content, which is shot by 10 4K cameras (according to your site)?

Spaits: We have been watching the VR space for years and waiting for the first chance for us to put forth a minimally viable product that we could produce and sell at a rate to get in the game early and stay there.

We dabbled in mobile content distribution very early with a product called PocketGirls. We had a great custom mobile CMS and the ability to sell ringtones, mobile mini-magazines and wallpapers via an affiliate program that paid the content producer, traffic provider and ourselves. It was a great system. However, it was two years before the first iPhone and we couldn’t hang on to wait it out. It was rough. That being said, I was never excited about mobile because I like content more than tech. It made our content small and less impressive. VR is different. VR brings our content to life. More pixels equals more possibilities.

We have encountered many challenges with bringing Yanks content to VR — even something as simple as masturbation gets complicated in VR. There are a couple of examples. For instance, our focus on real orgasms became much harder in VR because of the camera’s increased intrusiveness and the model or models needing to be much more aware of her or their positioning. This means we needed models who were more comfortable shooting in general, no first timers, and models that are able to orgasm under more pressure. The second example would be our camera rigging. To get some of the angles we need to capture Yanks-esque content in VR, it required us to 3D print or build from scratch the rigs and tripods we needed. Beyond that, post-production had challenges — the cameras overheated and we needed to custom design camera cooling systems. And of course, as a general VR challenge, is the ever-changing VR viewing device landscape. Right now the proverbial “Betamax” and “VHS” exist in the VR world, amongst others. Who eventually dominates and where do we place our bets?

The 180 vs. 360 content is an interesting discussion. They are really two different products. 360 is web accessible and 180 requires a device. I believe 360 is a great way to promote VR to those that don’t have a device; however, once the potential customer has one, they won’t look at much 360 content or buy in that direction. We honestly haven’t made much 360 as of late and are focusing much more on going deeper into VR, AR and MR. We may return to do some later, but for now I believe that 180 offer the increased intimacy that makes YanksVR a better product than Yanks.

XBIZ: Will you ever delve into boy/girl content in the future, or are you sticking to girl/girl and solo?

Spaits: This one is the easiest question you asked and the answer is a resounding, “No!” The goal of Yanks has always been to showcase the pinnacle of female pleasure, the female orgasm. Sadly to some of the readers, men are not necessary for this to happen. From a logistics perspective, to use men really only adds plumbing issues. We know this because we tried exactly one boy/girl scene, one, that was it for us. There are great sites that showcase boy/girl content; we will never be one of them.

XBIZ: What are your future aspirations for Yanks?

Spaits: For the near future it is leadership. I want Yanks to lead in 2D and VR/AR amateur content production via innovation. I want Yanks to be a north star to others in the industry by what we do socially through our charity and as an example of a company truly empowering women in the space. I want Yanks to be in front leading the charge in regards to ethics.

I want Yanks to exist as a paysite in an ecosystem where content creation is not valued fairly. To delve more deeply into that last sentence I want to be a loud positive and productive voice in regards to the always, tenuous tube/pay-site relationship. Beyond the leadership role we want to expand our VR brand to the live cam space as a boutique studio. This of course depends on the viability of VR cam partners.

XBIZ: You mentioned Yanks.com’s philanthropic work. How can others get involved?

Spaits: Yes! Please visit Yanks.com/Charity and donate to Call to Safety, an Oregon based non-profit that works to ensure that everyone has a life free of domestic and sexual violence. One dollar of every new Yanks sale goes to Call to Safety.

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