This past January in Los Angeles I gave the first-ever XBIZ Talk. I consider myself generally reclusive when it comes to public speaking, only appearing on panels twice in the last 18 years in the industry. Entitled “Strength Through Adversity: Motivational Life Lessons and the Pursuit of Happiness,” the talk went through both my personal life and corporate history at the helm of JuicyAds. That night, while surrounded by legends in the porn business, I was honored with the XBIZ Exec Award for Progressive Leadership. The moment reminded me of when I won Businessman of the Year in 2013. I had just met the love of my life (now my wife), fresh into a new relationship and it played well in my favor. While I cherish every award won both personally as well as for my company, being recognized as a “Progressive Leader” was an honor that went hand in hand with the speech I had given earlier that day.
To me, being a progressive leader means being a visionary of change and the trends ahead, and to be able to overcome obstacles as a team. It means taking big risks and leading by empowering team members not just to produce better work and to be able to make the right decisions for the company, but to improve people and lifestyles as a result. All of this only happens if you do things a little bit differently than the average.
When you work at a tech company, being able to not only envision, but to understand what your team is building, is an advantage. I don’t ask anyone on my team to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.
Trust is at the core of leadership. I have struggled with it endlessly because at one point I did every single job at JuicyAds, and as a founder it can be difficult to hand off tasks to others because you feel they just won’t do it as well. In order to lead, you have to trust, and there was a point in time I wasn’t even able to trust the people closest to me. Despite this, I learned the value of trust in delegation. Reading the skillsets of people allows you to trust your delegation to them. I have had those proud moments of being able to tell team members that they are better at tasks than I ever was.
On the other hand, I have realized (the hard way) that despite my belief in people, they are not always able to learn any task you provide. Some people just don’t (and won’t) get it, or fail to understand what is expected, and when trust in someone ends, it usually means they will not be around much longer. That’s how I had to fire my best friend. She had seen me through the breakdown of my marriage, and I had helped her out with a job when she needed it most. When you can no longer trust in someone to do what is needed and the skillset is simply not there, you just can’t fit a square peg into a round hole no matter how hard you try.
There always seems to be someone in the right place at the right time. For as much as people like to play that they were visionaries, their fortune can oftentimes be due merely to luck. Taking big risks can reap big rewards, but it does not come without failure. Show me someone who has never failed, and I’ll show you someone who has never reached their true potential. It’s not always the first to market who succeeds, it’s the first who gets it right, and can stay ahead of the everlasting change in the world.
Being a progressive leader is to be in front of as many things as possible, and behind on as few as possible. For example, we were the first adult advertising network to accept multiple forms of cryptocurrency alongside Bitcoin. JuicyAds was also one of (if not the first) large adult advertising network to offer Native Advertising — years before they were ever called “Native Ads.” In fact, we offered more than just recommendation widgets, we allowed people to build entirely custom ad templates. We offered other ad types that no other advertising network had, as well. We were way ahead of our time with that innovation. Webmasters were still learning the value of using an advertising network like JuicyAds, and back in 2009 those custom ad templates were barely used. We have proudly re-introduced Native Ads onto our platform as the ad type is now en vogue.
To be progressive you need to be human. Many times I have apologized for letting down the team, or failing to meet self-imposed deadlines. Even though more hands-on leaders have been shown to be less effective than those who mostly delegate, I continue to lead by example. Pitching in when things get tough to make our team succeed is important to me. While many tech companies were built on friendships and started by buddies, my friendships with associates usually happen after they’ve been hired. While it makes tough decisions harder, its important not to lose focus that people are people, they have goals and dreams of their own.
A recent Google “Project Oxygen” determined that technical expertise was less important for effective managers, and that consistency, delegation and humility was more important. When I started JuicyAds, I came at the creation of one of the world’s first adult advertising networks with both technical experience (as the first developer for the project) and I handled the rest as well. When you work at a tech company, being able to not only envision, but to understand what your team is building, is an advantage. I don’t ask anyone on my team to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. Sure, there are things I don’t know how to do, but for the most part I have done nearly everything at JuicyAds myself at some point or another. The company ran for a long four years as a one-man show until I finally had to ask others to help. It’s profoundly important to hire the smartest people who know what you don’t, and to keep them happy.
We started by hiring people who were the early users of the platform, who knew how things worked. It was more important to hire people who were affordable and who were good, rather than hiring the best who were financially out of reach. These super users were excited and had direct personal benefit to improving the platform, which also ensured company success. Later we hired veterans who had been in the industry for decades, and people who were “the smartest people in the room.” Hiring people who are as smart (or smarter) than you are means you have people who can succeed you, once you move on. It’s about understanding your own weaknesses and the strength you can find in others.
From the beginning, as an entrepreneur, I have always embraced a free lifestyle of being able to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted. Unlike some companies that allow only some workers to operate remotely (and only some of the time), every single person who has ever been hired by JuicyAds, works remotely. Everyone enjoys unlimited personal and vacation time, because a happy person is a productive person. Since everyone works their own hours, we rely on an internal digital “water cooler” (Slack) and frequent communication to stay on task. The structure saves a ridiculous amount of money for our team members who don’t need second vehicles, insurance, gas, and it saves hours because there’s absolutely no commute. We focus on performance metrics to see how each team member is doing, to ensure they are delivering the product and services we need. A funny thing happens when people have the ability to take off as much time as they want — they don’t do it. People are driven by happiness and purpose. If you take away their purpose, they are ultimately unhappy.
The signs of a progressive leader may include a thriving company culture, a solid mission statement, the company moving forward no matter what and a foundation of trust in each other. Last but not least — to be a true leader, you need to provide an environment where your team can have some fun every day, and be able to find happiness in doing what they do best.
Juicy Jay is the CEO and founder of JuicyAds, the Sexy Advertising Network. You can follow Jay on Twitter @juicyads, visit JuicyAds.com or like on Facebook.com/juicyads.