In the internet business world, there is often one industry that very few talk about but yet happens to be one of the most lucrative industries year after year. That industry is the adult entertainment with global revenues in excess of $100 billion dollars.
You’d imagine that working in this space would be some guys’ dream job with the ability to be surrounded by beautiful women at all times and making a very lucrative income while doing so. For others like Rob Simyar, after a decade in the business making millions of dollars and serving hundreds of thousands of customers through his website FTV Girls, it was time to get out. Here’s why…
Tell us a little bit about how FTV Girls started…
I was in dental school but before that, I was doing a lot of photoshoots like for fashion and was living in Hawaii at that time. It was like my part time job doing photography. It was always a hobby but long story short, in dental school, I met this girl who I ended up getting kinky with and started doing adult videos of her like public nudity. It was just something for fun. She introduced me to another friend and it just became like a chain reaction where I started shooting these girls just for fun.
I actually worked in a photo lab during the time I was in dental school so I picked up the camera you had to rent. Back then it was the VHS camera and I was doing stuff for fun. I don’t even have these VHS videos anymore. They are lost in time but back then, it gave me the idea of maybe starting a site, but with going to dental school, being broke and having a lot of stuff going on, I didn’t have the time or money to do something like that.
After I graduated, about two years into being a dentist, I had enough capital from doing dentistry that I actually started a site. The inspiration really was that there were sites out there doing really well, but specifically, they were very weak on video.
Back then in 2002, video was something that people wanted more and since it didn’t exist, that helped me shoot up in popularity along with just the way things were shot, but video was the key at that time and higher quality played a role as well.
Do you still practice dentistry?
Yes, absolutely. Still do but I just don’t work for pay. You have to renew your license every three years. I just volunteer at a local hospital once in a blue moon just keeping my skills up to par and that’s good enough.
The adult industry is quite saturated. How were you able to carve out a niche for yourself?
There were all these companies doing videos but reality was, there was no real good niche in that solo market. People that were doing stuff adult websites were mostly the boy/girl or the Bang Bus type stuff that was becoming very popular at that time, but I thought I would take the girls in a different light instead of disrespecting them. Show them in a classier light and there’s a niche for that. At that time, there wasn’t anything like that so I stood out.
At the time, other sites already existed that were kind of similar. What was the differentiator?
Well at that time, competitors like Met Art existed way before I did. Met Art was one of the big founders but the thing is, Met Art was all about photos. Videos came in later. When they make videos, even to this day, it just shows the girls posing with music in the background and she looks robotic. If I shot that stuff, my members would have a fit.
The idea is that you want to get people to see what they really want to see. That is just having real nudity, real orgasms, and that’s done by knowing how to make the girls comfortable and how to bring out their personalities. Everyone else tends to have a lot more personality than these European girls on other sites because these girls have been trained to become like robots where webmasters are like “Just come here, do this solo shoot, masturbate, I don’t care how. I need 10 minutes of this. Thank you, goodbye.” That doesn’t work here.
There are companies that do a lot more photography and there are companies that have more videos but it’s the fact that this niche nobody seems to be able to understand. So as long as they don’t, I’ll do okay (but it also means I can’t find someone to replace me).
Have you retained being a one-man operation to this day?
There are no cooks in the kitchen. It’s just me. I have no aid. I have no webmaster. I don’t have anybody working for me. I don’t have anybody to pay so it’s a smaller cost. I may make a lot of money but there are companies out there who make a whole lot more money than I do. The difference is that they have 50 employees and like three owners. So when you divvy out the net income, there isn’t that much left.
I had a girl that came down who actually was a former Marlin’s cheerleader. She flew in Monday night so I did the laundry, cleaned the sheets for the master bedroom, prepared the towels, feed her, and made sure she’s happy so she gets a good night sleep.
Next morning when she wakes up, we’ll shoot all day and after we shoot all day, I’ll feed her, entertain her, so on and so forth. I start editing at night and then continue until tomorrow. I’m just about done with the edit and then actually another girl comes in tomorrow. So yeah, there are no employees. I just do it in my computer and at the same time, answer customer emails as I’m editing.
How did you learn all the skills needed of running a website, editing video, etc…
Before when I started dental school, I had another thing going on and I still do to this day. It’s a computer game site. It’s a tournament game where people display and compete against each other. I learned how to run a website like that and managing thousands of members along with designing, re-upgrading, and improving on what I already created.
I learned everything that way and thanks to the tournament site, I was able to start FTV and do what I do now, even down to the software I was using and so on. Without those skills, thanks to the gaming site, I probably wouldn’t have been able to run this on my own.
Back in the good old days, it was pretty easy to start but now, it’s not so easy with all the stolen content. The reality is that you need to have the ability to be a man of many hats. I had the ability to do the webmastering, shooting, editing, customer service, and being professional with models to not freak them out.
Can you tell us a little bit about the cost to run a website of your caliber?
You have to understand that the process associated with what I’m going to tell you is only a fraction of what it is for most companies. It’s just because of what I’m doing.
I’ve done this for over 10 years editing the way I do. I have a workflow that’s very efficient. I get things done real quick and the turnover on my edits are within 24 hours, but then you have companies like Nubiles who have a great operation going. He’s bigger than I am now, but the amount of photography he needs, the amount of people working on Photoshop, the amount of people who edit, people who work on the programming, behind the scenes, mailers, etc, you add it all up and the cost are huge.
In my case honestly, I pay the models and everyone between $1,000 and $3,000 for the shoot. I pay for the plane tickets to the Southwest. It could be $200 sometimes or it could be $600 if the girl is from Florida and that’s it.
So my cost would be per shoot would average maybe $2,000-$3,000. Most companies can cost as much as $50,000 a shoot, and I’ve got the niche right because other than that, my update is only once a week which sounds a little, but there is so much in the update that it keeps people coming back.
If you compare me against the other companies that have to put up maybe two, three, four, or ten updates a week, they are paying between $20,000 to $50,000 per shoot so it adds up to being like $100,000 in cost just to run their websites per week. For me it costs $3,000.
How did you get your first customers? How do you market a website today when traditional internet advertising is not possible?
Back in late 2002, when my site first opened up, my traffic came from banners placed on free picture sites. The enticement was that FTV had something different, more kinky, and lots of video, which was rare at that time. Nowadays of course, banners would not work – but social media would be the way to start (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).
At least until around 2011, affiliate programs were the way to go. FTV has over 10,000 affiliates promoting the site, and they get 50% of every sale, including rebills as long as that member remains active. So some affiliates still get money from sales made a decade ago. More recently, because of the decline in sales for every adult site across the board, we do some partnerships with other sites. It may be a simple banner within the members’ area, or cross promotions where the member gets two sites for the price of one.
Tell us a little bit about how you deal with membership churn.
No doubt there is a steady decline of about 10% a year right now in new sales, and in result, less rebilling and less returning customers. I joke that FTV is like a race horse that has become too old but still winning races, but its not going to last much longer. So we’re injecting steroids and all sorts of things to keep that horse going. With FTV, I’m constantly pushing my own limits with making every update as good as possible, increasing its variety, making sure every girl is ideal for the site, and avoiding ‘dud’ updates.
On the promotion side, we’ve been banding together with other websites to exchange traffic/memberships and having a greater presence on social media. In the end though, doing everything possible to keep the member satisfied to stay longer.
With the evolution of the adult industry and free sites, how has that impacted you?
Actually the decline is huge. I have dropped in income by about 50% and maybe past that now since early 2008. I have lost about half of my income and it’s simple.
Why pay for porn when you can get it for free and you can get all the variety without having to use your credit card to go through the whole process. Of course you’ve got the new generation of 18-24 year olds coming out now that are entitled to free stuff too. They don’t expect to pay for music or movies.
That problem is actually huge. Now, there are ways to monetize in a sense, you can post your content on the adult tubes and try to make deals with them but it’s kind of a messed up situation. They take your content and you say, well, you can try to take them down, right? No, because they are all hosted in offshore places like Hong Kong, Eastern Europe, there’s nothing you can do about it. Same goes for these password sharing sites or torrent sites, there’s nothing you can do.
More and more people understand that there’s no reason to pay for porn and people who do pay for my stuff is mostly because they want the convenience. Also when you go to YouPorn and all these sites, there are a lot of Trojans and stuff. I don’t even go there.
I see it as a futile situation. There are only two ways you can truly make money where things can’t get stolen or they can’t get things downloaded so that’s web cams or adult dating services. You can’t steal that. You can’t download that. You have to actually pay for that.
A lot of companies are going that route but guess what, those tube sites like YouPorn that are stealing the content are being promoted by those companies because obviously their stuff aren’t going to get stolen. You can’t steal dates. You can’t steal webcam shows.
It’s kind of a weird situation and I’m one of those guys who think it’s going to kill everything. My costs are low so the 50% decline means that instead of making 90%, I’m making 40%.
What do you plan on doing to get ahead of the curve?
I’ll be honest with you. I’m on my way out. In fact, the only reason why I’m still shooting today is I gave myself an excuse to push. I got the McLaren P1 and I use that to act as a way to like say, “Okay, I’ll work for another year real hard so I could easily afford that cost”, but otherwise, I would have retired in 2012.
A few of my competitors who I communicate with (and have content trade deals with) will continue to stay in the business as long as there is money to be made. I came in and I did my run, and it’s time to move on.
My destination isn’t to continue with this. I’m not looking to find new ways to monetize it. It comes down to once you run out of content then it will just recycle itself, it would continue to decline but it will always generate money, but I don’t need to work for it anymore. There are also lots of personal things, let’s not forget, that has affected me that are not positive things. Being a pornographer is never a great term.
Have you shifted your niche to adjust to the times or have you remained loyal to your ‘first time’ branding?
A lot of softcore sites moved to hardcore because there is more money and interest in it. I refuse to go move in that direction – partly for legal reasons and the fact that I’m the shooter so I’m not interested in shooting that sort of content. As for the first time element, that is what keeps the site strong, and as of now it’s the last of the softcore-only sites that has survived and remained viable.
With the abundance of free sites, have you had to rework your pricing or has it remained the same over the years?
You never want to devalue your content, especially since its only growing bigger with massive archives of updates growing week by week. People who want things for free won’t be forking out the cash whether its 30 dollars or 4 dollars a month. Sure, there are discount deals given out on occasion, but its no different from the regular sales you get at any store. In the end, you want to please the customers you have, and make sure they stay with you for a long time. 70% of the income really comes from returning members.
How has your profession impacted you?
Well, with most people I don’t necessarily have to discuss it. I just say I’m a dentist and that’s good enough. When it comes to dating and so on, most girls are not really comfortable with what I do and so in my situation, I’m more like a dentist.
Of course, I date and I have girlfriends, but I can’t say there’s anything in a few years that would be marriage potential per se. I’m not married, engaged, or have kids. As long as I’m doing this, no, I can’t see a real personal life, a married life, or a serious life.
If you’re a girl and this guy is going around and shooting girls naked, that’s more than enough to say, “No thank you. I don’t want to hang out with this guy.” If you’re a nice girl, a good girl, whatever you want to call that, you’re not going to really accept that.
I had girlfriends accept it but it’s not necessarily a good thing. I had this girl who completely accepted it and she was great but her family didn’t, and they didn’t like that at all and saw me as a demon. That right there is enough to kill it. So, no matter what, it’s an obstacle. I don’t think there’s a culture that is going to see this as a cool thing or an okay thing. I understand that. I’m a realist.
Before you could Google search me and there would be no link to the porn but now, it’s as easy as a Google search. So, whatever, life is good. I’m not going to complain right now obviously. I see my friends slaving away as dentists. They work 9-5; still paying up their loans.
Looking back at being both a high dollar service professional and an entrepreneur, would you still go back to being a dentist?
This is the case that I would say no. I came out with the huge student loan and had no parental support. There’s a friend of mine who is just graduating from dental school this year and the student loans are actually $450,000 and there’s no bringing down the rate. He’s paying like 8% on that. Just imagine how much you have to work just to pay that off. He’s going to be paying that for pretty much his whole life. So if you have family or whatever that could help pay for it and you don’t come out with that huge debt, go for it.
I hate to say it but it’s not worth having all that debt. If you fall behind, that’s one thing. If you fall dramatically behind in life because everybody else is moving on with a job while you’re still incurring debt, it continues on with your family and so on. At the end, you’re sort of behind in life so I tend to discourage people from going to medical or dental school unless they really want to do this and have the financial backing.
On top of it all, looking back in hindsight in my case, it’s cool that I got a degree. Because of dental school in college, that whole gaming site was something I made to cool myself down after dental school.
Without dental school, maybe FTV wouldn’t have existed, but at the same time, looking back at the potential income one could make in the internet adult business (1998-2001) was astounding. You could put up 14 images and charge $30. People would pay for that.
In this industry do people mix work and play together or does it tend to stay separate?
Of course. Let’s just put it this way, when you’re the photographer and you’re working with the model, there’s definitely going to be something that could happen, chemistry, or whatever. The question is, are you going to act on it or not?
A lot of adult website owners make a lot of money. You have a good time. You buy a lot of stuff, you party, and before you know it, you burn all your money. When the income dries up, then also you’re screwed. I have seen that happen a lot so I don’t really party or burn my money. People say, “Oh, you could buy a Bugatti” or whatever, but that’s still within a realistic budget. It’s not my entire income.
Of all the models you’ve shot, is there any that are memorable?
Of course there are quite a few favorites. I don’t know if I can say there’s one specific favorite. Personally, the girl that’s the true winner is Alison Angel who was basically a girl I met at Walgreen’s. We ended up dating. She wasn’t in the industry or anything. We ended up dating and she saw everyone on the website and wanted her own and made good income on the side. It became a huge site.
Of course, she was very popular with the members of FTV and she would assist on the shoots. She’s not really a porn star. She was only on my website and never did any hard core but just looking back, she was a total gem. If you just go and look her up on YouTube you can see how many tribute videos she has.
So if I had to pick one now, that was probably it just because of the huge success. There was one point where her site, just her site alone was making about $90,000 a month. That’s great and that’s huge for a site on its own.
What do you plan to do next after the adult stuff?
I’m still not going back to the dental stuff. I’d go back to games and things like that. I was a nerd and there are a couple of board games we used to play in high school and I want to implement them into things like iPad and so on. It would probably be more complicated but they are nerd games and I have noticed nobody has capitalized on these games. But that’s my next project. I’m working on a turn-based strategy game called Space Wars: Interstellar Empires. It will be a massively multiplayer online-based game set in a fictional universe I’ve been working on for… 20 years haha.
If things all fell apart somehow, I would go back to dentistry but to do it as a job, no. Most dentists see it as a rewarding job and it’s good, but if they could find a job that was better, an investment that makes money, believe me, they would reduce their hours to one or two hours a week, or two times a week or retire and have somebody take over.
There’s no reason for me to go back. I keep the license and stuff, after all the schooling and student loans, it would be a terrible waste to just toss it and not have it anymore. No offense, but in my field of ‘FTV shooting’, I feel like I’m losing IQ points every year.
It seems like Space Wars is definitely more of a passion for you than FTV right now, so what is the exit strategy with FTV?
Indeed Space Wars consumes most of my time/passion at this point since there will be a beta launch date somewhere late in 2015. Whether it makes tens of millions or not, that is uncertain (and unlikely in my opinion), but it will no doubt make a decent return on investment.
As for FTV, I’ve been training several photographers to replace me, one of which is getting close to being a viable candidate. So through next year, there will be a slow transition from my shooting to these other photographer’s shooting the content. As for the editing, I still do all of it, but that also will eventually streamline into the programmer’s team.
It’s not that I will sell FTV or make it fade away, it’s just that I would no longer be doing any of the work for it and my costs would just increase. As long as the site remains profitable, it will stay active. I’ve had offers of $5-6 million for buying the site, but that amount is way too low for me to give the site away like that.
What is your best advice for anyone who’s looking to get into the adult business?
Honestly I discourage anyone from trying the adult business at this point. The golden years were before I even started and the decent years ended in 2010. To start an adult site now in the pay per view format means investing $xxxxx.xx and getting a return of $xxx.xx a month at best. The money to be made in this industry now is on things like webcam or adult dating services/apps. Essentially anything you cannot steal/download, is a viable product that won’t hemorrhage money. So if you are trying to start something in adult, it’s not in the content production business.
What has been your biggest learning after all these years as an adult website owner?
How hard you work/grind on your website is truly relative to your success.
The quality and originality of what you present to your potential customers makes you stand out from the crowd and in return, gives your site longevity.
A good reputation/respect from your peers in the adult industry (or any industry for that matter) goes a long way.
What is the significance of owning a car like a Bugatti Veyron when you have other cars like a McLaren P1?
What makes me stay with the car and the company is just the service I get and the very personal relationship I have with them. The things I get to do with them is quite unique. They have 300-400 customers but being one of the rare few to do certain experiences is an honor especially when you’re probably the poorest owner of the Bugatti.
Most of these people who own a Bugatti own 50-100 cars. They are worth at least half a billion dollars. I’m definitely nowhere close to that, but it’s just the relationship I have with the company that I think enhances the keepsake of the car. You want to keep the car because your experience is of a different realm of automotive ownership and the experiences you get with it.