TheProfessor Owner/Founder of Adult Friend Finder
There at the begining of the internet with presence, TheProfessor is one of the true online success stories. I'll be honest, I've been looking forward to this ambush above all others so far and if there's anyone I look up to online in this business for what they've achopmlished in a short period of time, it's TheProfessor. I think Andrew's affiliate programs now have paid out more money to more webmasters than any other program on the net. I don't say this lightly, if you don't know who TheProfessor is and you work in online adult today, you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground.
Pictures complements of Fubar - check it out the photo archive of all webmaster events!
GFY Ambush Interview thread on the Professor
What is yellow fever? How long have you had it? How bad is it? Have you learned to speak the language?
Shoot... I gotta start dating some Swedish women to quash these rumors. I studied Chinese during grad school as a hobby and can speak enough to get myself into a bar fight. Our first language specific dating sites was in Chinese at http://asiafriendfinder.com.
Why is it your sports cars attracts more men than women? Ppost pics.
I've never had time to be a sport car person but picked up a 360 Modena a couple years ago off of ebay. While it's a beautiful car that lets me chase motorcycles around the nearby winding mountain roads , I soon found that it's a total guy magnet. Women assume that I must compensating for something with a Ferrari and every guy wants to be my new best friend. I'm sure that someday there will be a Brokeback sequel that features sports cars. I recently parked it with this sign.
Discuss the weird old movie poster collection.
Movie posters in the early years were very different than today. Most were beautifully hand drawn and bring you back to a simpler time - collecting them helps give me some balance from working with bits and bandwidth all day. It's kind of like the feeling you get when the power goes off at your house and you realize that there was a time where people were not addicted to the Internet.
If you were on a game show and there were 3 doors to pick - which would you pick?
Yah, this is one of our interview questions. Suppose you were on a game show (e.g., let's make a deal) where a new car was behind one of 3 doors and nothing behind the others. Let's say you guess door #2. Now instead of showing you what's behind door #2, I tell you that it's NOT behind door #1. Now, would you want to change your pick to door #3?
How does a mechanical engineering major get into computers?
He constructs a very small ladder... I started programming when I was 11 so by the time I got to college, I thought that engineering would be more fun. I've always enjoyed building things and figuring out how things work.
What about that Jerry Wang kid that wanted to borrow one of your servers in the 90'? What deal did he offer you?
Oh, I think his name was Jerry Yang - he started a little website called Yahoo. One day in 1994 he visited my web development company looking for someone to give him free hosting for his site (probably for a cut). Well, to make a sad story short, he didn't host with us.
Discuss your fear of flying. How did it come about? Will you ever get on an airplane again?
Ever since I had an engine burst into flames on a flight over the pacific -- the electrical systems went haywire and not just the passengers but the stewardesses were going hysterical -- it's been hard to hop in a plane. But I've resolved to do it this year or become buds with John Madden.
I hear you live in a shack. How come you don't buy a mansion or a giant farm or something?
Yah, most shacks in the bay area cost more than mansions anywhere else. Here's a lovely example http://www.mlslistings.com/common/properties/propertyDetail.asp?open=0&page=1&mls_number=607576 &type=property&name= or go large with http://www.mlslistings.com/common/properties/propertyDetail.asp?open=0&page=1&mls_number=604406 &type=property&name=http://www.mlslistings.com/common/pr...property&name= I do have my eyes open for a ranch or farm though - somewhere I can motor around in a tractor and dig up stuff.
How did Andrew "the pocket protector" become such a hip guy overnight? Did you hire a style consultant?
Easy, it became hip to be a geek... or at least there is more of a blur now between them.
When is it enough? What comes after Friend Finder?
The Friend Finder sites fulfill many important human needs. While we have grown considerably over the past 10 years, there is much more to do. I have grown as well - from being key to the company to being a part of an amazing team. As we contine to bring in additional talent, I expect that my role will evolve again.
How many different women do you date at a time?
Industry norm... here's a plot...
How often do you talk to Miss Cleo.
Couple times a day but she doesn't talk back. Cleo is my dog who loves to hang out in the affiliate department.
Jack, friend or foe?
Jack? Naw, I prefer gin and tonic.
What's with the obsession of Koko the gorilla?
Turns out that a woman a few miles from our office taught a gorilla how to communcation using sign language. Koko has do over 1000 signs, understands 2000 spoken words and has an IQ of around 80. I just think it's cool (http://koko.org). If we could just teach gorillas to use credit cards, I'm sure we'd create a site for them.... monkeymoney... bananabucks...
Why do you bring your own silverware to restaurants?
Oh, that's a rumor... well ok, there's a little truth to it. I'm addicted to this little restaurant a block from the office that makes amazing breakfast food all day -- but they had the cheapest high school cafeteria silverware. So one night, we anonymously dropped off a crate of silverware for the whole place. Maybe I'm too much of a micromanager but it's much better eating breakfast with nice silverware.
What exactly have you or your companies been sued for in the past? Currently being sued for? Outcome?
Our friendly attorney once told me that you don't know you really made it until you get sued. With over 100 million registered members, there's always going to be someone who gets upset. Fortunately, the law has been on our side. Also, we've never had to sue an affiliate.
How many paid members does Adult Friend Finder currently have? Free members? How many people work for you? Affiliates?
We talk more in terms of registered members - Adult Friend Finder, the network of personals sites and cams.com sign up over 160,000 people each day. One of the neat things about so much activity on the sites is that the energy it produces rocks the conversion rates. There's about 20 million active members on Adult Friend Finder alone. Last time I checked, we had over 300K affiliates registered - with a great team of about 20 who help support them. All in all, it takes about 300 people to keep the site rolling.
Where did you grow up and what did your family do for a living?
Grew up in northern Indiana near Lake Michigan on a small farm. My parents were both steel workers during the day and farmer-types after work. My father would joke that he was teaching me every job that I wouldn't want to do the rest of my life - bricklaying, barn building, roofing, dish washing, auto body repair, welding, ditch digging, Christmas tree farming, hay bailing, wood chopping, etc. I may have not appreciated it at the time, but I did learn how to work long hours and to always do a task to the best of my abilities. While the calluses are gone from my hands, the work ethic and the pleasure of a job done well remains.
What were your original post university plans?
I thought that I wanted to get into academia after I graduated but by the time I had finished, Friend Finder had a few dozen employees and I was committed to the company. In 2001, I did teach a senior-level engineering course (control systems) at Santa Clara University. Perhaps someday I'll teach another course.
Discuss your philanthropic company and what does it support?
The adult industry is filled with talented people, start of the art technology, and financial resources which can be repurposed to help all sorts of people. There are so many non-profit companies that can't afford custom website development and the latest technologies. I recently funded a non-profit company to help micro-fund integration developers to reuse development efforts from the adult world to mainstream (among other projects). For example, software for a webcam website could be reused to provide remote tutoring (think low cost homework helpers in India or volunteers broadcasting), handle a suicide hotline where people can actually see the people helping others, or other situations where a group wants to make experts available. An online dating site could be repurposed to match volunteers with needs or to organize support networks for at-risk people. An SMS chat system can be reused to send out homework reminders to parents. The basic assumption is that there are huge economies of scale when it comes to building websites - the repurposing of technologies is often considerably cheaper than the original development. While the company is in the formative stage, we will be taking proposals and funding a number of projects this year.
What really turns you on sexually? What haven't you found the right woman yet with 29 million in your personal database?
Guess you'll have to find my profile! I'm a pretty active member on many of our sites - it's a great way of mixing business and pleasure. I've met many women on the sites but haven't yet given up my single ways.
Are you going public soon so we can all get a piece of the pie?
We're always looking at the options. As you know, there are just a few pure-play adult companies that have gone public most with mixed results. The times are changing though - with google, yahoo, microsoft, disney, viacom, comcast, etc making more revenue from adult content than most adult companies, the public markets are becoming more embracing. GFY will be one of the first to know. What's your thoughts? Think the public is ready to invest in another adult company? We've been in acquistion mode recently - picking up a big private label dating network that enables us to be much more flexible for custom deals - see FastCupid.com and the merger with Streamray. We have a number of big deals in play for this year in both the adult and mainstream markets. If you are interested in joining the network or an acquistion, send email to 'bizdev at friendfinderinc.com'.
I hear your offices are kinda funky. When are you moving to swanky offices?
Yah... we've been terrorizing other tenents in our current building for over 7 years - stalking them until they move out and give us their space. We've packed people in almost every corner of this place so a move is in the works. I'd be curious to hear stories from people about what happened when they upgraded their digs...
How is it working with someone so legendary? Don't you feel a bit like the Wizard of Oz?
The big difference is that "legendary" Lars was wizard of his own sites before we merged. Promotion and delivering on promises is what he's all about - it's energizing to work with him on projects for both Streamray (cams.com) and the Friend Finder network. While we're both in California, he works several time zones ahead so his torrent of IMs is the first thing I get every morning. Our different personality types make a great team.
Question #25 and Question #26
Discuss the code for LavaLife. Is it like the Caramilk Secret? Who wrote it? and Who was the first person to ever do online personals?
As I mentioned earlier, I wrote the first web personals site in 1994 (called webpersonals.com). I sold it in 1995 and it was then bought by lavalife for a nice flip for the first buyer. I'm sure that the code is long history. The japanese press were the first to write about it - was kind of weird to have them more in tune than the US.
Why didn't people want the five-pound zucchini no matter how impressed you were about the size?
My first business venture was when I was 8 selling vegetables from our garden to our neighbors, door-to-door. Aside from learning how to ride a bike with two 5 gallon buckets of tomatoes, I did learn many business principles. For example, I learned that people didn't want a five-pound zucchini no matter how much I tried to convince them of the value per pound - business is all about the needs of the customer.
Talk about your Vic 20 and how it got you started.
I guess software guys think of their first computer just like they think of their first sex partner. I got a Commodore Vic-20 computer when it had just hit the stores in 1981 - I was instantly hooked. With 3K of memory and no way to save programs, the computer had much to be desired. None-the-less, I would turn it on in the morning, spend most of the day writing simple games and scripts and then delete them all at night when I had to turn the computer off. About a year later, Commodore came out with the Commodore 64 with 64K of memory and a then-amazing cassette tape backup system. Now I could build much more elaborate programs and save them! In gratitude for its purchase by my mom, one of my first programs was a bible quiz game (yep, I was a church boy). Speaking of church, if you have right-wing Christain traffic that you want to convert, send them to BigChurch.com (don't laugh, it one of our better converting sites... has bible searches, scripture by email, you name it!).
Discuss the 4-bedroom, 2700 sq ft Victorian house you bought as a student and that time of your life.
My undergrad was in Terre Haute, Indiana - known fondly then as the armpit of Indiana with one of the lowest housing costs in the country. After my freshman year, I found a 4-bedroom, 2700 sq ft turn-of-the-century Victorian house for sale for $21K. I was able to convince a bank to appraise it for considerably more than the asking price as well as giving a loan to cover the cost. For the next three years, I rented rooms of the house to 26 different people which help me cover my expenses. I ended up selling the house a week before graduation for a reasonable profit - due in part to three years of painting and upgrading the house. I recently went back there and found that it hadn't been maintained - I'm sure it can be bought for about the same now... 15 years later.
Got any pics of you as a grad student with long hair and a beard like a mountain man?
Hmmm... in Minnesotan winters, such hair is a life preserver.
Discuss the web development company called Internet Media Services (IMS) you started in May '93.
Yah... IMS was the name of the company I talked about earlier. I hired this one guy in 1994 to try to sell web development services. Picture a 250 sq ft office with a dozen college people in jeans and one sales guy wearing a bright purple suit. That guy was Lars! I knew he was going to be legendary. After a few months, he realized that it wasn't rocket science and took off to start doing his own companies - we've been friends ever since.
Talk about your dog. Post pics.
I picked her up at a pound a few years ago - aside from being a sweetheart, she gets me away from the computer at least a few times a day - A dog doesn't care about your work when they want to go out to pee.
Who do you look up to in online adult today? Down on?
I honestly have my head buried in the keyboard too much to look for role models - either in the adult biz or not. We've worked with hundreds of top adult companies and thousands of affiliates. I'm always amazed at the creativity of the adult world and the drive that motivates people. People on GFY do a great job at policing the industry - giving props and sounding alarms.
Talk about your first, second and third jobs.
First few "real" jobs were working at a mink ranch (yes, taking care of the little furry guys before they were shipped off for "processing"), k-mart shoe department (I can still recite the "Attention K-mart shopper" announcements), and lumber yard project planner. Happiness is a job that doesn't require an alarm clock.
Any advice on how to make money for someone starting out? Any advice other than using AFF?
Someone will kick me if I just say, "promote Cams.com or ALT.com", right? Any of our affiliate team can help people make money with dating, cams, social networking, etc - their direct email is affiliate at friendfinderinc.com. If I was starting out and wanted to make money, I would look at the issue of site promotion as an arbitrage issue - the old adage of buy low, sell high. That's the key to EVERY business - and is the fundamental way to look at an online business. In this case, we are buying and selling people's attention. Finding people to sell attention is easy - just find the person who will pay you the most and send your visitors to them. The tougher part is finding efficient (e.g., cheap) ways to get people's attention. You have two options: buy it (search engines, ad buys) or create it. Buying it is increasingly difficult, as being a "simple" process, there is a natural tendency for people and businesses to overspend. So we are then forced to come up with ways to create it - the cheapest way is to give something that satisfies a unique need and can be promoted to a very targeted group of visible people (people who will then spread the word) for example: - create a resource for people (e.g., web-based bookmark manager site, sms personal reminder service, rss feed member-based review site) - create a service plugin for a larger site (e.g., image hosting for ebay, game plugins for free homepage sites) - create a service personally (e.g., your reviews of something, your advice about something, your "how-to" on something) I would start out small and test a couple ideas (especially how to promote them) before putting too much effort in execution. Maybe do 3-4 different things simultaneously until something gets traction. Then figure out what you're doing right and repeat. The adult biz is a crucible of innovation - the key is to find the niche where you can help others the most. I hope that helps! Thanks everyone for the kind feedback. Feel free to email me (andrew at friendfinderinc.com) or the team if you have other questions or have ideas.