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January 16, 2017

VS Media, Flirt4Free CEO Gregory Clayman Entertains in Internext Keynote

LAS VEGAS—Gregory Clayman keeps it all in perspective. “There are certain things we cannot change that we are faced with, but you can certainly make adjustments and forge ahead,” Clayman said Monday evening in Vinyl at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The president and CEO of VS Media, the company behind live video chat pioneer Flirt4Free, said he learned to adapt and pivot during his 20-plus year career in adult entertainment as he delivered the closing keynote address of the Internext Expo. “Looking back, our success and longevity was not just from working hard and being ethical, the primary reason we have survived has been our ability to reinvent ourselves several times, embracing and adapting to every change and challenge that came our way,” Clayman told the Internext audience on Day 3 of the 17th annual conference. He said no one can predict where the adult industry is going to be in the next five or 10 years, adding that he’s seen too many people “chase the money” without having any real vision. “My approach was different, more simple,” Clayman continued. “The secrets of the success of VS Media and Flirt4Free are embedded in the history of staying the course while reinventing ourselves and our methods many times along the way.” "... If one person here takes away something from today’s talk that either helps them avoid a pitfall or helps them be a little more successful, then I feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish today.” Born in Bangor, Maine, Clayman grew up in Manchester, N.H., graduating from Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., in 1992 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Management. He was recruited out of college to immediately begin working in the life insurance and financial services industry. “After two successful years of selling probably the most difficult product you could sell, I left New York Life and I started my own life insurance and financial services business,” Clayman recounted. Then in 1995 he met “a self-proclaimed computer genius.” “He had just returned from a year abroad exploring the world. I pitched him on an idea. I said I wanted to create something called the Cyber Advisors Network,” Clayman said. “He said, ‘What’s that?' I said I want to connect my clients with their advisors with myself all on my video in the room. So we could do financial planning properly and do it quickly and officially. The idea was novel and definitely before its time. Yet the excitement of capitalizing on the untold potential of the web was captivating.” Even though Clayman’s friend liked the idea, once they started developing it they realized actually doing it might be a tall order with no clear path to profitability. “So I got to thinking and we researched what it would take to bring a site like this to market. During this research he showed me another example of video conferencing. He took me to fun.nl,” Clayman recalled. “For those who know that site or remember that site it streamed little thumbnail live images of Club Casa Rosso out of Amsterdam. And it was the first in live video conferencing. We did some more research and the word on the street was they were making a killing and we felt as though we could do it better if we had the right resources and technology in place. “Before my business was even started we reinvented ourselves and scrapped the Cyber Advisors Network in favor of the untapped opportunity for live adult video chat, realizing early that the Internet is for porn.” Clayman and his partners at the time founded the company in 1996 in Stoughton, Mass, a suburb of Boston, and moved into a small, nondescript office building. They acquired the most popular software from the largest point-to-point video company that was in existence and built out five themed rooms by themselves. “I remember this like it was yesterday. Eight of us hauled up three tons of sand to the second floor over two days to build a beach; we brought the front end of a Chevy Impala up to the guys’ room; we built out a full stripper stage with poles and things you could hang from upside down," Clayman explained. “A local talent agency agreed to supply us with performers and after six months of playing pingpong and smoking a hell of a lot of pot, we got the news we were looking for. Our merchant account was issued and we were in business. Our first performers arrived the next day and we were online and broadcasting just hours later. Everything was in place. All we needed now was some customers.” The first few months were rough to say the least, Clayman admitted. “Many of you likely have similar stories of laying it all out on the line for your business. One day in that first year I proved that business adage completely when a male performer failed to show up for his shift,” he said with a smile. “As they say, the show must go on. And yours truly stripped down and sat on the hood of a Chevy Impala on the second floor of a little office in Stoughton to keep what little customers we had entertained for the next shift." The candid confession drew a round of applause. “So I never, ever ask somebody to do what I haven’t and wouldn’t have done myself," he added. "Looking back on that time now, I’m very happy we chose to pivot from video conferencing for the financial services industry and dove full force into the adult industry.” Clayman also emphasized the importance of attention to detail when taking the initial steps to set up your business. “It’s easy to form a company. The decisions about who you get into business with, who you give equity to and how you structure your shareholder agreement will be extremely important when you find success,” he noted. Now Clayman is the only remaining founder of the Westlake Village, Calif.-based VS Media, which in June of 2016 celebrated its 20th year in business, taking pride in its position as a long-standing, ethical leader in the live adult video chat arena. Clayman pointed to something he would never forget from his first tradeshow. “At that show we picked up something that was a piece of gold—the Audiotext Resource Guide. It was a simple directory of everybody’s name, phone number and email…These people were entering the next phase of video tech for the Internet.” Clayman initially used guide to reach out to potential prospects in attempt to get them to switch their offerings to market Internet-based revenue services, such as the ones they were devising. Although hesitant at first, many people started shifting from marketing audiotext to eventually marketing videotext—and that helped Clayman & Co. build his business. In 2001 VS reinvented itself again with a huge push that entailed tripling the size of his office, according to Clayman. “I’m happy to say a number of people we hired during that push are still with the company,” Clayman said. He then repeated twice for emphasis, "hiring the brightest people that have the skills that I don’t allowed my company to reach its potential.” “One of the things I’ve always tried to do over the years is put my ego aside and find the smartest people and let them operate,” he reasoned. There were numerous big moments along the way, such as being the first company to bring Jenna Jameson live to internet; Ron Jeremy, Tera Patrick and more followed. “We made decisions during this time which laid the foundation of the company you see today,” Clayman said. “By the time we celebrated our 10th anniversary we threw a party at the Playboy mansion with Ron Jeremy dressed as Santa Claus and I knew we had something special. So I committed at that point to make it even bigger.” They threw another gaudy bash at the Playboy Mansion a year later and after that started the third phase of their reinvention—getting down to serious business and “no more pissing away money.” The rest of the partnership deals, acquisitions and shrewd moves are now part of live video chat history. “If you only remember one thing, operate your business with the intention of being wildly successful,” Clayman said. “If you think big things, big things will happen.” He concluded that “none of it was easy, most of it was fun and all of it was worth it.”

 
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