Building a business is a journey. Understand that there will be good days and challenging days and that everything is a learning experience. Out of the blue and almost on a weekly basis, we have to deal with important problems that could impact our platform. I always try to embrace those difficult situations and learn from them. The harder you get hit the stronger you will become, for me it’s all positive.
I had the pleasure to interview Bella French. Bella is CEO and co-founder of ManyVids. She is also a leading voice in the #WeAreMany movement to transform harmful perceptions of sex workers throughout the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Why did you found your company?
Most people don’t know that ManyVids is my third venture. As a life-long serial entrepreneur, I previously launched a fashion line and even had my own retail store at age 22. But when a flood destroyed my business, I was left with very few options to stay financially afloat. Camming, while unthinkable a few weeks earlier, suddenly became a very lucrative option to help me generate the income I needed quickly.
During those early years I realized most sex workers were treated like indentured servants with no control over their content and no regard for their emotional and financial well-being, and that these people were also some of the most articulate, thoughtful and generous people I had ever met. As a cam girl, the technological aspect of setting up shop was frustrating and unitiutive. I thought there had to be a better way.
In response, I wanted to empower this community to take their worth into their own hands to become successful entrepreneurs in their own right and so I purposely co-created ManyVids to provide a safe haven for content creators where they are supported and in command, retaining full copyrights to their oeuvre. The industry was ripe for disruption — no one else was offering such a supportive environment.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Much of the adult entertainment industry treats their performers like interchangeable cogs in a system — they are afraid of empowering the people who generate their revenues and mavericks easily get blackballed. The worst is that no one owns their content, meaning that other sites can take a content creator’s video and use it as they wish. We consider our content creators to be business partners.
I set out to revolutionize the industry and provide these content creators the tools to be successful on their own terms and offer them fair treatment, a safe haven and community support so that they can shine. Furthermore, each content creator at ManyVids has control over their content and its distribution.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
First is that building a business is a journey. Understand that there will be good days and challenging days and that everything is a learning experience. Out of the blue and almost on a weekly basis, at ManyVids we have to deal with important problems that could impact our platform. I always try to embrace those difficult situations and learn from them. The harder you get hit the stronger you will become, for me it’s all positive.
Second is to take risks. We constantly experiment with new media ranging from podcasts to PG-13-rated YouTube videos, blogs and more. Some ideas fall flat while others flourish. Even a failure provides a learning experience; never be afraid of failure. I was a complete failure for over 10 years and that help me how to learn to fail fast and get back on the right track ever faster.
Finally, commit to your vision and keep sight of your goals. Not long ago, we were offered a buyout within the range of $80 — $100 million. We thought about it for about 24h but decided against selling for the simple reason that the buyers were not going to share our vision for a safe and positive environment for our content creators. We are 100% committed to our mission and there’s still so much work ahead of us before we can walk away from it all. If you are going to commit to something go all the way, money will never be as exciting as seeing the joy in the eyes of people you are actually helping.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
Fred Kofman’s book, “Conscious Business” had a profound effect on how I structured ManyVids. It reinforced the need to understand a situation before you take action. Furthermore, it taught me that — as CEO — I need to be both responsible and accountable for the Company without ego.
About 2 years ago, a coding error brought the site down for a couple of hours — a lifetime for any e-marketplace platform. I could have wasted time pointing fingers and making the coder feel bad for his important mistake, but that would not have fixed the real problem. Kofman’s book provided me with a blueprint toward addressing the matter while maintaining a positive and constructive work environment where everyone remained invested in a solution. Ultimately the crash was my fault since I should have implemented a better review process before deploying new code. My first step was to lead the team toward finding a solution and ensuring that an incident like this could not happen again.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
It should be no surprise that the adult industry can be pretty lonely, therefore I haven’t had a mentor. I do, however have what I like to call many internet mentors and Jack Ma is at the top of my list. I identify with the tough path he endured in order to attain success. Believe it or not, the ManyVids business model is based on a closely similar business model to Alibaba.com
Second on the list is Sadhguru, the yogi, mystic and best-selling author. I have spent many night watching his videos and reading his books in order to maintain my focus and deal with the adversities of managing a fast growing tech firm.
How are you going to shake things up next?
I love this question because I believe that if you rest, you rust. Our ongoing vision is to offer a platform where adult workers can thrive independently, fight for gender equality and speak out against violence and abuse perpetrated against adult content creators. To that end, our next shake-up will be to raise further awareness and humanize adult performers. Adult entertainment IS mainstream — just look at the number of people who enjoy it! The challenge is to remove that shroud and let people know that ethically-conducted adult entertainment really is as common as watching a movie on Netflix!
We are determined to achieve this vision by offering the most technologically advanced tools to help our MV Stars become successful independent entrepreneurs. Because this is exactly what they are, hard working innovating business owners.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
That would be Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She’s a self-made woman who formulated a vision and pursued it even when she was told (mostly by males) that it wasn’t going to work. She created an entirely new market based on hard work and determination.
I equally admire Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook. “Lean In” is such a positive force for women in business and Sheryl continues to forge ahead despite experiencing adversity in her life. Her strength and intelligence are awe-inspiring for me.