LOS ANGELES—Bella French learned something about herself while working “undercover” as the CEO of ManyVids.
The more she became involved with the inner workings of the adult industry, the more she wanted to be of service.
Once she realized the company she co-founded in 2014 was more of a calling than a business venture, she knew it was only a matter of time before she had to go public with her role behind the scenes.
That opportunity presented itself during the latter stages of production of #WeAreMany, the 40-minute documentary about the emergence of ManyVids that made its world premiere on May 23rd. French and her team decided it was the ideal spot to reveal herself.
“I feel like everything that happened within the business was just an intuition and a desire to want to do more,” says French, the former webcam model who was born and raised in Montreal, the home of MV. “There was also the fact that it was becoming harder and harder for me to do business, especially with other people within the adult industry. I just felt like this is the right time.”
A lifelong entrepreneur who launched ManyVids with her boyfriend Sed and his childhood friend Gino in April 2014, French had managed to keep her chief executive role under wraps until the documentary was unveiled. She says the reason she did not want to make it known that she was running the company was “it would remove attention from the website itself.”
“I didn’t want the attention towards me,” French tells viewers in #WeAreMany. “I wanted it to be all about the website—most of all the content creators and the MV Stars.”
French’s efforts to keep the focus on MV’s content partners proved fruitful—MV surpassed 1 million active members by May 2017 and at press time was closing in on 2 million, making it one of the fastest-growing websites in the history of adult entertainment.
Under French’s leadership, ManyVids has built a platform that empowers adult content creators to produce, promote and distribute their own work while retaining the full copyright to the material. Four-and-a-half years later, the diverse community of MV Girls, MV Producers, MV Trans and MV Boys is closing in on 19,000 content creators.
“And the more and more I’ve been involved within the adult community the more and more I felt like what else can I do?” French tells AVN.
“I want to help more. I just want to give more of myself. I want to help adult content creators achieve their goals. I want all of them to become so successful.”
To do that, French is using her voice to effect positive change.
“And also let the world know there are some woman CEOs—and if you’re a woman you can achieve whatever you want,” French continues. “Whatever you set your mind to you can achieve it.
“I was hoping that this would also motivate adult content creators to achieve whatever they wish to achieve.”
Fueled by French’s message of empowerment and inclusion, ManyVids set out to transform adult by providing content creators a safe haven in which they can flourish—where sex positivity and ethical treatment is the standard.
In the process, MV made it a priority to give back to the community it cultivated. In 2017 alone, MV gave its MV Stars $325,000 in bonuses, cash prizes and more; in addition, each year during the holidays MV gifts a total of $20,000 to 100 MV Stars through their MV Fund Me campaigns in an initiative it calls MV Helping Hand.
Now comprised of 100 team members at its vibrant headquarters, MV continues to expand its suite of offerings. Among their products are the MV Blog, which showcases daily MV news items and spotlights; MV Podcast, an in-depth interview series hosted by comedian Tranna and “sexpert" Bunty; their Youtube channel, MV Pop; the luxurious creative space called the MV Loft in downtown Montreal; MV Mag, a digital publication that features exclusive, themed photo shoots and interviews; and now MV Live, a new live-camming feature that started its beta phase on July 31 on the heels of the popular MV Takeover series of three-hour, live broadcasts.
“None of this would’ve been possible without a team of really dedicated people, so it’s exciting,” says French, who studied business marketing and logistics at HEC Montreal at the University of Montreal. “We’re always trying to better ourselves.”
In this exclusive Q&A, French discusses her progressive business philosophy, her professional background, her vision for MV and her company culture, among other things.
AVN: What do you attribute to this phenomenal growth that MV has had?
Bella French: I think it’s a recipe. It’s not one element, it’s a combination of many different things coming together. Obviously, I’m an ex-cam girl. I was within the industry and I saw this lack and I felt like there was something that needed to be done. My boyfriend, Sed, is now the COO of ManyVids, and his childhood friend was Gino, who is now the CTO of ManyVids. It’s like you can’t invent this. It just came together so easily at the beginning—the three of us. It felt like it was almost fate. Once we started then it was just wanting to make sure that this was successful and doing whatever it took to make sure that it was going to work.
So there was a lot of risk. We started to hire employees and we didn’t even have the money to do it but we felt like, you know what, if we get those team members to join they’ll help us move forward. They’ll help us achieve greater goals and then we’ll make more money, so then eventually we’ll be able to pay them. And I’m very proud to say we never skipped a payroll. We’ve always paid every single team member. And after that I guess it’s just like a mix of fear and passion. The fear of failure or the fear of losing or not achieving your goals and then the passion of wanting to make a difference and realizing how important this is for the adult industry. This mix of luck, fear, passion and dedication helped bring us to where we are today.
How long was it just you, Sed and Gino at MV? How long before you realized you needed help?
Before we launched, at the end of October in 2013, there was a good six months of work. I was helping the guys come up with UX, UI designs and ideas and copy for the website and they were coding at night. So there was six months of that. Then I left to L.A. I stayed there a couple of months. When I came back it was the beginning of April 2014. Then in August we started to hire our first team members. It was fairly quick.
Did Sed and Gino just happen to have a background in IT and web development?
Gino and [Sed] were entrepreneurs at heart. When they were younger they actually met each other while playing videos games—NHL—online. Then they realized that they’re living in this same town and they started a hockey league together. That was their first little business. And Gino, while he was taking care of his hockey league, he started to make the website for that league. Then he realized that he really, really liked it and that’s what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. So Gino was really the first to get involved in coding. He went to coding school and he worked for a lot of very prestigious coding firms in Switzerland and in Montreal. Sed was seeing that and he felt—I don’t know why but Sed just said to himself, ‘One day I’m going to start a business with Gino.’ He didn’t know what it was going to be or how. Because Sed was a construction worker; when I met him he was working with his dad in construction. We met very young. I was 24 years old. We’ve known each other for the past like, I mean forever—10 years or more. And Sed told himself, ‘I’m going to learn the opposite of what Gino is learning for coding.’ So basically Sed stopped construction when he was 30 years old and went to coding school and that’s when I was a cam girl. And basically when I had the idea—let’s do this really cool platform—right away they were both really into it. And they were not the first people that I approached to help me do this ManyVids project.
But the people I had talked to—they didn’t take me seriously at all. They felt like, you know what, [she's a] little cam girl. She has her cute project but it’s not going to go anywhere. But the two of them really trusted me—and obviously Sed knew me for a long time—and they knew when I would say something I would actually do it.
That’s how it all started. They believed in me. I believed in them and it was this really cool partnership that started.
How did you approach the marketing of this site in the early stages? How did you get the word out that this was an alternative for models?
I was still camming at the very beginning and I still have a following on social media and I believe in social media a lot. It’s such an amazing way to communicate. So I knew some cam girls and some porn stars and I simply invited them to join ManyVids. I feel like the product was really good because they pretty much joined. You could see right away that they were making sales. That was really exciting and then we just kept inviting and the word of mouth … In the later years we just felt that we needed to constantly do more to help our MV Stars be viewed as successful, independent entrepreneurs and also as superstars, and that’s when we decided to implement the MV Mag and the MV Loft and do a lot of those things.
I think what was really important was simply to demonstrate that we’re never going to give up on the platform and we’re always going to do what it takes to make all our content creators successful. I think launching new features and being present and having a good customer support team and just being out there made it so it resonated with the models and they wanted to join MV.
So you didn’t take out ads on other websites or in print publications ... it was all organic, word-of-mouth that began building a buzz for ManyVids?
Exactly. We never bought any ads. We never bought any traffic. I don’t believe in it. That’s the way I see things. I feel that you have to let your brand speak for itself and make your models happy and truly, deeply care for them. That’s what we do.
How hard was it to keep it a secret about being CEO?
I don’t think that it was a problem, but we were starting to hear that there were some rumors out there. There were some big players within the industry—like business owners—that were kind of aware that there was a girl involved. We don’t know how that information leaked. We didn’t really mind it. ... I didn’t see any threat or anything like that.
To be honest I was also … I was a bit afraid. I didn’t know how the community would react. Social media can be a very mean place and I just wanted to make sure the message would be put out there the right way and that I was going to be able to let the MV Stars know exactly what I’m trying to achieve with the help of the MV Team. I wanted to be able to communicate directly to them.
That’s why we decided to introduce myself within the documentary. Because at the beginning I was not supposed to be in it at all. It’s an idea that someone proposed within the marketing team. And then I told myself, ‘You know what, this is a great opportunity. Let’s do it.’
What you were doing for a living before you started webcamming? My understanding is you’ve been an entrepreneur your entire adult life.
I don’t know about for other entrepreneurs how it is and I can only speak for myself. But I feel it’s something you’re born with. It’s like within my body and I don’t control it. It’s something that I felt for many years was almost a curse. When you’re an entrepreneur you have to build things. You have to put things together. You have to reach goals. It’s like this constant desire. So I was super young—I remember being 5 years old and selling lemonade—and I remember trying to sell my drawings to my mom. I would do a drawing and write [on it] like ‘10 cents.’ I don’t know where it came from but it was just really ingrained within me. So it was obvious that one way or another I would start my business one day. But I didn’t really know how or when.
My passion when I was young was fashion. I went to fashion school and when I graduated I just wanted to get myself a job and be part of that industry and it was really not working. I couldn’t get hired. I don’t know what was going on and then I just told myself, ‘OK, it’s not working out. So I’m going to make sure it works out for me.’ I felt that the best way was to start with a small collection of T-shirts.
It was super, super stressful because I had invested so much money. I just had never had that financial pressure. That was when I was 21 years old and I learned so much with that experience. I understood how to deal with financial stress. Once again there was no option—I had to succeed. So I started this small little collection of T-shirts and I went just door to door in Montreal and started to sell them. Then at one point it was not working out anymore. I couldn’t sell. So I told myself I’m going to go to New York and try to sell there and then when I’m going to come back to Montreal I’m going to able to tell the store owners and say, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, I’m also selling in New York.’ And that’s pretty much what happened. When I came back to Montreal I would say that and then all of a sudden people would say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m interested.’ I think I started to sell to around 30 stores in Quebec and two in New York. And after delivering the goods I wasn’t getting paid. People were telling me—store owners—‘Oh you know what, this didn’t sell well. We’re not going to pay you.’ And I had a lot of inventory and I didn’t know what I would do with all that stuff.
So I just decided you know what, I’m going to open my store. I opened my first store on a very popular street in Montreal when I was 22. I turned 23 not long after I opened the store.
It was basically if I didn’t sell well in the first month I would almost go bankrupt. I had no backup money. It was like do-or-die. It went well but for four years it was so difficult. I’ve never experienced that level of pain in my life—physically, mentally, emotionally. I was working 80 hours, 100 hours every week and I think—and I’m really not exaggerating—I think I took maybe seven days off in four years. I worked nonstop. Then I realized this is not human. This is not normal. And I just sold the store and decided to go to business school. Actually, when I left the store I had $20,000 of debt. So I found myself a job to be able to pay back the debt and then when I went to business school it was so much fun. I really, really liked it. It was super challenging. It was difficult.
While I was in school the way I figured out how to live was with student loans and also by creating a new collection that I sold in other stores. When I graduated I was like, all right, that’s it. I’m going all out this time. I’m going to create the most amazing store Montreal has ever seen and I was like on fire. And eight months after opening this store there was this flood incident, where I walked into the store one day and there was water everywhere.
I had invested $250,000 within that store and I was only insured up to $50,000. From one day to another all my dreams got crushed and I was heavily in debt and I had no idea what I was going to do. That’s pretty much how camming came into my life.
And I’m so grateful for everything that happened. For me all the difficult times were just a training to be able to sustain the level of difficulty we have to go through every day here at ManyVids.
What year was the flood?
It was in August 2011 and I started camming at the end of October that same year.
How would you describe those T-shirts that you sold?
It was three different styles and the three of them had three different colors. One of them was more of a tank-top and the other one was what you would consider a basic T-shirt but with a little variation. It had really short sleeves and a little collar. It was really interesting. The third one was a short sleeve but with an open back. I did pretty good with them. I knew that if there’s something that’s going to sell, it’s T-shirts, because they’re easy to sell. Everyone needs one. And it fits pretty much everyone’s different body types. It’s difficult to sell pants because they don’t fit everyone the same way and depending on the length of your legs, or your ass, or your waist, it’s more technically difficult than a T-shirt. Because a T-shirt is usually in a stretch fabric, so it fits people much, much easier.
How would you describe a typical day for you? What was your morning like today?
It’s really, really, really challenging and that’s why I like it so much. This morning I woke up at 6 a.m. I took a shower. I meditated for about 30 minutes to make sure I come to the office with the right mindset. I had three phone calls to try to work on some deals. I had probably 50 emails. I have some things I have to work on every day, like a to-do list, and I was able to do about five of those to-do list things. Then I ate as fast as I could. I have an interview with Yahoo Finance US right after this. Then I have a demo meeting. After that I have another phone call. And once I get back to my office I’ll probably have another 50 emails and I’m going to keep working until probably 8 or 9 tonight.
You’ve launched many different subdivisions of MV, such as the MV Podcast, the MV Blog, the MV Mag, MV Pop. How is your team able to stay so agile and launch a product so quickly? What is your work flow process?
A company is pretty much just a group of people coming together, so having the right people in the right position is key. It is so, so, so important. I always try my best to surround myself with the most geniuses that are positive and I feel all those initiatives that you’re talking about are initiatives that are brought by the marketing team. Marketing is my baby. I wish I could give them more attention, but I’m just like all over the place. ... We come up with some ideas, we brainstorm, and then they just execute really well. I try along the way to do some approvals and give some guidance but they can do it all on their own. I think it’s really having the right people. Agile is such an important word. You have to be able to adjust. Sometimes we come up with one concept and then in the middle we’re like, ‘You know what, it’s better if we do it this way.’ We just change it. It’s constantly evolving. Every single decision is always to make sure that this is going to make our MV Stars more successful. Everything that we put in place is to make sure that this happens.
Just follow your intuition and see what you think is lacking and what you think would be best for the industry and just go deep into it. Once you have a project, time is of essence. You can’t just think that it’s going to take a couple of months and you’ll come back to it. Once you have something you have to get it done. That’s the mentality at ManyVids. It’s get shit done.
How would you describe the diversity of the MV Stars?
I feel like we do have a lot of different types of MV Stars and that’s what makes ManyVids so amazing and that’s what makes us so happy. But I feel like once again this just happened in an organic way. We didn’t really get involved with that. Our responsibility is to make sure in our marketing initiatives we always promote diversity and that’s what we’re trying to do. But how it came about and how that happened it’s pretty much out of our control. What’s really important for us is to make sure that ManyVids is a community for everyone—gay performers, trans, girls, producers, boys—everyone is welcome.
Would it be fair to say that the majority of the roster is cam girls?
We do have a lot more of what we call MV Girls. We have close to 13,000 MV Girls. I just think it’s because there’s more cam girls and porn stars on the market. But I would say the majority of our business partners are cam girls. We hope we’ll be able to evolve and have as many cam boys or gay performers or producers in the future.
How do you think custom content is revolutionizing the adult business?
I feel it’s the passive income, being in control 100 percent of what you wish to do. ManyVids does not own the rights to any of the content uploaded on the platform and that’s really important for us because you might change your mind one day and not want to be part of that industry anymore and that was essential.
It’s important for the models to have the possibility to also sell content without having to rely on cam. Most of our business partners are cam girls and being a cam girl I know first-hand it’s not always easy. You have some bad days or you just don’t feel like going on cam. Or that specific day you don’t feel beautiful. Well, that doesn’t mean you should stop the flow of income, because you’re operating a business. That was really, really important to make sure also when you produce one video you can sell it a thousand times. That was really the base of why we started ManyVids.
What have you found in terms of a ‘sweet spot’ for the length of video that works well on the platform?
Every model has a unique style and what we want the message to be is do whatever you think is best. But obviously there is … any video that is under five minutes is usually not recommended and any video between 5 to 10 minutes is usually very successful. But there can be some videos of 1 hour and they’re selling as well as a 10-minute video. It really depends on the model and what the video is about. So I think anything between 5 to 20 minutes is a good length.
What about the level of explicitness? Does that also depend on the model? Are models finding success with completely softcore videos with no nudity just the same as when they’re doing a more hardcore video clip?
The top girls on ManyVids—a lot of them don’t even have boy/girl content. They only do solo masturbation videos. That says a lot. That means it’s not about the content, it’s about the model and it’s about how she wants to express or he wants to express his sexuality. I think that’s the key component to having a successful profile on ManyVids. Obviously, 'anal' is a very popular search on ManyVids as on any other porn site or tube site. It is a popular category but it doesn’t mean that if you don’t have that type of content that you won’t be successful.
How is the model’s MV Score calculated, or it that a secret?
No, we don’t like to make things too secretive. Obviously, we don’t broadcast exactly how it’s calculated because then people could know how much the competition is making. But in every single MV Star’s setting we tell them exactly what they need to have to help them bring their score higher. It’s a combination of having a full profile, having an amount of videos, having an amount of pictures and also the amount of content you sell. How much income you generate on the platform.
What about the MV Girl number?
So we have two different types of rankings. We do have the top earners; those are depending on every month. So every month you have the [Top] 100 MV Girls, MV Producers, MV Trans, MV Boys. But that switches all the time. And then we have the MV Score, which is where do you rank within the platform. So if you’re MV Girl No. 1 that means you’re the No. 1 girl on the website. And that is related to your score and that doesn’t change that much.
For the top earners every month it goes down to zero again.
What is it about LilCanadianGirl (who was MV Girl No. 1 at the time of this interview) that has really come together for her and allowed her to maximize the potential of the platform?
First of all she’s very smart. There’s no doubt about it. She is making a lot of videos. She is consistent. The quality of her videos is really good. She comes up with different types of themes. She’s very active on social media. She does use most of the ManyVids features. So she’s really using all the tools to help her become successful. Then obviously you can’t deny the fact that she’s absolutely gorgeous. And she stays true to herself—you can see that. If I’m not mistaken, she doesn’t have a boy/girl video. She only does [masturbation videos]. She also has this star factor about her. She has something special and I think how you can reach that level or be that person is just because you’re true to yourself.
How often do you do the MV Podcast?
The MV Podcast is every time we do the MV Loft. We’ve done the MV Loft last year for a couple of months and that’s when we were doing the Podcast. We’re starting a new season. We’re starting Season 2 of the MV Loft in September and this year it’s going to be for six weeks. During those six weeks we’re going to have a Podcast and we’re very excited about it.
What was your vision for the aesthetic that you created with the MV Loft?
What was important for us was to make the models feel special. We wanted them to have access to a really cool place that would look really nice. We wanted to have bunch of MV Gear and some fun MV Props there. We wanted to get closer to the MV Stars. We wanted to hear them. We wanted to talk to them and understand them a little bit better. That was the whole idea behind the MV Loft, and the Podcast was really to share with the world ‘Who are those girls? Who are those guys? Why are they in the adult industry?’ That was really, really important for us.
How would you describe your company culture?
The company culture is so important to us. The fact that we grew so fast it was really, really important to make sure that the culture stays the same. It’s important for us to have really good core values. And for me and for Gino and Sed—teamwork. Listening to others. Making sure that you’re humble, that everyone has a voice and really just trying to have this super cool, intellectually challenging environment. Making sure that we have as many women as men. Equality and diversity. It’s really, really important for me because we want to have people from different walks of life from all over the world that bring their own individual experience to this company. I want to create this environment where people actually enjoy coming to work and they want to come to work. It’s not easy and we have to constantly work at it.
Like everywhere else, there are some conflicts and that makes it even more special because it’s not perfect. That’s great because we have this open communication and make sure that everyone feels that they can express themselves. We have an in-house chef that cooks breakfast and lunch and it’s free because we want everyone to feel like they’re part of the family.
Nutrition and food is so essential. It really is important for humans. It’s so well-connected with your emotions and we want to have people eating together and creating strong bonds. We try to have some cool activities and make sure that people are having fun and it’s not just about work. We want to achieve things. We want to make this industry better, but it’s also about learning about each other and learning how to work with each other. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep that culture and improve all the time and make sure that people are happy and they can also evolve as professionals.
What photographers are you working with on MV Mag in these themed photo shoots?
We have an in-house, full-time photographer and he does all the pictures for us. We wanted it to be that way. We wanted to keep 100 percent of control on the creative aspect of the photo shoots and we wanted to make sure that the photographer we do work with is very respectful, which he absolutely is. So he’s one of our team members.
Why is philanthropy such an important part of MV’s business philosophy?
I don’t see the point of doing this if you can’t help others. I don’t see the point of living if you can’t make a difference in someone else’s life. I don’t believe in money. Money to me is so boring. It doesn’t bring happiness. Fame is not important. So if there’s one thing that can really fulfill me, and I know a lot of the rest of my team, it’s to see that we can make a difference in someone else’s life. That’s why it was really important for us to create the MV Hotline and to try to see how else we can help. When you think about it, it's just two seconds that we live in this universe. We don’t really know why we’re here, what is our goal, what is our purpose. Is there something else out there? The only thing that really drives me is just to help others and that’s how I feel I can obtain happiness.