Co-founder Jay Phillips Talks About the iWantEmpire Domain

This article originally ran in the November 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here for a link to the digital edition.

Pictured above, from left: Tasha Reign, Jenna Sativa, Bratty Nikki and Riley Reyes, shot by mainstream photographer Josh Ryan for the iWantEmpire winter and spring ad campaign.

There’s no doubt about it: The unfettered torrent of free online porn has been a major disrupting force in adult entertainment. But not all of the disruption has been negative. The internet also created an intimate channel of communication between porn fans and the artists they enjoy watching. One key component of that communication is the clip site—a virtual bazaar where independently produced content is sold straight to the consumer.

Given that most online adult companies are not even two decades old, this sector of the adult industry is still evolving. And as more performers embrace the idea of producing and selling their own content, there’s been plenty of room for growth.

One upstart determined to make waves in the marketplace came on the scene less than five years ago. Even at that tender age, already has its sights set firmly on the future, and to that end the company is rebranding under a new name with a broader scope: iWantEmpire.

Jay Phillips, vice president of iWantEmpire, pinpointed when his company came into being. “We first launched iWantClips back in April of 2014,” Phillips said. Last year marked the company’s debut as an exhibitor at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, but Phillips and his wife, femdom artist Bratty Nikki, have been attending AEE since 2012.

In the interview below, Phillips talks about why they started the company, its recent moves in the marketplace, and what lies ahead.

How did you first get into the business?

Well, I’d say it was through my wife, Bratty Nikki. She became an independent artist in the fetish/femdom scene back in 2010. Back then it became pretty apparent when she started that there was room for improvements with some of the sites she was working with. She experienced quite a void in the level of service that she required and her fan base required for her to really take that career to the next level. I guess you could say my entry into the industry came from the needs of independent artists.

What do you think makes your company unique in the adult space?

I think we’re different than a lot of other companies out there in this space and online in the adult industry inasmuch as first and foremost we built a technology company and then we built our sites. We saw the value of being a technology company with the way that the industry’s going, the way that the sites are going, the way the times are going. You constantly need to be innovating and updating, and if you’re constantly outsourcing your technology you’re getting old and stale on a daily basis. The technology has been a huge driver, but we use technology ultimately for our goal of creating the most performer/artist-centric sites that we can make. … If it wasn’t for the artists we wouldn’t have a website, I wouldn’t have a job, and I wouldn’t have the pleasure of speaking to you today.

Performer-generated content is changing the adult industry. Do you also see it changing mainstream entertainment?

I don’t see a difference between mainstream and our industry. I think that technology has evolved. Initially the purpose of technology was to simplify our lives. … If you look at companies like Postmates and Uber and OpenTable, they’ve done a great job of simplifying the process but they have also removed us from having direct connections. They have taken away the basic chore of picking up the phone and making a reservation, of ordering food. Technology is greatly limiting human interaction. So while we have technology advancing our ability to consume more of the content we desire at an increasingly rapid, almost instant pace, you have this desire to connect, this desire to consume. … I now see technology bringing people back, and closer together, with more direct interactions via products like our custom clips site, via the phone site, via our upcoming iWantFanClub. These all allow fans to have a direct, personal and intimate connection with their favorite artists. …

For the fan base on our websites, I think it really strikes a chord that it’s genuine. Not to take away from any other form of artistic content produced, but when a fan comes to one of our websites … they know that what they are buying is what that artist wanted to make, it’s 100 percent genuine and it’s authentic, and I think that connection is worth a lot to the fan.

When and why did you decide to change your brand to iWantEmpire?

The idea for changing to iWantEmpire was originally conceived earlier this year after we launched our third website, iWantPhone. When we launched our first website, under the brand name iWantClips, it made sense to stay under that brand name. But now we’ve grown over the years to include the custom clips ordering platform and iWantPhone—and we’re just about to launch a private social media subscription platform similar to selling a private Twitter feed. So iWC overall as a brand doesn’t fully represent us anymore, but iWantEmpire really does so perfectly. One of the real important things that I want to make sure is emphasized about iWantEmpire is it’s not this elitist, close-knit, impossible-to-get-into club. In fact, it’s not even about us as a company and our websites … it is the embodiment of our unified success. iWantEmpire is what happens when artists take control of their futures and all come together. So I look at it and say it’s their empire, it’s their future and it’s all theirs for the taking.

Who are some of the performers who came on board early with iWantClips?

We had so much support from independent artists when we launched because we had been working with them for months. We had focus groups set up. We had beta testing. We really utilized our ears when it came to building the first site and listening to what they had to say. As far as independent artists who launched with us, there were so many. I really hope I’m not missing anybody, but off the top of my head, of course [there’s] my wife, Bratty Nikki. In addition to her we had Bratty Bunny, Adrienne Adora, Goddess Jasmine Mendez, Goddess Jessica, London Lix, Lindsey Leigh, Mandy Flores, Mina Thorne, Goddess Tierra, the Mistress B., Princess Breanna, Ellie Idol—I don’t want to forget her. That’s just to name a few of the independent artists. I apologize to anybody I’ve missed. Please know that we couldn’t have done it without you, and you’re the most important aspect of our business and our brand.

Along with the launch of iWantEmpire, you’ve brought on several big names to serve as contract stars/brand ambassadors. What’s your vision for how this relationship will be mutually beneficial?

Working with the established adult artists, we recently had an opportunity to meet with them to discuss our brands, our values, and we’ve met some really amazing, highly energetic people who really share the same values as us and have a commitment for wanting to make an opportunity for more artists out there. So we’re really excited to be working with Tasha Reign, Jenna Sativa, Riley Reyes. We’re also expanding our gay offerings, so we’re working with Wesley Woods, Marc MacNamara and Diego Sans as contract stars who will also be helping us as consultants to make sure we’re very authentic as we move into that area of the marketplace, and that our offerings are properly presented and culturally sensitive to the community. At the end of the day we’re really excited to be working with them as our contract stars and brand ambassadors to really show other artists the benefits of owning their own content, owning their future, by being a part of iWantEmpire.

Speaking of gay content, do you did you find you needed a dedicated portal to serve the needs of artists and consumers?

It is part of our rebrand, in fact, that we’re going to breaking iWantClips down into a few sub clip sites. If you were to ask, essentially, what is the nature of the content or what is iWantClips, most people would tell you we’re a fetish-oriented website, which originally we were. That statement would hold true, I think, through our first year, into 2015. But by 2015, 2016 and onwards we’ve had so much diversification—we have trans performers, we have gay performers. We have established adult performers already starting to upload their own content. We also have a lot of cam performers on there. So what we’re about to do is we’re about to break the site down, so to speak, and do a launch of some additional clip sites. So very shortly you’ll be seeing iWantGayClips, iWantTransClips, iWantCamGirlClips, iWantXXXClips and iWantFetishClips. All of those we’ll be able to then market in more specific areas to help those artists better attract fans relevant to them. And at the same time, as they load their content onto those individual specialty sites the content will always appear on iWantClips as a master site, so regardless of the genre, the category, the type of content it is, it will still be appearing all together in one main grouping on the iWantClips site. But if you’re interested in gay clips, for example, you can head to iWantGayClips and find all the related content there. And we’re also working with an artist from the trans community to help us with iWantTransClips by the name of Mandy Mitchell. Our overall goal is to be authentic and all inclusive.

Do you also offer a platform for studios to show their content?

We do, in fact, and I’m really glad you brought that up. I think originally there may have been misconceptions that we are not a benefit or a complement for studios when in fact—and this year is proving it, though I don’t have any studios to announce at the moment—we are working with several. The clientele on iWantClips are fairly affluent consumers who are used to buying content from us in a short format, of approximately 5 to 15 minutes. … We are now a distribution and advertising partner for the studios, so it’s a great way for them to be able to tap into a very loyal and very affluent customer base that has been buying short-form content, but that doesn’t mean those same consumers don’t buy long-form content as well. We see it as an excellent distribution method and financial revenue source for them.

You’ve been around for several years. How has your perception of the adult industry changed?

Before being in the industry I had the perception that everybody in the industry was doing very well; there was an abundance of success and wealth and opportunity for people. Now, I see it as being a very conflicted industry, much in the same way that we live in the wealthiest country in the world, the United States, yet on a daily basis I am faced with so many people who are just trying to survive and get through. The adult industry is one of the most profitable industries in existence, yet so many people are just surviving and not thriving. iWantEmpire is all about thriving. We want our artists to be thriving, and our success depends upon it. Our business model isn’t to make money off our artists; it’s to make money with our artists. If our artists aren’t making money, then neither are we. We don’t own their content so it’s important that we help them sell their content. I think our business model is a pleasantly different concept for a lot of artists.

Are there people in the industry who inspire you?

I’d like to firstly thank my amazing and talented wife. She’s been my muse and she is bar none the greatest reason and influence in making our site performer-centric. Outside of her, and inside of the industry, I have a huge level of respect and admiration for Shirley Lara [of], Viv Thomas, Suze Randall and Holly Randall—I think they’re all amazing visionaries with absolutely beautiful minds. The things they’ve done with their brands and their business—the feedback I get on how they treat the people in their organization sounds second to none. It would be an honor to meet any of them and to talk shop with them.

What do you like about your job?

I truly feel I have the greatest job in the world, and I definitely want to thank all of the artists and my team for helping that happen, helping me realize that. I love working with such beautiful and creative minds, to tell you the truth. That goes all the way from the amazing artists who make up iWantEmpire to our dedicated operations, marketing and development teams. I get to work with some of the most creative and gifted people that I’ve ever come across.

What do you like to do for fun?

If you ask anybody who works with me or knows me, I think they’ll tell you that I’m a diehard workaholic. When I do carve out a little time for myself, I really love hanging out with my wife and my three dogs. My wife is my best friend, she’s my business partner, she’s everything to me. My dogs are a close second. I just love spending time with them. I also enjoy getting to the beach. I find it really calms me, helps me center myself, helps me focus and meditate. I’m also a huge car guy. Any chance I can get out of the city and enjoy a nice scenic road is always fun for me. I also enjoy philanthropy, art, great food, and enjoying conversations with interesting people.

Do you use an affiliate program?

We chose not to utilize the affiliate model for a number of reasons. For one, we were concerned with the age verification. … We saw from our initial investigation that a lot of affiliate programs aren’t doing age verification but are still providing affiliates with explicit materials to market sites. So we had concerns about that. Also from my background in marketing, I had concerns about creating a brand that we wanted to really push the envelope of what is art, what is sexuality, what is fashion, what is life, and it’s a very delicate process to bring that to market. By not controlling where we were advertised and how we were advertised, the affiliate business model wasn’t attractive to us. … That’s not to say there isn’t room for affiliates, or that affiliates aren’t valuable in certain applications but I have a very hard time compensating an affiliate for the same amount I would see an artist being compensated. So we do it all in-house. We spend a lot of money on our hosting, our marketing, on bringing our brand to the market, and we are able to do that by not having the affiliate in there, by taking that budget and applying it ourselves. We’re also able to provide our artists with a higher revenue share than almost any other site in the industry. …

I myself and of my partners have never pulled a dividend dollar out of this company. I make a salary, but we have not pulled one dollar of profit out of this company to live an exorbitant lifestyle. We keep putting it in, and it keeps getting bigger and bigger. We joke around in the office and say, “How big is this opportunity for us and all of the artists? And we say, ‘How big is space?’ … On our site, an artist can process up to $10,000 in one transaction. … August was our record for a top model payout. In one day our top artist that day made $121,000 dollars. In that month, that artist made $152,000, I believe. It’s amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s mind-boggling.

How do you see the industry, and your company, changing in the next five years?

I see iWantEmpire blurring the lines between sexuality, fashion and art. We just recently completed our first photo shoot for our winter and spring ad campaign with an international high-fashion photographer, Josh Ryan, and we just did that at the same location that Angelina Jolie did for her 2010 Vogue cover, and Lady Gaga used it in her paparazzi music video. So that was an amazing experience. It’s really our goal to keep pushing the envelope and keep doing events like that. To us iWantEmpire is the art of sexy. I personally believe that life is art and art is life—I feel that our industry isn’t actually the adult industry or the porn industry, per se. I view this industry as an art form. I very much view this industry as the erotic arts industry. That’s why you’ll often hear me using the word “artist” instead of “model” or “performer.” …

I also feel that the term “porn” or “adult industry” is something that’s often been used and given to us by the mainstream, and it’s a way for them to categorize the erotic arts industry and to try and diminish its artistic value. I mean, what is porn and what is art, truly? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, shouldn’t personal classification be as well? I just recently watched a shot of a femdom clip by The Only Theodora. It was beautifully shot; it didn’t contain any nudity or sexual acts. I’ve also seen Michelangelo’s David, which shows a fully naked man with full genitalia. Now I ask you, which is art and which is porn? Which is adult? I’m serious—if I were to sell access to both images via a website, I would only legally be required to put an 18-plus warning on the site that has the images of Michelangelo’s David. The other wouldn’t need it. So which is art and which is porn?

I really think that 100 years from now society will look back and give acknowledgments to many of the artists whom the media today calls porn stars and pornographers. When it comes right down to it, the erotic arts industry is one of the most powerful segments of the art industry, and it’s not respected for it. We embody the very definition of what art is, more than so many other forms of what people consider art to be. … If you were to Google it, art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty and emotional power.” So art is something that is supposed to strike an emotional chord. Well, look at the art from our industry, the erotic arts. When consumed the viewer not only has an emotional reaction to it—they have a physical reaction to it.

We all know some people love it; some people absolutely HATE it. Some people champion for us and our rights; some people march with picket signs against it. But at the end of the day, isn’t that what great art is meant to elicit? If you and I were to go to an art exhibit and walk out and both of us say, “That was OK,” that wouldn’t be great art. But if we walked out and I said, “They need to tear that down—that shouldn’t be shown, it’s wrong” and you were to say, “It’s the most beautiful and amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” that would be a great art exhibit. …

I think it’s so ironic that we are often scorned in this industry for being honest. We are truly honest in the erotic arts industry, yet you look at the so-called moral high ground of Hollywood motion picture industry and most recently it is literally rampant with sex offenders, complicit aides and more unfortunate victims than anything the likes of what Rashida Jones can inaccurately try to portray about our erotic arts industry. Where is the justice for those who are assaulted via elements of the misogynistic Hollywood machine? Where is the respect and recognition for our true and honest art form, the erotic arts? We don’t hide and try to make it seem we’re a nice PG-13 type of industry that doesn’t have nudity. We are very honest about what we are. ...

I see over the coming years iWantEmpire continuing to grow and to demonstrate this industry as a true art form. I want to personally build sites that empower artists to make the content they wish, to grow their brands and to generate massive amounts of both active and passive income. I guess, really, to sum it up, I want to help each and every artist achieve the success that they deserve.