Interview with Anh Tran, co-founder of WantedList

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Interview with Anh Tran, co-founder of WantedList

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AP speaks with WL Co-Founder Anh Tran

JONATHAN DREW of AP talks to WantedList about the company and the future of the business.

Once, the word "pornography" conjured images of raincoat-clad men sneaking into seedy theaters in back alleys.

These days, you can get skin flicks in the privacy of your bedroom or hotel room, via an Internet connection or discreetly wrapped mail delivery. Its purveyors are just as likely to be labeled "wily entrepreneur" as "smut peddler." One of those men is Anh Tran, co-founder of, a porn rental site built around a business model similar to that of mainstream DVD renters NetFlix Inc.

"I was a fan of adult movies, but I couldn't find adult movies on Netflix, and I always thought it would be great if someone did specifically an adult NetFlix," said Tran, whose site has grown to 25,000 subscribers, a staff of 30 and about $6 million in yearly sales.

Each movie arrives in a renter's mailbox in a nondescript gray envelope -- the name WantedList is nowhere visible -- that doubles as a postage-paid return envelope. The discreet, efficient delivery process represents one of the latest steps in the evolution of porn consumption.

In the '70s, the audience for adult movies was mostly limited to people willing to venture out in public to watch them in movie theaters. The widespread adoption of VCRs in the 1980s allowed porn lovers to enjoy the oohs and ahhs in their homes, but they still had to drive to the store to get it. Finally, the Internet has let them leave the car keys on the shelf.

"It's being driven even further now with the anonymity of the Internet and the ability to go online, get the type of movies you want, the fetishes you want, and be able to explore your sexuality in the privacy of your own home without the glaring eye of someone looking behind your shoulder," Tran says.

The ease and anonymity with which people can buy porn has helped propel the industry to about $14 billion per year in estimated U.S. revenues, according to trade magazine Adult Video News.

Increasingly, people with fast Internet connections are also choosing video-on-demand services that beam the movies straight to their computer monitors, and Tran said his colleagues plan to add such a service in the future. But until that method of video delivery is adopted more widely, WantedList has built a solid following with DVDs that usually arrive within two days of placing an order. Tran wouldn't disclose his privately held company's earnings but said it is profitable.

The idea for the site was hatched by Tran, 29, and his partner Danny Ting when the two were working together as consultants at Arthur Andersen LLP. Both were fed up with their jobs, and one night over dinner they began to discuss a way out. It turns out that they had separately come to the same conclusion: build The NetFlix of Porn.

The two saw an opportunity to appeal to consumers of adult entertainment since outfits like Netflix and Blockbuster Inc. have steered clear of that market altogether. After scraping together $200,000 from their savings accounts, loans and credit cards, Tran and Ting bought a whole mess of porn and launched their Web site. Tran says they weren't porn freaks, or at least not any more than any 20-something guy.

"What really drove us was the entrepreneurial spirit. This was a business model that made so much sense," he said.

WantedList stands out from the rest of the Internet porn pack, sharing the award for "Best Retail Web Site" with the 2005 AVN awards, which are considered the Oscars of adult entertainment.

Customers of Tran's site pay a monthly fee to receive an allotment of adult DVDs in the mail. As with NetFlix, they fill out a list of titles they want and receive the movies in the order they pick them. A $23-dollar monthly payment gets you the most popular package -- three skin flicks at a time. Customers keep each DVD as long as they want, but they won't receive the next item on their list until they return one of the ones they've already received.

Their headquarters is located in Van Nuys, Calif. -- the heart of the adult film industry. This has allowed them to quickly buy and ship more copies of whichever titles are hot. The nature of the ordering system -- extensive, prioritized wish lists -- allows them to predict which titles they would need weeks in advance. Because a DVD and envelope weigh less than an ounce, the company pays only 37 cents each time it ships a disc to a customer.

During an interview with asap, Tran truly did come off more interested in discussing numbers and business strategies than female anatomy. But he and his partner aren't immune to the debauchery that surrounds them. Both party with industry talent -- Ting is currently dating an adult actress who goes by the name Hannah Harper -- and each watches skin flicks for fun several times a week, said Tran.

"We knew one day it would be kind of fun to be part of that and be kind of 'pornified,'" he says. "I see myself in this crowd for at least a few more years."
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