"Good local management. I think that's the most important."
- Fabian Thylmann
His name may not be as famous as other technology entrepreneurs out there. But he certainly helped shaping the web we know. Fabian Thylmann was once dubbed "the ruler in the realms of lust" by the German media, and that was for a reason: he brought to the world something that many apparently wanted very much.
And that was, and still is, free internet pornography.
He delivered the internet a YouTube-style porn websites where anybody could participate by uploading or just watching copies of porn, or even post their own if they want to.
Before selling his shares, Thylmann with his company owned almost every porn websites the internet had in its underbelly.
Early Life And Career
Fabian Thylmann was born on June 5th 1978 in Aachen, Germany. The idea for a porn takeover, was actually in him since the 1990s when he was a teenager in Brussels.
Thylmann passion for technology and the internet came to him when he started computer programming at the age of 17, after getting paid for building a small website for his neighbor.
"This was likely the beginning of it all, although nothing much happened after that for a year or two. I then started a company with my brother which was focused on statistics services for the web, Analytics like, in real-time," recalled Thylmann.
This started his venture. He created a software called NATS (Next-generation Affiliate Tracking Software), which enabled websites to track their users' clicks on advertisements and links, so that they could be paid in commission.
NATS linked a vast number of internet pornography sites for the first time, and allowed visitors to select porn according to their preferences. When previously porn was made by professionals and alike, the result of this NATS was a surge in the production of amateur home sex videos catering for every conceivable sexual predilection.
His success in creating the software encouraged Thylmann to start his own business in the adult industry.
In 2006, Thylmann began securing a licence for the classic erotic Playboy label which gave him control of all of its television and online productions. He then sold his shares in the company that controlled NATS, and used the money he earned to purchase the Privat Amateure website.
He then acquired various companies in the adult industry, including MyDirtyHobby, Webcams and Xtube.
At the time, 60 million viewers visited Thylmann’s porn sites each day. The revenues come from the pay pornography sites advertised alongside, and also from viewers registered.
It was in March 2010 that Thylmann founded Manwin after acquiring the assets of both Mensef and Interhub, owners of Brazzers and the three-year-old Pornhub.that later became the largest pornography site on the internet.
When he founded Manwin, the time was when many industries have been disrupted by the internet. It was the moment that adult entertainment have struggled to keep up with the evergrowing web.
Thylmann had a rough start. He struggled to get the funding his company needed. But after getting a huge loan from the bank, he stepped up his game to create an empire of porn he never really paid for. It was his tech-savvy approach that allowed him to catch the adult industry off-guard.
His goal at the time, was growing Manwin by acquiring as many existing brands and businesses as possible, rather than building them from scratch. This was possible because adult companies were selling for rather cheap prices.
Thylmann managed that with structured upfront payments plus payments over time.
"Our synergies were always quite good, so the profits we made from a website was usually quite a bit higher than the previous owner’s," said Thylmann. "The payments over time also sometimes depended on well measurable milestones that needed to be met to allow the payment to happen."
In 2011, Thylmann unmasked himself to the public. He revealed himself as the creator of eight of the world's 15 most successful online sex sites at the time. "Our aim is banal: we create as many opportunities for people to spend money as possible," he declared.
By 2012, 80 percent of people looking for online porn would land on one of Thylmann’s sites.
Mindgeek And Beyond
With Manwin, Thylmann owned big chunks of porn platforms. It was estimated that Manwin's websites earned about 16 billion visitor every month.
At its peak, Manwin was the largest adult entertainment operator in the world with offices in 5 countries, employing well over 1,000 people. In October 2013, Thylmann sold his stakes to the senior management of the company for €73 million.
Upon the sale of Manwin, Thylmann wrote in a letter to employees:
At that same month, Manwin changed its name to Mindgeek. This happened after the company merged with Redtube, a large porn tube site not in its network.
Mindgeek is later known as a global conglomerate that controls most of the online porn the world sees.
While Thylmann was out of the adult industry, his legacy remains. The websites he acquired and helped grew, attracted 60 billion visitors every month.
Leaving porn behind, Thylmann started becoming an angel investor for young startups in Brussels, Belgium, with STATSnet Invests. With it, he invested in numerous businesses, mostly IT-based. He also operates a Co-Working & Incubation space, SN-Cube.
Fabian Thylmann was a typical computer nerd, which his pale face, thick glasses and hoodies. But with that, he had revolutionized the business of pornography consumption in less than a decade, with almost no one knowing him.
Thylmann is married with two children, and with the money he earned, he could afford a lavish lifestyle.
Filmmaker, a renowned author, journalist and screenwriter Jon Ronson said that "Fabian got so rich that he installed in his house an aquarium that is so big that a diver had to come every week, and dive in and clean the coral reef. You know you’re doing well when you get your own diver."
In December 2012, Thylmann was extradited from Belgium to Germany on suspicion of tax evasion. Thylmann denied avoiding paying tax, saying that he was merely minimizing his tax burden in accordance with the law. "The accusations concern Mr. Thylmann himself and the companies he owns," a state prosecutor’s spokesman said
In 2015, he was again indicted by the Cologne, Germany federal prosecutor.
While he paid €5 million to drop the charges, Thylmann was still facing a suspended sentence in another case.
Thylmann being a figure in the adult entertainment, especially by the size of Manwin, has put a mark on his back. Even after he sold the company, Thylmann still perceived as negative, including in banks and other places. "I do not regret doing this, however it is always fun to talk to my friends from back then."