When PornHub was hit with claims that it is hosting child rape videos on its site earlier this week, prompting Visa and Mastercard to cut ties with the site, its reign as the world’s leading porn website was plunged into sudden uncertainty.
While the website is ubiquitous, little is known about its owners and operators or how much it is worth.
They are Stephane Manos, Ouissam Youssef, Feras Antoon and Matt Keezer, who founded the site in 2007, two years after YouTube was founded, in Montreal, Quebec.
They all knew each other for years earlier while attending Concordia University and had a shared love of the internet and pornography.
Antoon is the only one who retains a formal active role as the CEO of PornHub’s parent company MindGeek. MindGeek is a private company whose headquarters are now in Luxembourg. It has more than 1,200 employees.
It’s unclear who came up with the PornHub concept but Keezer is who bought the domain name PornHub for $2,750 from someone he’d met at a Playboy mansion party.
Canadian Feras Antoon (left) is currently the CEO of Pornhub’s parent company MindGeek. Of the founders, he’s the only one who retains a formal operational role. Matt Keezer (right) is one of the founders. He now runs a travel booking company
Stephane Manos (left) and Ouissam Youssef (right) were other co-founders. Now,they run Valsoft which buys and boosts software companies to make them more profitable
Keezer now runs a flight-booking website and Manos and Youssef head up Valsoft, which acquires and scales up software companies.
Originally, they bonded over a love of foosball in college and it was their shared interest in technology and porn that drove the venture, they say.
In 2003, Keezer, Manos, and Youssef, then students, had already founded websites like Jugg World, A** Listing, KeezMovies, and XXX Rated Chicks, where people could look at pictures of porn and download short videos but it was nothing like PornHub, where they could surf and browse hundreds of videos that were hosted all in one place.
Antoon’s brother Mark (above) serving as the company’s vice president
Back then, those sites were run under a parent company known as Mansef.
In an interview with New York Magazine in 2011, Antoon explained how the three others focused at first on featuring women with large breasts.
‘The big-t*ts niche was so cheap,’ he told New York Magazine.
They then realized there were other ‘niches’ like breasts in general, MILFs and other categories.
‘They saw, wow, that t*t niche is huge.
‘Then they realized that the MILF niche—the older-woman niche—is even bigger.
‘And they became the masters of the big-t*t–MILF niche,’ he said.
Together, they founded Brazzers – a pay site whose name was a play on their Middle Eastern backgrounds and their pronunciation of the word ‘brothers.’
Under Brazzers, they started rolling out more and more porn videos by contracting with producers in LA and Vegas and having them put together high-quality videos.
Their signature was, as Antoon described, large-breasted women and so they were credited with the revival of breast implants in the industry.
The operation continued to grow and Antoon – who is Manos’ brother-in-law – was brought in to help.
Every year, the company doubled in size.
The roles were, according to New York Magazine’s profile on them, as follows; ‘Youssef was the business visionary, Manos the salesman and motivator, Keezer the savant of search-engine optimization.’
Antoon called Keezer ‘by far the best in the world’, saying: ‘Who can get “porn” and “sex” to be No. 1? We’re the No. 1 result [for each]. You know how hard that is?’
PornHub went online in early 2007 and quickly grew in success but was hated by the industry which complained that it – like YouTube – was ripping off pay-for websites by slapping content on their sites without charging people for it and instead making their money through banner ads.
It was not part of Mansef but instead was managed under the company Interhub.
Pornhub currently has over 22million registered users worldwide and draws a staggering 120million visitors daily, placing it above Amazon and Netflix in online traffic rankings
MindGeek is also the owner of other popular YouTube-like adult portals, including YouPorn and RedTube (stock images)
Pornhub’s parent company MindGeek bills itself as a tech company. It has 1,200 global employees
In 2010, after rolling out several other brands under the umbrella company, Interhub and Mansef were sold to German millionaire Fabian Thylmann for an estimated $140million.
Following the acquisition, Thylmann changed the company’s name to Manwin and continued to snap up more pornographic websites after raising $362million in financing from Colbeck Capital.
Three years later, he sold his stake back to Antoon for $100million. By now, the company had been rebranded as MindGeek.
Antoon, according to Le Journal de Montreal, bought two sprawling luxury condos for $730,000 in 2017.
Some of the co-founders are said to have invested in a 600-condo development in Montreal and one of the men mentioned investing in Florida and the Middle East.
Another article from the newspaper reported that the men boasted online about investing some of their money in real estate both in the US and oversees.
In 2017, Feras Antoon bought two apartments in this building in downtown Montreal for just over $700,000
They are said to have invested in a 600-condo development in Montreal and one of the men mentioned investing in Florida and the Middle East.
None share any details of their private lives online. They do not have public social media pages.
In a 2016 interview with Vice, Mark Antoon described MindGeek more as a tech company than anything to do with porn.
Montreal, he said, was the ideal hub for it.
‘Montreal provides an ideal setting for tech talent. It has a unique multicultural backdrop, a great joie de vivre, and an affordable standard of living that make it a very attractive option for tech resources,’ he said.
MindGeek, which is based in Luxembourg, with offices in Montreal, Cyprus and London, has been criticized for its monopolistic power in the industry, due to its ownership of major production companies as well as streaming and distribution services.
Under the helm of parent company MindGeek, Pornhub currently has over 22million registered users worldwide and draws a staggering 120million visitors daily, placing it above Amazon and Netflix in online traffic rankings.
ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD RAPE ON PORNHUB
Earlier this week PornHub was forced to crack down on its unverified users following a scathing report by New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof.
Kristof highlighted a number of young girls who appeared in videos uploaded to Pornhub without their consent. Even after the videos were flagged and removed, downloaded copies continued to circulate, often with severe personal consequences.
Pornhub said that it doesn’t knowingly allow images of sexual abuse of children.
But, in a blog post on Tuesday, the company listed steps it was taking to further protect against images of abuse and nonconsensual activity on its site.
Pornhub said next year it will announce ways in which individuals can become verified users.
It will still allow new material from partners it knows, like porn production companies.
The website has a huge volume of material: 6.8 million new videos were uploaded last year, but the company could not say what percentage of that was from unverified users.
‘Today, the use of our cards at Pornhub is being terminated. Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site,’ Mastercard confirmed in a statement to DailyMail.com.
‘As a result, and in accordance with our policies, we instructed the financial institutions that connect the site to our network to terminate acceptance. In addition, we continue to investigate potential illegal content on other websites to take the appropriate action,’ the company added.
Visa, which is conducting its own probe on the matter, said that it is ‘suspending Pornhub’s acceptance privileges pending the completion of our ongoing investigation.’
American Express has a longstanding policy of not working with adult websites.
Pornhub said Tuesday it was halting unverified users from uploading videos after a New York Times column alleged that the pornographic website was ‘infested’ with videos of rape and underage sex.