When Joanna Angel was in her final year at Rutgers, she and her roommate launched their own business out of the apartment they were sharing near campus.
Eleven years later, that business is a solid, ever-expanding company with several employees and a growing inventory of products. She owes her success to the same ingredients rattled off by most small-business owners: Hard work followed by more hard work.
In the process, she's become an authority on everything from marketing to accounting, in an industry not known for either.
Joanna Angel is a porn star.
"This industry is not for everyone," Angel said. "I've seen this industry chew people up and spit them out because you've got to be strong.
"But I have found a home here."
It still may be taboo to discuss in corporate settings, but the adult entertainment industry is one of the most profitable in the world, generating tens of billions of dollars in the U.S. alone every year, by some estimates.
Every year since 2008, New Jersey has hosted porn industry professionals from across the country at the three-day Exxxotica Expo at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center. This year, it drew more than 20,000 attendees and about 130 vendors, making it a prime marketing opportunity for businesses such as BurningAngel.
Angel (not her real last name) is 32 years old now. She has a bachelor's in English from Rutgers, with a minor in cinema studies, but she has done nothing but direct or act in pornographic movies since she left school.
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It started out, like all businesses do, as an idea that, truthfully, Angel said never thought would go beyond the walls of her apartment.
But it seemed fun, exciting and delightfully controversial, so she and her roommate-turned-business-partner Mitch Fontaine started small: They created a website that required visitors to subscribe to view images updated only every six weeks.
"I just found a love for it really quickly," Angel said. "I love directing movies. I love being on camera.
"The fact that I'm an object of people's sexual fantasies is funny to me," she added.
Looking back now at the plethora of free pornography available on the Internet, Angel said she can't believe they managed to find anyone willing to pay for what they were putting up online. And although the number of initial subscribers wasn't huge, it was enough to create a fan base for Angel and the company and to generate income early on.
The company eventually moved to Brooklyn and then to its current home in Los Angeles. Angel said BurningAngel has produced about 95 movies, created several websites and won multiple awards. In the process, Angel has become an authority on budgeting and marketing, with a hard-earned skill set much like any other entrepreneur.
"People think there's easy money in porn, but there's not," she said. "In this day and age, there's no easy money anywhere.
"You really have to understand that being your own boss is wonderful," Angel added. "But you are going to give up your whole life."
That sacrifice has tapered over the years, and Angel and Fontaine have become more accustomed to their duties as owners of a small, profitable porn business.
Angel's family, too, has come to terms with her career choice. They don't love it, Angel said, but they still love her. And they never talk details during discussions about work.
"My mom will say, 'I've never seen you happier,'" Angel said. "I'm a pretty down-to-earth person. And I think most people would say, 'Oh, she's the same person. She's just a porn star now.'"