Being able to say you are good at bedtime is similar to saying you are a good cook. You should be able to support such bold statements with hard facts or third-party testimonials. Many of us can be incredibly proud of our jumping skills or dancing ability, but there are certain things that we know we would excel at if given the chance. Perhaps it’s freestyling to Chance the Rapper’s level, or creating an app that will blow everyone’s mind. Sometimes all you need is an idea and the belief that others will enjoy it as much as yours. These concepts have inspired so much art and design, including indie films, guitar pedals, and adult women toys.
Let’s assume that you don’t work in the sex industry as the majority of the population. Although you have a great idea, there isn’t the infrastructure or industry contacts to help you get started. You’ve never done it before, as the old saying goes. Although you may not be an expert in making sex toys, you are confident in the design and potential appeal of your idea. You don’t have to worry, buddy. This fact puts you in good company. There are many stories of people outside the industry who have made it big and achieved great success. We had the opportunity to speak with several of them recently to get a first-hand look at what it is like to be in this industry, from manufacturing to marketing. It’s an interesting blend of science and art, with a happy ending like all good stories.
Step 1: The Idea
Jakub Konik is the founder of Lovely. He had been in the tech industry almost six years before he felt the urge to try something new. Konik says that for a long time, sex toys had very few features other than vibrations. Konik believed that sex toys could undergo their own digital evolution. They would become more interactive, useful, and elegantly designed, following the same path as lifestyle and home products. Konik believes that they will one day be “as smart and useful as any other products in our lives,” eventually adding more value to users. Konik wanted to create a product that couples can enjoy together.
David Yu, the founder of Svakom, was also having similar thoughts, half a world away. After speaking with groups of women about their expectations regarding adult toys, he realized that there was something missing and that he wanted to address that gap.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Financial Situation
Although the industry isn’t as well-known as others, it’s still a promising new venture. Talk about money often and early. It’s important to be able to look at your money and see the runway you are dealing with. How much cash do you really need? Well, it depends. Konik used his entire life savings to fund Lovely’s development. He also launched an IndieGoGo campaign as a supplement to his funding. You also have to consider the potential cost of creating your sextoy. Do you plan to quit your job and devote your entire time to this endeavor? Are you able to afford a few round-trip flights to China with enough money? (We’ll get to it in a moment). These are just a few of the important questions you need to answer early.
Step Three: Assemble Your Team
It’s unlikely that you will be able to learn everything if you are new to the sex toys business. It may be your best idea. But can you make models out of plastic, conduct focus groups, create a website, code a website and take commercial photos? It is important to have access to people you already know and to outsource when necessary. Konik had a sexologist as well as an engineer at his side from the beginning. He knew from the beginning that he wanted his product for couples. So what did he do to make it happen? He reached out to people he trusted and knew (it helped that both of them were industrial designers). They tried out many of the toys for couples that were on the market, and they reported back to Konik which ones they liked.
What does it mean to say that the couple “tested out” existing products? That’s exactly what they did. They had a lot sex with dozens of toys and Konik was open to their opinions. These kinds of conversations are not for you if you don’t find them awkward. This feedback was instrumental in shaping Konik’s final designs, which eventually became Lovely.
Step 4: Research and prototyping
Konick had an idea to create a ring that was an “intimate wearable” and linked with an app. This would allow couples to enjoy more time together in bed. Imagine a cockring made of ultra-soft material and with added intelligent features. It also has a docking station which can be placed on the nightstand. It’s easy to say but how do you actually make it? Be patient before you start to use modeling clay or colored pencils. To help you visualize the sex you desire, you can create mood boards. Boards can be made to represent shape, color and texture or the emotion or feeling you want your customers associate with your product. This is a great way for you to set the tone for your long journey.
After several rounds of sketching, the Lovely group made all kinds of prototypes. They started with plasticine and then moved to 3D printing. This was a cost-effective and efficient way to test assumptions as well as different shapes. They moved to silicone vacuum casting, compression molding as the design phase progressed. Although this method produced better results, it was more complicated and costlier. Konik set out from his European home to visit different factories across the continent, but they couldn’t provide the quality he wanted. However, all that changed when they traveled to China.
China is home to around 80% of all sex toys. The factories have the best equipment and are well-equipped to produce the right materials and obtain the silicone exactly as they are supposed. Medical-grade silicone is one the most common materials for making sex toys. The FDA regulations in the United States about silicon manufactured for medical purposes mean that sex toys, tubing, masks, and other medical devices fall under this category. This law is hard to ignore, and it’s not easy to change. Svakom toys are 100% made of medical-grade silicone. Konik and the Lovely team flew twenty hours to Hong Kong and finally got to touch the first production sample. Konik recalls, “I knew it was right.” It was smoother than my skin.
Step Five: Test, Learn, Repeat
This is a crucial step in the entire process. Svakom sends approximately ten to fifteen samples to reviewers after a sample run has been created. Because of the complexity of the technology, the Echo and Trista toys took a long time to perfect for the Svakom team. You can just keep testing when this happens. There are many factors that can cause delays in production. These include faulty toy mechanics, poor silicone quality, and simple manufacturing requirements. It can sometimes take years to produce complex products, especially if they are more complicated. You heard it right, it can take years to complete a product. Be prepared for a long and difficult journey.
Konik and the Lovely team once again visited the couples who had been supporting them in this trial-and error process. Lovely is worn around the most sensitive part of the male anatomy. This meant that the texture had to be perfect and the silicon’s ability not to shrink was crucial. If pulled too hard, cheaper materials could tear. They settled on medical-grade silicone, which was soft and flexible enough to fit around an eggplant’s base, while still staying where it needed. Lovely’s electronic component is another factor. Lovely has as much technology as any other fitness bracelet. It was difficult to source the components needed for the small circuit boards inside the device. This required several iterations in order to find the perfect shape.
Step Six: To Market, to Market
Konik and the Lovely team spent every dollar on product development when they started. There was no money left for marketing. It didn’t turn out to be a big deal as most of their advertising came from PR. Sex is a very popular topic due to the unique angle Lovely brought to it. Their marketing strategy was very organic. They reached out to dozens of retailers and distributors from around the globe first. However, sex is all around (especially online), so don’t expect a saturated market to automatically propel you to the top.
Svakom’s marketing is, however, more targeted. Svakom does a lot online marketing through various channels, such as YouTube and Google Adwords. You’re likely aware that YouTube influencers review every type of product, including lipstick and potato chips. And sex toys are no different. Svakom’s marketing team focuses on popular sex toys reviewers who have a large following, especially if they live in countries with their customers. Due to the more open-minded cultural attitudes in Russia and the United States about sexuality, they have had great success with these countries.
Trade shows are another option. Svakom’s B2B and marketing teams recommend getting involved in trade shows. There are many sex industry trade shows across the globe, including in Shanghai, Germany and the United States. These trade shows offer a chance to meet distributors and customers and make new connections. Bring gift boxes and samples.
It’s easy to see how the business of building and designing a sextoy is similar to other business ventures when you look back. Vision, risk, determination and finances are all important. Testing, execution and marketing are also key. Expect setbacks, unexpected outcomes, and, hopefully, celebrations. It is crucial to get the product’s look and feel right. When it all comes together, it can be a joy.