Sex toys are a multibillion dollar industry. Yeah, that’s billion with a B. Unfortunately, all this revenue doesn’t mean that women are profiting in the bedroom. If you’ve ever shopped for a sex toy, you may have already discovered that the return on your investment can be disappointing. What’s more, a sleeker look and luxury price tag doesn’t necessarily mean a better experience. When it comes to getting off, many toys just don’t follow through. Kind of a bummer, since the very reason many women opt for toys is for the reliability that sex with a partner doesn’t always deliver.
If there are two people that understand this problem, it’s Janet Lieberman and Alexandra Fine, co-founders of Dame, the female-focused sex toy brand seeking to “make the world a better place, one vagina at a time.” And with their first toy, Eva, they’re off to an amazing start. Here’s how they got going.
The dream team
Alex and Janet are a match made in sex-toy making heaven. Alex got her Masters in clinical psychology from Columbia, with a focus on sexuality. Janet graduated from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“We were both independently trying to start sex toy companies in Brooklyn at the same time,” explains Janet. And defying all the societal conventions that pit women against each other, these ladies combined forces, and there couldn’t have been a more perfect twosome. “[Alex] came to this with the business and sexual psychology background, and I came to with the engineering background and project management experience,” says Janet. And thus, Dame was born.
An unfunny joke
Janet’s experience in product development and consumer product design afforded her special insight into the failings of the sex toy market. “I was a consumer of a product that wasn’t well-made, that didn’t have good product engineering. I bought an expensive vibrator that cost $160 with a boyfriend. Between the two of us — two engineers — we couldn’t figure out how to work the controls, and if we couldn’t figure out how this thing works, how are people who don’t design products going to?”
I bought an expensive vibrator that cost $160 with a boyfriend. Between the two of us — two engineers — we couldn’t figure out how to work the controls
As the saying goes: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. At least, that’s what Janet started telling her friends: “I started joking to people that I was going to start a company for well-engineered sex toys. The less women laughed, the less it stayed a joke.”
Anything you can do, Dame can do better
The sex toy market is a seller’s market. As Janet points out, “If I [bought] a razor for anywhere between $25 and $75, I’d expect it to work. I would think it was weird if I bought a $50 razor, and it didn’t work. You buy $60 sex toys that don’t work all the time. I was noticing a higher failure rate.”
If a sex toy doesn’t get the job done, buyers are likely to blame things other than the integrity of the engineering. Like the price. Janet herself fell victim to the idea that expensive means better: “I had been assuming the reason most of the vibrators I bought weren’t working was because they were inexpensive. But then I bought an expensive vibrator, and it didn’t work either. I realized I could do better.”
Eva, Dame’s first and, for the time being, only sex toy was Alex’s idea. The hands-free, strap-free clitoral vibrator is designed to stay out of the way during sex, by resting within the labia. “Alex [knew], without needing to look up numbers, that clitoral stimulation is the number one thing for women. Most women don’t orgasm through penetration alone,” says Janet.
Eva was conceived to allow women to focus on intimacy and the things that are integral parts of the female sexual response, such as “kissing, touch and caressing,” Janet explains. Unlike many sex toys, which can be cumbersome (and a bit of an eyesore), Eva’s discrete and hands-free design allows partners to give each other their full and undivided attention. Steps, she explains, committed couples often skip. “Whether you’re with a partner or by yourself, you don’t really want the sex to to be the second or third person in the room all the time,” says Janet.
Indiegogo and beyond
Unfortunately, Janet and Alex were not able to secure a small business loan, as a company that produced products of a sexual nature. “The [bankers] used the phrase ‘indecent sexual nature.’ We tried to argue that [our product] was of decent sexual nature, and we found out that doesn’t exist,” Janet explains.
Eva debuted on Indiegogo in 2014. “We thought we would be lucky if we raised $150k. The most successful Indiegogo campaign in our market had raised $280k. It was for a men’s product [ed note: NSFW]. And it cost twice as much as ours,” Janet recounts. Thankfully, the Internet pulled through where the banks didn’t. “A week in, we broke $50k. That was amazing. The next day we broke $100K, and i really didn’t know what to do with that. That was a bit of an ah-ha moment,” says Janet.
Oh, and by the way, the Eva campaign closed out with just over 8,000 backers and with $823,817 in funds raised. Put that in your sexually indecent pipe, and smoke it.
Happy vaginas everywhere
For Dame, Eva is just the beginning. “There is no one-size-fits-all sex toy,” notes Janet. “We want to focus on making every product great, and we have customer feedback testing as a very integral part of our process to make sure we’re designing products that fit how people want to use them. We can’t come out with ten at once.”
Given the rapid success of Eva, which has achieved international distribution with 25,000 units shipped to date, Dame’s slow and steady approach has worked at making vaginas (and their counterparts) happy across the globe. As Janet recalled, “We had one man tell us that this was the first time his wife wanted to have sex 2 days in a row.”
Perhaps what makes Dame so special, is the company’s focus on the human elements of sex and sexuality. Whereas, many toys are marketed to deliver results (re: orgasms), and do so to varying degrees of success, Eva promises something extra: connection. We couldn’t be more excited to try it out.