In the past year an impressive amount of activity continues to rise with several small firms enabling consumers to connect sexually online. While the topic may be controversial to some, the trend is clear: people are interested in connecting for immersive erotic experiences over the Internet. We call this new generation of experiences Adult 3.0 — the interactive revolution.
SexTech is finally emerging into the light and will form a large, new, lucrative sector of industry. And the timing couldn’t be better for a savior, with players large and small struggling against the culture of free porn and growing regulatory issues. With adult camming businesses humming along and the rise of virtual reality-based systems growing closer, adding a truly life-like sense of touch stands to be a new kingpin of success.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the SexTech industry be. Winning investment from substantial businesses or professional investors beyond friends and family has been challenging for many startups, but history is catching up to us.
A few startups attempted to build successful products in this space before and failed, as some of the current players likely will. The technologies we see now such as: adult camming in 2D, vibrators controlled by apps, sequential linear squeezing attempting to mimic sliding movements, uni-directional systems that offer stimulation to only one partner at a time — will look primitive when the best new technology comes to market and secures an audience. “Haptics” — the engineering field of physical sensation via hardware — is central to the growth of SexTech.
What are the criteria for success? Moreover, what will unlock this brave new market to create a thriving landscape of happy customers and prosperous companies?
To introduce ourselves, Intimuse is a San Francisco Bay Area-based startup with our names on 67 haptics patents and track records from Apple, Tesla and Immersion Corporation. We have quietly watched the SexTech space for a few years while we built a foundation of IP, transformational designs and functional systems. Based on our experience, we offer the following as guides to a brilliant field of innovation with the power to create positive change for human sexual happiness:
Success Factor #1: Truly Compelling Customer Experiences and a Complete Ecosystem
Vital to this extended sense of “presence” will be hardware that can deliver a compelling sense of touch — stroking and squeezing for women or men — in two directions at the same time. Vibrations are great for women but less impactful for men. “Bio-mimetic” or life-like haptics systems will be the gold standard, upholding the ability to re-create human sexual forces and sensations such as sliding, stroking, squeezing or expanding. As some are discovering, this engineering task is complex and daunting — part of why no one has accomplished it yet with robust IP coverage. Until now, as we have.
Moreover, any life-like hardware designs will need to be part of a seamless ecosystem — think iPods connected to iTunes. Such an environment will include: the ability to link to networks effortlessly, friction-free transactions, high-resolution video of one’s play partner if desired, multiple ways to connect from one-on-one to adult camming to VR, and highly responsive customer service for any issues encountered. Professionals and consumers alike will benefit from developing their intimacy and communication skills using such systems.
Success Factor #2: Fresh, Robust Intellectual Property
Essential to winning this new audience and building successful businesses will not just be clever designs but potent, fresh intellectual property. Not old, outdated patents nearing the end of their lifespans or designs that cannot hope to create compelling connections and orgasms for customers, but truly innovative haptics systems connected to personal, intimate, immersive erotic experiences.
As diligent players in the space know, there is an active patent troll creating uncertainty in the SexTech market. While one can wait for their core patent to run out of time, a better plan is to develop one’s own robust IP suite that is completely independent of their claims. IP strategy is a long-term process, and this market is still very much in its infancy for now. But a few years from now will likely be a very different picture — a time frame in which novel, significant IP can be developed and issued. Make a concerted effort to explode past incremental improvements and engage in true innovation — dare to make products that are authentically revolutionary.
Success Factor #3: Partnerships: Investment, Brand, Distribution and Customer Service
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the SexTech industry be. Winning investment from substantial businesses or professional investors beyond friends and family has been challenging for many startups, but history is catching up to us. While Wall Street and Silicon Valley VCs seek endless details to prove the viability of SexTech and many adult novelty companies continue chasing the “pump and dump” culture of cheap product without high value or longevity, it remains to be seen who will have the courage to get in the game in a big way.
Building a brand from scratch could prove to be too expensive, slow and ineffective at a global level of billions. Adult-friendly, established brands that share a vision of interactive sex online are a vastly better play for start-ups. It is easier for such firms to launch a new technology than for a small company with viable designs to build an entire brand and enterprise around it. Ditto for distribution and customer service — why re-invent the wheel?
Success Factor #4: A Viable, Scalable, Multi-Faceted Business Model
There are professional investors in the world who can make this industry soar, but they are apprehensive for three primary reasons: morality clauses on investment funds, needing to see deep levels of financial validation before investing and a too-long history of other firms that failed for lacking the success factors listed here. We prefer to build business models based on converging trends and valid transactional data.
Future success stories will have multiple ways to work with their technology: camming, adult dating, VR, one-on-one distance relationships and more. Who will be the first to monetize and scale each or all of these sectors? Despite noble efforts to date, we see no clear winner with the criteria we believe are required. We know we have the goods, but who has the character and cash to join us in the revolution?
Success Factor #5: Courage, Stamina and Moral Conviction
Lots of back-room deals are being made right now — just ask anyone who has been building a firm in SexTech for more than a year or two. Smart players see an immense amount of money waiting to be made and will want to control all or most of the business. Some of those in play now will be like early investors in real-estate projects: they’ll get hammered by the market and others will learn from their mistakes to build long-term, sustainable success. As is said in venture investing, fail cheap and fail fast. Stick with it!
Once we as an industry win our initial core audiences and gain traction, there may be some cultural forces eager to pounce on SexTech as immoral or bad for society. While abuses and addiction can apply to almost anything innovative or fun, find your moral compass and set your own sense of mission in the business. There are millions and millions of people in the world who would love to have a healthy, expanded set of sexual options to express themselves anew, free from the fetters of social nonsense. Let them be your guide, and know that you will be on the right side of history for doing so.
John McCoy is a co-founder and the CEO of Intimuse, a “SexTech” engineering, product development and IP licensing firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The patented Intimuse system enables the world’s first bi-directional, realistic lovemaking experiences over the Internet for women and men. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.