In March, the two industry game-changers punched into the mainstream tech world with a huge soiree for badge-holders at Austin’s South By Southwest event. After combining forces to create Launch, an interactive mechanical stroker attachment for Fleshlight toys, the teams decided to see how their latest haptic marvel would play with the tech industry’s big boys.
We were able to capture an audience in the tech community that we otherwise struggle to reach through adult-related events. -Maurice op de Beek, Kiiroo
Kiiroo and Fleshlight are known successes throughout the adult sector but, like most X-rated manufacturers, realize the importance of diversifying your market.
“We thought SXSW was a better platform to introduce our new high-tech device,” says Kiiroo’s Chief of Technology Maurice op de Beek. “We were able to capture an audience in the tech community that we otherwise struggle to reach through adult-related events.”
Booth space at the event is coveted by start-ups seeking knowledge-hungry consumers and recognition from millionaire entrepreneurs. In true adult industry fashion, Kiiroo and Fleshlight decided to go bigger.
“We did not have a booth at SXSW. Instead, Fleshlight held a launch party, and we were received greatly by both the media and consumers,” remarks op de Beek. “We wanted to provide a shock factor to attendees and the partially conservative state with the new high-tech and fully automated sexual experience that the Launch provides.”
If Maurice and the Fleshlight crew were looking to shock on the largest possible scale, they certainly picked the right place to do it.
Saying “South By Southwest” to any budding tech geek or struggling musician is like uttering the words “Burning Man” in San Francisco: it’s kind of a big deal. This world-renown festival of performances, movie screenings, and massive-scale networking began in 1986 with a small group of creatives in Austin. Their conversations continually circled back to the amount of worthy music, film and ideas circulating within their city that lacked an audience. Realizing this problem wasn’t exclusive to Austin, they created South By Southwest, best known by the acronym SXSW, as a stage for the nation’s brilliant yet unrecognized talent.
Droves of filmmakers, musicians and interactive media creators poured in for the event’s first round in 1987, and the influx of innovators eventually grew to include international voices.
Today’s SXSW crowd is a far cry from the draw of the early ‘80s. Garage bands, A&R record executives, and Spin magazine journalists have been replaced with the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, Snoop Dogg, and a bevy of Silicon Valley veterans. It was only a matter of time until sex-tech found its way into the arena.
The heavy influence of technology on sex toy design is already in full swing and steadily growing as Millennials make pleasure products part of their average routine. Sex toy manufacturers are fairly new to South By Southwest, but their presence signifies something big: tech is normalizing sex products. “I think technology brings great opportunity to the sex industry as it can show the mainstream media the adult industry in a new light,” says op de Beek. “[It’s] allowing [them] to write about the technology rather than the sex aspect.”
Though Fleshlight and Kiiroo might have achieved their intended shock factor with a few old-school Texans, the majority of attendees were probably more eager to learn where to purchase a Launch device and how it was developed.
“The event itself has a large amount of attendees who have a genuine interest in technology,” says op de Beek. “Tech-savvy millennials are keen to learn and embrace the future of technology especially in regards to teledildonics and sex tech.”
Fleshlight and Kiiroo’s SXSW contribution, an after-hours product launch party, brought lots of attention from consumers, and the few occasional though unavoidable skeptics.
“The attendees were very interested in the product and its functionalities, and a large amount of people wanted to buy the product,” recalls op de Beek. Though South By Southwest regulars are generally ready for anything, a mechanical masturbator is almost guaranteed to draw a crowd.
“We were demonstrating the product to some people at the event, and a husband and wife walked past us who had been at the event the night before,” says op de Beek. “He saw the device and started coming towards us very enthusiastically, trying to pull his wife along in a hurry with him. He was so excited about the Launch and what it can do that he started bringing in people from around us to take a look.”
Innovation and hype aside, Maurice was still in a mainstream arena. Tech business moves fast — but not that fast. “Due to the mainstream nature of the event, we found that many people expressed that because of the type of product we sell, and the type of company we are, their advertisers would not appreciate it as much as an individual would,” says op de Beek.
Undaunted by a few cautious conservatives of the present, the Kiiroo and Fleshlight teams remain both optimistic and realistic for the future.
“Technology is changing every day, and at SXSW we had the opportunity to see some of the leading innovators showcasing their products and services,” says op de Beek. “We aim to grow and improve and innovate continuously in order stay ahead of the game.”
As the first South By Southwest run to feature sex toys, Kiiroo and Fleshlight were the stars of a groundbreaking year in Austin. They weren’t the only pleasure manufacturers in attendance, but were no doubt some of the most memorable.
“Kiiroo’s participation in SXSW has proved to us that we are driven, and continue to strive to be the leading innovators in sex tech,” says op de Beek.
South By Southwest has been a harbinger for consumer culture since it’s humble beginnings. Like many previously shocking exhibitors of the event’s past, Fleshlight, Kiiroo, and other pleasure manufacturers will eventually become festival regulars. Let’s just say that it probably won’t take long before some of those stuffy advertisers come around to the lucrative popularity of sex-tech.