Forbes Report: Tech Meets Sex Toys in Silicon Valley

Bob Johnson

SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley engineers and entrepreneurs are using their slide rules to create a new generation of sex toys.

A Forbes report has profiled the new breed of tech-types who are embracing what’s being billed as a rapidly growing $5-$15 billion novelty industry by creating slicker, sleeker, more functional and generally more appealing novelties.

Although the marriage between sex and high tech engineering may appear odd for the region’s traditional brainiacs, Forbes points out that good adult toys combine aesthetics and mechanics. “They require a deep understanding of design and engineering. As numerous products, such as smartphones and tablets, have already shown, the Valley excels at creating and marketing such products. It also has the necessary ingredients — an abundant supply of engineers, excellent designers, and an ecosystem of investors that supports and encourages risks — to drive innovation in this lucrative industry.”

Some companies are changing the face of sex toys by using advanced technologies like 3D printing and tapping the area’s unique human resources who are skilled at both design and mechanics.

Companies including JimmyJane, Minnalife, Crave and Revel Body were spotlighted as trailblazers in the new tech-meets-sex arena, supported by area retail giant Good Vibrations that’s now showcasing the trendier premium products in glass cases to differentiate them from standard novelties.

“Awkward shapes are being replaced by clean and bold lines. Lurid colors have taken on earthen hues. And, instead of blondes, Rachael Ray is talking about adult toys,” Forbes reported.

JimmyJane founder Ethan Imboden, described as the “lone ranger” in what was considered a taboo industry when the company emerged in 2003, is credited with realizing the “giant chasm” between what people wanted in sex toys and what was available. The company recently shook up the biz with its “Hello Touch” product that turns fingers into vibrators.

As part of a new “Pleasure to the People” project, Imboden has collaborated with noted industrial designer Yves Behar to produce a tongue-shaped “Form-3” vibrator made of ultra-thin silicone and designed to ensure to not make couples like “they are having a threesome with a kitchen appliance.”

A small pink, lemon-shaped vibrator with settings memory from Minnalife, and an innocuous vibrator that looks like a USB stick from Crave join JimmyJane’s progressive product as examples of the new offerings that can sell anywhere from $50-$150.

By investing in manufacturing technology like 3D printers and CNC routers to create prototypes, and incorporating new functionality like squeezable settings instead of typical buttons, the new Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are banking on infusing the market with products that will strongly challenge an industry they believe is flooded with unimaginative products with bad packaging.

“If there’s a bunch of bad products, that is a big market for us,” Minnalife founder Brian Krieger said.

Crave’s Michael Topolovac maintained that most of the new start-ups are consciously trying to position their products “away from the riff-raff” and instead prefer to view sexual pleasure “through a prism of design and lifestyle choices” with toys that have a sleek finish, unorthodox shapes and excellent design. The goal is to market sex toys like accessible luxury products similar to tech must-haves like iPods.

The status-quo critics also say that most regular toy creators rely on a mix of personal intuition and research instead of what consumers really want. Crave designer Ti Chang is bent on shaking things up.“Women want (adult toy) products that fit into their lifestyle just like any other product,” she told Forbes.

Revel Body for example, designed its vibrators after receiving input from its consumers that told them fast, buzzy toothbrushes would make great vibrators. CEO Robin Elenga said the company recently received an order for 1,000 vibrators instead of the usual 200.

And the new model for creating sex toys could mean a huge payoff across the board. The article said that according to IBIS research analyst Agata Kaczanowska, Internet sales of sex toys are skyrocketing despite a struggling economy as more consumers find pleasure at home. She estimates that the industry will grow at a 6 percent annual rate through 2017.

Most of the new sex toy creators are banking on consumers paying higher prices for a new sexual “experience” rather than a simple novelty. Imboden believes they’ll equate the cost with that of a movie and dinner at a nice restaurant.