Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Stephanie Alys is a co-founder and Chief Pleasure Officer (CPO) of MysteryVibe, an award-winning British pleasure brand. As CPO, Stephanie is focused on changing perceptions around pleasure in a positive and empowering way.
A strong advocate that pleasure is a beautiful part of the human experience, and fundamental to our happiness, Stephanie is MysteryVibe's spokesperson on the role of technology within sex and relationships. She has been featured in major publications such as the Times, Guardian, Economist, CNBC, TechCrunch and WIRED and regularly appears as a keynote speaker on international stages.
Stephanie's work has won her numerous nominations and awards including the Europas, Young Guns and PathFounders Top 100 European Founders. She was selected as one of the Top 50 Women under 30 by The Drum in 2017.
What is the idea behind MysteryVibe and how did you come up with it?
MysteryVibe was an idea that surfaced way before we officially launched. It came from a belief that pleasure is so intimately personal, human and fundamental to our happiness, yet when it comes to technological innovation and advancement, it often gets overlooked.
We understood that everyone is different. Everyone has different desires and tastes, and we all experience pleasure (specifically orgasm) in different ways.
In 2014, we got together a group of friends, and decided we wanted to create something that adapted to the person, their moods, desires and sensations. We approached our industrial designer, SeymourPowell, with the idea, and they loved it. Working together, we created MysteryVibe and designed our first product, Crescendo.
One of the hurdles we had to overcome when starting up was attracting people who wanted to work with a sextech brand. Sex, pleasure and intimacy are still taboo topics so people can be quite reluctant to associate themselves with a brand advocating these things.
So we took a different approach.
We wanted to collaborate with the best people so we approached agencies who could work with us on a project basis. This way we built a product alongside the best designers, developers and manufacturers in the market. Collectively, we worked together until we made something we were all proud of.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
We’ve been going for 3 years now! We had a slower start than your average hardware startup, because we spent a lot of time ensuring the product we were building had a real market fit.
To do this we launched our Pilot 1000, where we asked 1000 real users to test our product and supply constructive feedback, which we then implemented in production. Obviously this was an expensive idea (because it meant doing everything twice) and a first for a pleasure product like Crescendo, but it meant we had developed a truly user-driven product we were really happy to launch into retail.
Do you have any other women in your team? If so, how many women are in your team and what are their roles?
In our opinion, it’s essential for every company to have a diverse team. We spend a lot time thinking about user personas and habits, so having a mixed team is really helpful.
Crescendo is a gender neutral product, so we always seek a wide range of reviews from people of all genders and orientations.
It’s really important that everyone we work with shares our vision understands the importance of elevating conversations around pleasure - specifically for female empowerment.
That’s exactly why our CFO, CPO and Head of Communications are all women!
What was the biggest obstacle?
Getting access to finance that would support our growth was difficult for us. Startups in other industries can approach venture capital firms, something we just could not do.
That’s not to say we didn’t try - we spent a lot of time speaking to VC firms who were intrigued by our product, but ultimately turned us down for being too risque.
So our options were limited to self-fund, crowdfund or find angel investment. Luckily we found a group of amazing angel investors who helped us raise funds to continue on our mission.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder?
As I mentioned, accessing finance and getting the right people involved was really challenging for us. It was always our mission to encourage conversations about intimacy and sex, so getting our brand out there and our content noticed is also a challenge.
Getting your message out in a clear authoritative way can be difficult when you work in an industry that has deeply rooted taboos attached to it. That’s why we always ensure our content is informative, fun and thought provoking across all channels.
As for female founders, there is a lack of diversity in the tech scene, which is something women in the space are very much aware of. I love being a founder, and I think we have a responsibility to support each other and encourage other women to follow their passion.
I’m incredibly proud that we have an amazing tight-knit group of badass female founders in the sextech scene who are inspiring change across dating, intimacy, love and sex.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
In 2016, we became the first pleasure brand to win the Startup Sesame Event Accelerator award, the Young Guns Award and to be showcased at the Virgin Voom Awards. We were also nominated for the Best Hardware Start-up award at Europas, another world first for a pleasure product.
It’s been an incredible journey going from an industry outsider to thought-leader in the space of 3 years - especially when it means I get to talk about topics I’m so passionate about and change people’s lives for the better.
But our biggest win is hearing positive feedback from customers who now couldn’t live without their Crescendo!
What are your projects you are currently working on within your company?
We’re always working towards making MysteryVibe the first brand people think of when they want to enhance their pleasure experience.
It’s our belief that everyone deserves the best, most personalised orgasm they can achieve, and we’re happy to help them get there.
The taboo surrounding pleasure products is still very powerful, so one of our main objectives is breaking down misconceptions that surround pleasure and masturbation whilst using tech to create the most advanced products in the market.
Speaking of which, we’ve just launched the second version of our app which now allows users to create their very own vibration, as well as live-control each of the six motors. We’re very excited about this new level of personalisation!
I’m also working hard on our next product - keep your eyes peeled at the end of summer!
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and IoT industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
We’ve seen an increase in wearables designed to help women understand their bodies better. I’m keen to see this trend develop, and uncover the physical and mental health benefits it offers.
I’m also really interested in the intersection of fashion and wearables - from sensual jewellery from Wisp to clothes that have embedded feedback. That would literally give me goosebumps!
Why is #WomenInTech movement important to you?
As a society, it’s proven that we innovate and perform better when we work in diverse teams. Women have an incredible potential and drive to build products that will move society forwards. If I can help support them in any way - I will.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Everyone will have an opinion on what you're doing. Listen to and consider their advice, but in the end you need to make your own mind up what's best for your vision and company.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech?
Tania Boler - Elvie
Dr Elina Berglund - Natural Cycles
Wan Tseng - Wisp
And of course the Women of Wearables team ;)
Come and meet Stephanie Alys at our next meetup - The Future is FemTech, London 1 November!
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.