VentureBeat: What’s interesting about the history is that CES and the show that became the AVN Awards, they were together at one point. People complained. They said, “Hey, this is taking over the show.” You had all these long lines of guys looking at stuff behind the curtains. And so they separated the shows, with AVN coming a couple of weeks later. It’s strange to consider that if they were still together, you might be allowed in.
Haddock: Not to go way, way back, but there are plenty of ways they could have done that differently and kept the two together in a much more synergistic relationship as well.
VentureBeat: It maybe goes back to what you’re saying about male-facing versus female-facing.
Haddock: That’s the biggest point here. If you’re going to separate it and say there’s absolutely no sex tech whatsoever, then there absolutely cannot be porn on the floor. You can’t have a sex robot for men. I don’t agree with that. I think there’s a space where this can balance out. Because you’re also talking about — they separated in, what, the late ’90s?
VentureBeat: I think 2001 was the last year. I don’t know if that’s exactly right.
Haddock: In any case, if you’re going to separate out only a handful of things that are sex-related, if you’re going to pick and choose, and not allow somebody like us, or someone else that does a very classy, very innovative product, at that point it’s just capricious. It’s arbitrary.
Brown: Also, a big part of it is, we’re 20 years out from that period in time. The massive strides that have been made with the technology that’s going into pleasure products — it’s light-years ahead. We’re using medical-grade silicone now. We’re using different types of polymers and plastics for the motors. We’re using robotics, of course, which is not something that’s really been used in pleasure products before. We’ll continue on that trajectory.
VentureBeat: The robotics element, how necessary do you view that as far as making the product better? Is there a way to explain the value there?
Haddock: In creating micro-robotics, we’ve also created bio-mimicry, the mimicry of human motions. In that, we’ve been able to eliminate the need for vibration. We’ve created a product that acts very similarly to a human partner, which is far more effective than just using vibration. It moves in the right way, in the right places, and can fit each individual user. It can be customized for a particular person. It’s absolutely essential for this product, and in the years to come you’re going to see more and more of that trend.
VentureBeat: I guess you can’t just call it a vibrator anymore, then.
Haddock: [laughs] Well, we don’t call it a vibrator! Just to give you a bit of background, I’ve worked for Lelo for the last five years. I’ve seen the way that the industry has grown and the new types of technology that are getting integrated into these products. I worked in product development previously. People are looking for new sensations.
One thing that hasn’t been done in this space is really creating something that makes you — first of all, it’s hands-free. It also stimulates both the G-spot and the clitoris. Most of the time people end up using their hands. They’re either holding two separate toys, or they’re using something like a rabbit vibrator. It’s still something you have to hold onto. By having these robotic technologies and these personalized features in the product, you’re really creating a space for people to do other things.
Whether it’s the ability to just zone out, and not have to be active while you’re using it, or maybe they want to watch something, but the fact is — women use their brains a whole lot when they’re masturbating. It’s the most erogenous zone in your body. If you can’t concentrate on what you want or what you’re doing, it actually makes it much harder to achieve orgasm.
VentureBeat: I pretty regularly get tech-related pitches from sex toy makers. The market seems vibrant.
Brown: It is. It’s still growing. I’ve been involved in this for a long time. I’ll be attending AVN this year. We attend the internal trade shows like ANME. There are always new people joining in, especially women. Right now I’m loving, absolutely loving seeing all of these brands jumping into the market and saying, “Companies run by men just aren’t making products for women’s bodies, or for gender-non-conforming or non-binary folks.” They’re getting in and saying, “I’m going to make something for me and for people like me.”
That’s where a lot of the vibrancy is coming from, I think. We’re finally starting to see that diversity in adult. We’re starting to see people who, before, may have worked in stores or been involved in parts of the business, but they weren’t CEOs. They weren’t directors.
Haddock: Those people are now looking at products and thinking, “I could make this better.” Another part of that, too, and the reason for this surge in the industry, is just the social acceptance overall of sex, of masturbation, of sex toys. There’s an increased use for therapeutic purposes. There’s an increase in internet sales. The global sex tech market is predicted to explode to nearly $30 billion by 2021.
VentureBeat: Who compiles that figure?
Haddock: That’s TechNavio. They do every industry analysis, looking at who the major players are and what the market looks like. We pulled their report and it’s very promising.
VentureBeat: I guess CTA is just not keeping up here.
Brown: You know, I think they’re missing out. This is something a lot of people are talking about with older industry groups. It’s like cable TV. Cable doesn’t innovate, so you have people like Netflix who come in and innovate for them, taking away a massive amount of their subscribers. Either you change, or someone’s going to make something new and different that includes a lot more.
There’s a huge opportunity here, especially within the diversity area, for CTA and CES to be a leader in that space. Not just dealing with the PR fallout that happens every year, but really sitting down and putting together a strategy around how you put in more people, more exhibitors that are diverse.
Haddock: Taking steps to get ahead of the game, rather than just reacting and dealing with the cleanup.
VentureBeat: Did you get anywhere close to having a direct conversation with the CTA?
Brown: We had a very quick repartee a couple of times. You’ll see that in the PR packet.
VentureBeat: I read all that, but it didn’t sound like much of a conversation.
Haddock: Yeah, they neglected to really address any concerns or issues that we raised. That’s unfortunate.
VentureBeat: I mean, it would be hard for them to explain why they let these other exhibitors in.
Brown: We’re not really sure about that. We’re not sure about what sort of grandfathering is going on. Some of these companies have been exhibiting for almost a decade, still. But then you see one-timers or brand-new folks that pop into CES. One thing that was very confusing for us was the fact that they couldn’t tell us why we were no longer eligible. They couldn’t answer any of those questions.
What we’ve created is extremely innovative. It’s a bit of a technological anomaly in our industry. We have some of the most amazing engineers working on this, along with a partnership with Oregon State University and their college of engineering. It’s no easy feat. It was very hard to hear that suddenly, after we’d gone through the entire process, and been selected as an honoree — suddenly we weren’t eligible. We never got an explanation.