Choose your investor like you would a spouse. Early on we did attract an investor who was more focused on the profit than the social change. He came in and wanted to change everything about us, our values, our name, our way of doing sales. Luckily we held out for an investor who wanted to join our team and shared our values, he celebrated our choices and passion, yet is fully capable of arguing for his ideas. It has made this journey a joyful one.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Kathy Hoyt. She is a Clinical and Developmental Psychologist that has 30+ years of experience as a therapist, professor, consultant and researcher of psychology. Currently, she has 2 focus areas — one as the CEO of a sex tech startup called Una Touch and the other as a public speaker on creative thinking for Fuse Creativity in Bend, Oregon. The common thread is that pleasure and creativity are necessary for mental health and juicy life. Connect with Kathy at www.unatouch.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/unatouch.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Deciding to make a better vibrator for women comes from my feminist roots in the 70s and 80s. I developed a deep frustration with the way society crushed women’s drive for joy, sexual pleasure, good product design, and body positivity. In high school I read every book about sex in the rural library of my hometown, in my 2nd year of college I answered calls on the sex info line, and in grad school, I took classes like Erotica and Art — -trying to understand why there were so many taboos, why the need to crush the erotic spirit of women? And why for god’s sake were vibrators made so cheaply, by men, with no regard to the design of the female body, and sold covertly in dark XXX stores for men? Fast forward to 2013 when sitting with a group around the campfire, I was asked what product we could make as a tech startup. Instantly I said a better vibrator with inclusive beautiful marketing. Little did I know that the taboos, the poor design of vibrators, the shame associated with sexual pleasure from my study of society 43 years ago were all still alive! So here we are on a fast track to making a difference for women.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The weeks leading up to our first trade show (SHE Sexual Health Expo in LA) we were filled with worry. We had a new prototype, we had never run a booth at a trade show and we had never interacted with people from the sex industry. We were open-minded to other people’s ways but not wildly experienced in the world of sex. My husband and I felt nervous about how we would fit in — — an academic and an engineer — -in a trade show devoted to XXX products with well-traveled salespeople. I worried that our innocence would show and our product would be dead in the water. When we first walked into our 10 X 10 booth, we found that our neighbors included a porn director, an erotic yoga instructor hanging from the ceiling, a 10 ft. tall silicone dildo with dragons, a naughty webcam maker who specialized in dental fetish, and a woman taking spankings from customers all day. And you know what? We were shocked to find that the “natives” of these sex trade shows were helpful mentors and kind/funny people. They were curious and supportive of our cause and the most accepting people my husband and I have ever met. These are people who regularly practice passion, tolerance of diversity, and willingness to step out of the norm — — and they were lovely, inspiring people. I hope we fit in as we go forward and add to the kindness shared.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Developing a vibrator with your husband can lead to some very funny experiences. He is an engineer which means that he is exact in his design details and wants the product to be perfect. I, on the other hand, am a psychologist and I focus on the emotion, the sensation and the experience. So when we test out our prototype you can imagine that it gets silly at times. I am lying down trying to meditate on the experience (not the product), and my husband is at the foot of the bed peering in with a headlamp and changing wires hanging off of the prototype. Which is silly enough. But then one night we made the mistake of leaving the bedroom door open. The first one & then another labrador jumped up to join us, taking up the whole bed. Next, a cat showed up to sit on my face. And finally, the skittish other cat heard the vibrator start and suddenly jumped across my belly in large plops. My lesson — -if you are alpha testing, close the door.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company at the core is made up of 4 people, but our advisory company is a community of 50+ people who are welcome to share ideas and skills with us. This means we have heard stories and shared wonderful belly laughs about the joy of sexuality. We have had 80-year-old women on our advisory board tell us to hurry up and finish the product before they die of old age. In one of our exploratory groups, a gyno nurse displayed her skills at holding vibrators like cigars. We have watched women talk about their fears about sex tech, and men talk about why they think vibrators have a fascinating effect on women. Skills come out of the woodwork in this community — -a dental assistant is working on our chip inside the device, a retired engineer dissects huge squishy blue vibrators to understand motors, a jeweler is preparing to refine our device shape, a recreational clothing sales person helped with our early marketing, a hairdresser will be a booth babe for us, a construction contractor made a testimonial video, and a friend of our child will be designing our trade show booth. We hope to hire more local people as we scale up and hope to collaborate with other local businesses on product baskets and partnerships for charitable efforts. This feels like a community effort, a village effort to raise our product. That not only makes us stand out, but it feels really good!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our first vibrator is still in its final development phase — — it is a device that encourages women to express their creativity. Instead of providing patterns chosen by a male designer at the factory, the woman can design her own experience like composing a symphony of sensations. She can play the same “melody” again next time or make a whole new symphony. The other exciting thing about our new vibrator is that it is designed to support the needs of disabled women, women of different ages, and body sizes. The out loud message is that all women are sensuous, beautiful, and creative.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Intentionally practice creative thinking with participatory exercises — — explore different ideas, perspectives, biases, emotions, and behaviors. This will allow your team to cope better with difficult obstacles, conflicts, moments of stuckness, and stress. Creativity has a beautiful way of allowing us to feel, intuit, celebrate, and bond that nothing else does. Freedom to do this as a team protects the group from isolation, inappropriate decisions, and boredom. Juicy thinking brings balance and quality of life at work and beyond.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
The same advice as helping a team to thrive. Helping people see that they can make a difference, they can speak up, they can show emotion and share their diversity with the larger group is very powerful for most people. Activities and exercises that encourage confidence but also allow “failure” in front of a larger group are absolutely necessary for most of the businesses with which I consult. Most of us have never had the chance to speak, innovate, fail, and recover in front of a large group. The development of these skills allows for smoother communication in the long run. Of course, the leader has to do all of these skills in front of the group too!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
After two years of pitching for funding to people who loved our pitches but then were too threatened to invest in a product for women, for pleasure, that emphasizes creativity — — we were disheartened and very very low. Out of the blue, a new friend came into our Curious Soup group that meets once a month to eat and talk. He is a retired engineer from Silicon Valley. He heard our story and plopped down a large investment immediately — -no hesitation. As a man, it’s amazing that he would fund a product for women. As a gay man, it’s truly amazing that he would fund a product for women. He continues to be an engineer on our team because he is a giving, juicy soul.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Una Touch has pulled lots of people together in our community and across the West, as we have an advisory group of 50+ women and men supervising our design. Our connections have led to wonderful discussions about body and sex-positivity but also encouraging creativity for all — -especially elder women and disabled women. Some of those same people are sharing their skills to help launch Una, so it feels like a Bend, Oregon product, not just ours. Una is involved in education too — -I have given a talk at the Sexual Health Expo about sex and creativity. We are developing a partnership with a startup in California, devoted to a new curriculum for the schools that integrates mental health and sex education.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely at times. You must be willing to stand up for your ideas even when no one else does. Pitching to investors is an especially lonely time where you get 3 or 10 minutes to take a risk with your ideas and be vulnerable with your passion. Your vision must go out further than the moment.
- Choose your investor like you would a spouse. Early on we did attract an investor who was more focused on the profit than the social change. He came in and wanted to change everything about us, our values, our name, our way of doing sales. Luckily we held out for an investor who wanted to join our team and shared our values, he celebrated our choices and passion, yet is fully capable of arguing for his ideas. It has made this journey a joyful one.
- Creativity can threaten people with power and money. Until I pitched to large audiences, I had no idea that creative women and sex was so taboo. My eyes were opened at a large pitch fest filled with older white males with money — -out of all of the pitches we got the most applause. At the reception, I noted that we were surrounded by young people, women, and people of color. The older men were distant, busy, and avoiding eye contact. A young black man pointed out to me that he knew that same feeling himself — — if you threaten the white status quo, then you simply don’t exist. To my amazement, he explained to me that our product threatened the heck out of these older men — — even though the idea and profit possibilities were positive. I was shocked and grateful for his observations.
- Get to the core quickly, you don’t need to justify. Because I spent so many years of training and teaching in academia, I learned to speak with lots of detail, citations, and justifications. Most people just want the core and they want it quickly with some sprinkles of emotion and metaphor. This is especially true when someone asks what you are making for a product.
- Men can be very supportive of your precious ideas. I assumed that women would be our biggest supporters going into this area of vibrators and inclusive marketing. And I assumed based on my experience with the pitch fests that men would be our most resistant mentors and customers. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the warm support provided by the men in our community for this project, and I have become humbled about it too. From funding to mentoring to testimonial videos, our male friends have made our success possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Across my 30+ years of experience as a professor, therapist, and business consultant I have seen an increase in people resisting joy, silliness, exploration, and play. Joy has become something to be suspicious of, threatened by, and considered a waste of time. There is a fear of emotional exploration and innovation that is reflected in how we view work, sex, play, and relationships. Indeed those in power are often threatened by emotional & innovative experiences so they squelch it for the rest of us. I would like to inspire a movement towards intentional joy — — making joy happen with total abandon and total freedom to experience it. Intentional joy meaning doing purposeful behaviors like an exploration of ideas play at work, public silliness, confidence to take a risk, fail and rise up again, seeking sensuous love for self and others. I use the word intentionally because many people think that joy can only come to them accidentally or randomly — — when in fact we can intentionally practice joy so that it comes when we invite it and it comes to visit us more often.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” …….George Bernard Shaw
For a long time, I lived for the needs of others and it was a good run. But now I want to create my experience and do it with as much joy as possible. I want to be a joy agent.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There are so many people…..but I would love to chat with Greta Thunberg, the school-aged girl from Sweden who is gaining notoriety for her passion and action about climate change. She is inspiring in her journey and her power of persuasion, using angst to power her breakthroughs with adults and politicians. I would love to hear what her inspiration is and thinking strategies on such a divisive topic, and how she copes with the emotional fallout and celebrations of her advocacy.