I think music can play a huge role in people’s mental state. Sometimes when I’m feeling sad, I embrace and acknowledge those emotions, but I give myself a cutoff time. I help myself ease out of the bad mood by purposefully putting on some Carlos Vives or another musician that always lifts my spirits.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meli Chamorro and Elayne Safir, co-founders and co-CEOs of Eforia.
Together Meli and Elayne bridged their expertise in product design, content and marketing to start Eforia, a company on a mission to modernize and normalize sexual wellness and exploration. Since launching in January 2020, the Eforia app has gained 1,1000% user growth and widespread appeal to consumers interested in sex-positive content, self-care, wellness, and the ever-lucrative romance and erotica entertainment.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Meli Chamorro, co-founder: My background is in advertising and design, having worked as a creative for over 10 years in various well-known advertising agencies in Miami, Paris and New York. I’m also a first generation American with Nicaraguan parents. At Eforia, I lead the editorial and marketing team.
Elayne Safir, co-founder: I’m originally from Ukraine but have lived in NYC for the past 27 years. My professional background is in tech and user experience design — I’ve been working in digital development for over 20 years (having made my first website as a teenager before most people even knew what a website was). I’m a big advocate for a more mindful, socially-conscious approach to technology and product design — and active in the product and tech community as a public speaker and moderator. I most recently organized and hosted a featured, sold-out panel on the need for ethics in technology at the SXSW conference. I lead the product, design and tech team.
Meli: We came up with the idea for Eforia two years ago on Elayne’s rooftop in Brooklyn. After one (maybe more) bottles of rosé, we started talking about our own as well as our friends’ positive and negative experiences with “sexting.” It led us to start thinking about how the medium of mobile technology deeply affects romantic communications — and how it can open up new possibilities to create interactive fantasies and inspire people looking for a consensual, fun way to chat. We quite literally said, “there should be an app for that!”
Elayne: The next day, Meli called me and asked if I was hungover and if I still thought the idea was good. It was a “yes!” to both. After a lot of research into the space, we decided to create an experience that brought the best of erotic literature into the 21st century. It’s also important to mention that the app was conceived during a peak of the #MeToo movement and intentionally designed to show how the language of consent can be sexy.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Meli: I was in advertising school several years ago and came up with what I thought could be a really fun idea for a scripted comedy series. Ever seen a stock photo that is just utterly bizarre? Like a clown jumping out of a box in the middle of a desert holding a rubber fish or something. I loved thinking about what the story could be behind those photoshoots and the actors who model in those photos. The series would be about one such stock photography company. So I came up with some ideas but it never really materialized into anything. Years later, at another job, we had to pitch show ideas to a client who was starting a content platform. On a whim, I pitched the show, they loved it, and a couple of months later, I was in LA on set for the filming (they even kept the title I had originally thought of). What this taught me is that sometimes a good idea can still be a good idea but the timing wasn’t right. Never give up on something, it might happen at the weirdest time but ALWAYS keep your great ideas in your back pocket.
Elayne: I was working on a research project a few years back, and venting to my partner how frustrating it was that our sample group was limited to local participants in and around New York City. Without skipping a beat, he suggested we take a work trip to another state to do the research properly. I never even considered this was a possibility! A week later, we were on a plane flying to Kansas City where we ate too much BBQ, collaborated closely with a local colleague who proved invaluable to our research, and learned a ton of important insights we never would have had otherwise. This whole experience taught me to question what’s possible, speak up when I see an issue, and ask for what is needed without fear. The worst possible thing is they’ll just say no, right?
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Meli: My biggest mistake was not fighting for the salary I deserved at a job. I got an advertising job at my dream agency in Paris, and I was so excited to just get the opportunity that I totally low-balled the salary amount when asked, and ended up financially struggling while living there. As I would later talk with my other co-workers, I saw the things they asked for (and got) and realized that I should never undersell myself again. It doesn’t hurt to ask. It might be a dream opportunity, but they are still hiring you for a reason and for your skill and experience — you aren’t doing them a favor.
Elayne: I’m pretty independent and passionate about my work, so it took me a while to learn that egos don’t belong in team sports. When I was younger, I’d fall in love with my designs and take it as a threat to my career or professional reputation if my ideas were questioned. But I learned pretty quickly that you are almost never better off working as a lone wolf — and it’s not about you solving all the problems on your own, but about creating the best possible solution for your customers. The end result always turns out so much stronger when you ask for advice, surround yourself with a truly diverse group of people (who will not just agree with you), and collaborate. As they say, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
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?
Meli: A person who really helped me achieve success is one of my former team partners, Alejandra Guerrero. She was my team partner at a job in Paris for several years. When we were offered the position, we moved there together (without speaking a word of French!) and got each other through some of the craziest times and experiences in my life. This was prior to the #MeToo movement, and often had to fight for each other and each other’s ideas when we were the only women (or “girls” as they referred to us) in the room. I’ve obviously had incredible mentors throughout my life, but sometimes it’s the people at your same level that make the most lasting impact.
Elayne: I’m endlessly grateful to one of our advisors Peter Espersen. We met while I was on a short-term contract research role at a start-up and he had just joined the same company as Head of Product. I was trying to keep my head down and stay out of people’s way, but he encouraged me to join meetings and be a more active, vocal part of the team. That experience taught me how important it is for people in senior roles to go out of their way to make junior team members or new employees feel included. We stayed in touch after and he has been a fantastic professional mentor. When I decided to overcome my public speaking shyness by plunging into the deepest end of the pool possible — applying to speak at the SXSW conference to a crowd of 800 people — he helped by showing me anything is possible if you just prepare for it well. He’s also been a crucial part of helping Meli and me with Eforia from the very beginning of it just being an idea — to now, as we have thousands of active app users in 145 countries around the world.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Elayne: We believe that — no matter your age, gender, orientation, or relationship status — sexual well-being is a crucial part of emotional and physical self-care. We did a lot of research into female sexuality and sexual wellness when we were starting work on Eforia, and saw just how underserved women and the LGBTQ+ community were in this space. There are a lot of cultural taboos and judgement about sexuality in our society, and the internet isn’t always a safe place.
Our sexual identity and interests often grow and evolve throughout our lives — we may suddenly find ourselves curious about new kinks, uninterested in activities that we used to like, or experiencing a fantasy involving a different gender or multiple partners. In our society, there’s no perceived safe place to go for questions about your sexual journey — people are too embarrassed to verbalize these to their friends, worried about upsetting their partner, and don’t feel comfortable coming to their OB/GYN or their regular therapist with questions about kinks and pleasure. They don’t want to search for answers online because of privacy concerns.
So what we set out to do is create a holistic, modern and premium sexual wellness experience. Our hyper-focus on user privacy is meant to make people feel safe and empowered to explore their sexuality through the interactive choose-your-own-adventure style games. Everything (from the content to the visual details) was meticulously designed to calm, inspire and heighten the senses. The interactive experience is augmented by erotic art featured on our newsfeed, the anonymous Q&A advice column with our Certified Sex Therapist, and the fantastic articles about relationships, sexuality, and gender identity.
Meli: We want people to feel good about engaging with the app and it’s working — our users report that the app feels like a special treat and they consider it a part of their self-care regimen. This is especially important now as so many of us are practicing social distancing during Covid — people have written to us to say the app helps with feelings of loneliness and inspiration for some “me time”, as well as helping them revive and boost the relationship with partners they are in lockdown with.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Elayne: Getting enough restful sleep is crucial to being able to function well. Studies have shown when we don’t sleep, our alertness levels drop to what’s considered being “impaired” on the legally drunk scale. Set a “go to bed!” alarm and stick to it.
- Meli: I think music can play a huge role in people’s mental state. Sometimes when I’m feeling sad, I embrace and acknowledge those emotions, but I give myself a cutoff time. I help myself ease out of the bad mood by purposefully putting on some Carlos Vives or another musician that always lifts my spirits.
- Elayne: I also really believe in the power of positive aesthetics. When you make your environment feel beautiful and special, it stimulates various parts of your brain, elevates your mood, and can positively affect your physical state. I try to add visual delight to everything — even small things, like arranging my food on the plate in an aesthetically pleasing way. It makes a simple mid-day snack an exercise in wellbeing.
- Meli: Masturbate! It’s good for you, literally. Our certified sex therapist at Eforia, Rachel Klechevsky says: “Masturbating regularly can help your mood and release tension — and it can be a lot of fun. It also enables your body to stay sexual even when you aren’t having sex. Orgasms release the endorphins dopamine and oxytocin, which can give you a natural high.” It can also help you get more aware of your unique sexual needs. That can eventually translate into better sex with your partner(s).
- Elayne: “Self-care” doesn’t have to mean big, dramatic, time-consuming activities, like checking into a silent retreat for a week or cancelling your Facebook account (although both sound pretty great right now). It could be as simple and yet endlessly rewarding as saying “no” to a request when you already have too much on your plate, or taking an extra 5 minutes in bed before getting up for some “me time”.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Elayne: I’d love to have the entire world take up our mantra of “sexuality is wellness and self-care”. A lot of deep personal, social, criminal and political issues worldwide stem from shame, judgement, and persecution of people’s sexual identities — and the barriers we’ve created which make it difficult to speak up about your sexual desires, needs or boundaries. We have to normalize sexual well-being and remove the stigma of discussing it openly.
Meli: I echo Elayne on this one. There is so much stigma and shame when it comes to sexual wellness, even though it’s a natural part of life. I consider myself a “late in life lesbian” — I didn’t realize I was gay until I was 30 (this happens more often than people think). I wasn’t in touch with my body or my desires. I was giving in to social norms, which led me to a series of sexually unsatisfying experiences in my 20s. I would have loved to have more resources when I was younger to help me discover and get comfortable with my sexuality as a normal, healthy part of my overall well-being — rather than just something dirty people shouldn’t talk about.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Meli: That I’m gay. Would have saved me some time! All joking aside, that sexuality is a spectrum and that we shouldn’t shy away from exploring what our place on it is.
- Elayne: Prioritize relationships! Invest in your friendships in and out of the workplace. Projects, jobs, and entire career tracks will come and go, but the strong connections you make along the way will help through all of life’s difficult changes.
- Meli: When looking at a job opportunity, don’t look at the job in a vacuum. Think about what the opportunity means for the job you want to have after this one. Sometimes we have to take a step back to take two steps forward. So perhaps one position isn’t at the salary you would like, but it will be a shortcut to the next incredible job you want.
- Elayne: True happiness comes from the intersection of doing what you love, getting fairly compensated for it, and making a positive difference in the world. You can grow your career anywhere — start with your passion first and figure out how you can use it to help make life better for someone else. The rewarding feeling you’ll get from doing this work will fuel your hustle, and help you persevere and succeed financially as well.
- Meli: You aren’t supposed to (or don’t have to) have it all figured out by a specific age. I thought I was supposed to have the “corner office”, husband and kids by the time I was 27. I’m 35 now and clearly I was very wrong about that, and thank God I was. I would have never thought I was going to live in Paris, but I did. I would have never thought I was going to be starting my second business and helping people with their sexual wellness, but here I am. Life and career can be a winding road and you might miss out on all the surprises and excitement if you try to stick too rigidly to a plan that no longer serves you.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Elayne: While environmental changes are definitely the biggest threat to our species, I believe mental health is a key issue that can’t be put on the back burner. We have to invest in our mental health and well-being — and in building strong social support mechanisms for helping individuals in distress or crisis, on both micro and macro levels. Otherwise, it’ll be incredibly hard to tackle any of the other big issues we face — like engaging in the long, hard work needed to successfully address climate change.
Meli: I agree with Elayne (again) on this one. Obviously the environment is a HUGE priority and issue but you can’t make a significant impact on any societal issue if you aren’t taking care of your mental health. That’s why on planes they say to put your oxygen mask on first.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Meli: I’m on Instagram too — it’s not as curated as Elayne’s, but I do alright. @melisachamorro