There’s an interesting interview and profile in Business Insider about Brian Sloan, a former lawyer turned sex toy manufacturer, who direct-sells sex toys for men. He makes a sort of blowjob machine called the Autoblow, an early version of which I blogged about obliquely and skeptically here. (Not this kind.) First Sloan got hooked by the easy money buying and selling antiques during those first golden years of the eBay boom, and then he got into the sex toy business because antiques don’t scale:

I began importing latex fetishwear from China during my time as an eBay seller. The reason was simple: going to auctions took a lot of time and effort and was not scalable. I needed high profit margin items I could buy from China, in quantity, to properly grow the business. I used Alibaba.com and connected with a latex factory in south China. I grew the business significantly by making custom sized rubber suits for larger people, and figuring out sub-niches of the latex fetish culture.

The key factor in the success of that business was clear: willingness to do whatever it took to grow the business, and not caring what other people thought of it. Once, I even had my mother videotape me and a friend walking through a shopping mall in Skokie, IL, wearing giant inflatable rubber suits!

At a certain point, the latex business also wasn’t scalable enough for me so I moved onto toys. I thought about a few other businesses and got close to launching brands of a few products, including anti-snoring devices and a teeth whitening system. I decided to stay in the adult industry as I had gained so much knowledge about it during my time selling latex.

The adult industry was particularly ripe to “disrupt” because of the combination of unusually high profit margins combined with industry-wide poor e-commerce knowledge. Only one brand of male toys and a few adult mega-stores had a high level of Internet marketing or online selling technology knowledge.
Ninety percent of adult toy brands only focused on high-volume manufacturing/sales solely to distributors. The breakdown of retail price allotted to manufactures in the adult industry is not pretty. I figured with what I learned about internet marketing from the latex business, and my location near factories in China, I could create internet-only brands and sell them for very competitive prices by cutting out the middlemen — distributors and retailers.

The most surprising people open up to him on airplanes about sex toy use:

Doing this kind of work, strangers sometimes feel its appropriate to open up to me on sexual topics that they would otherwise keep private. Once I was on a flight from Chicago to Qatar and met an oil executive who was working in the Middle East. The first part of our conversation centered around his role in his church in Oklahoma and some stories about his children who were Christian missionaries in Asia. To my surprise, when I told him what I did for a living, he told me that after his kids all left home and him and his wife had a lot of time on their hands – they bought their first sex toys!

And what is it like, actually trying to ramrod the manufacture of a complex mechanical sex toy in China?

I worked with a company in Taiwan whose normal business was manufacturing Wi-Fi whiteboards and commercial-grade air conditioning controllers. I thought that because they understood how to manufacture complex electronic devices, they could also manufacture my Autoblow 2. I was wrong. Their team lacked knowledge of ergonomics, had no experience working with TPE, the material that now comprises the interchangeable sleeves.

After working with them for 1.5 years, they managed to create a product that essentially collapsed upon itself when one tried to use it. It was a huge disappointment.

Basically you need a designer or two, a sourcing team to source the different components, and a few factories to work closely with to produce the main parts. Picking the right factory partners, and making sure that your main factory picks the right sub-factory partners is probably the most important aspect of the entire process. If one supplier factory is producing a sub-par component and your main factory doesn’t catch it, the whole project can fail.

It’s frankly not a very sexy process and involves talking with engineers, sometimes via a translator when things get technical, about things that make everyone in the room blush.

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