This article in Motherboard about sex robots could be (but isn’t) headlined “Patent Trolls Are Why We Cannot Have Nice Things.” It’s a worthy article that dives deep into that subject, although I believe the tech summary at the top (intended to establish the unwelcome truth that making a sex robot is an insanely-complex technical challenge) is too pessimistic, or to put it another way, in my opinion it sets the bar too high on the robotic features we’d need to see in a commercially successful and sexually satisfying sexbot.
But that’s not why I’m blogging about this article. Instead, I want to commend it for its summary of the financial challenges faced by innovators in sex tech. It’s as neat a summary of the #pornocalypse phenomenon as I’ve seen, and it confirms my long-argued theory that it’s the involvement of the investor class that drives the exclusion of sexuality from any modern business or product:
It’s an unfortunate reality that many sextech companies find it difficult to get small business loans due to morality clauses and banks’ concerns over “reputational risk.” And investors too are wary of sextech. Quitmeyer has lost count of the number of times he was invited to show investors a deck, only to be told afterward that while Comingle’s work is great, investors simply don’t fund things that fall under the category of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.”
“The amount of publicity that we’ve been able to gain at Comingle — if we were any other Silicon Valley startup, we’d already be in our A-round of funding upwards of millions of dollars,” Quitmeyer said.
“We’ve been kicked out of two accelerators!” he added. “We passed all their hoops and training and customer discovery and at the end, when they’re supposed to give you space and funding and support, they came back and said, ‘we checked with the higher-ups and turns out we’re not comfortable dealing with sex stuff. Goodbye.’ Months lost.”
Sextech companies also face restriction from other companies: Google and Apple, for example, grudgingly allow sex-related health apps, but their acceptance of sextech that exists solely for pleasure and titillation has so far been spotty. Would Play or the App Store let you gear up your sexbot as you begin your commute home from work in the same way they let you do with your Nest? Their track record doesn’t bode well for sexbots.
This turns off investors, too. Sean Percival, a venture partner with the seed investor firm 500 Startups in Mountain View, told me that being barred by such key distribution channels is a serious handicap for a company.
“Getting rejected [by a main distribution channel like Play or the App Store] would make it difficult for you to scale,” Percival said.
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