We're spoke with Alex Fine, the CEO of Dame Products. Dame Products is sexual wellness company based in New York that makes gorgeous vibrators and personal lubricants.
So could you tell me how you got started with Dame?
Yeah, sure. So I have a lifelong passion for passion. I've always been really interested in what makes us feel erotic and what erotic connection is, and a lot of the things that circle around that topic. I also had a real desire to start my own business.
So I got my master's in clinical psychology, thinking I wanted to be a therapist, but I felt very impatient on that journey and wanted to get out there and do something. I worked in consumer goods for a little bit, selling shampoo and while I was there, I was like, "Oh, this is like, this is cool, but like, what do I want to sell?" For me, there was such a clear need when it came to sexual wellness, to creating tools, and bringing value to the world in a way that can help us harness our sexual power for good.
Then I had some wild vibrator ideas, one, which was Eva, and I really got started by taking a half dollar coin, wrapping it in some cellophane and putting it in between my labia, or labium. And you know, it stayed in place. I was like, "oh, we can use the folds of a vulva to hold something there." Yeah, that was the first step.
Then I bought vibrators, and I took those vibrators apart, got some moldable plastic and reshaped an external casing around a vibrating motor, and had some friends come over and take off the pants to tryout my crazy looking vibrators. The goal here was create a product that stayed on top of the clitoris and didn't block the vaginal opening allowing for p in the v intercourse, or any type of vaginal, penetrative intercourse while creating a tool that has clitoral stimulation.
From there, I was really lucky to meet Janet Lieberman, who went to MIT for mechanical engineering, and took the crazy shit I was making, and turned it into a manufacturable product. We launched on Indiegogo, the crowdfunding platform, and we did pretty good on Indiegogo.
How was your experience crafting the campaign on Indiegogo and crowdfunding as your first step to create a product?
It was a roller coaster. It was amazing. I think, you know, before we did that (crowdfunded), I had some experience with authorities, if you will, and trying to bring my business venture to them and get some type of feedback. I literally had somebody write on an application I wrote, "Is this a joke?" Like, for real. I mean, I also had lawyers who were women and thought it was a dope idea and did my legal work for free. So there were definitely some people who were lifting me up. But there are people that were definitely shutting it down.
I think as a 26 year old at the time, with a wacky vibrator idea, who's never had a business before, it can be really challenging to get that off the ground. I'm so grateful, I feel so blessed to be able to invent something during a time when the internet exists and bring that concept straight to the people and get the people to show up like, "Yeah, I would pay for that. I'm willing to pay right now for this product that you haven't fully created." To have 6000 people do that, it was so validating.
Of course I thought it was a great idea. That's why I was like not getting a job and working on this product. I definitely thought it was a million dollar idea or whatever. But to really get that validation pretty much right out of the gate so quickly. I mean, I cried. I cried a few times.
Now you have how many products do you have now?
We have about 12 products, but really six vibrators.
You've obviously come a long way from a half dollar in your vulva. Can you tell me about some of the challenges you faced along this journey?
You know, I think that there are challenges that I face that everybody faces and those challenges that I face that are really unique to being in this category. I'll start with what's unique to the category.
It really is just like the taboo and of course, there's this intersectionality of the two: it's hard to be a woman to raise money and it's hard to be in this category and raise money because there's so many advertising restrictions, or so many things that prevent the growth of your business. So it's hard for investors to want to give you money when they can give another company money that can go easily spend that money on Facebook ads. I can't run Facebook ads, I had a hard time getting a lease, I've had a hard time getting a loan, all all because of the nature of the business and the category. I think when you bring those two things together, you know, it becomes even harder.
It's even harder to be a woman raising money talking to a bunch of men about a problem some of them don't believe exist. Then, you know, having to pitch them and be in that kind of power play and talk about sex all at the same time. It's challenging.
Then I think there's just other challenges with running a business. I mean, it's hard to run a business. I think some of the hardest things come down to human to human interactions, you know, really understanding what motivates the people around you. Then making sure we all understand where we're going and then rowing this boat in the same direction.
I don't know if this is a good quality or bad quality, but you can't help continuously asking yourself when you're the "leader"whether so-and-so is not performing their best because of them or is it like what I am doing? Am I not giving them the right information? Somebody else said this to me once: entrepreneurship is like an accelerated path to enlightenment, because if you're doing it right, you're just going to constantly learn about yourself. Like Kant, you know, it's so much easier to blame external sources for your failures when you're not the ball.
There are lots of entrepreneurs trying to build something new or people who are thinking about entering the space who don't really know what they're getting into. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to enter the sex wellness space?
Yeah. Let me first say: I don't think that the accelerated path is the best path. There are so many ways to live a fulfilling life and I don't think entrepreneurship is always the right or best path for everybody.
I think that the most important thing, and I struggle to do this, is (regularly) redo vision work. What is it that I really want out of life? What is it that what I want my life to look like in three years and five years? How much money do I want to be making? How many units do I want to be selling? Or what's the impact that I want to be having in the world? What's going to make me feel good? Because I think when you really understand your desire...I think it's like knowing your star: you can have such strong, beautiful desire when you really know what it is that you want. I still struggle with that. Sometimes I just realize I'm like running around in a circle and I mean, I'm like, where am I going? How am I really trying to impact the world? What's super important to me?
I think this is probably good advice outside of the sexuality industry, but I think also really very much so within it, there are so many ways to help people get better get more in touch with your sexuality and to have a more fulfilling sexual life. I wanted to be a sex therapist at first. I think that feels like the only path sometimes. There really are still so many other paths besides just education and therapy. Sitting down and being real, like, how do you want to do this? And what what do you want out of it too? I would suggest people start there. And then call me once you know so I can give you better advice.
Also, I feel like there's nothing more important than the people you work with. You could you could be doing something you love. But if you're just surrounded by people, you don't love: it's painful. So figuring out how to be in a great environment and being able to help cultivate a great environment, which I'm not saying I've done perfectly the whole time, I think that's key.
Want to learn more about Dame? Check out www.dameproducts.com or follow them on social @dameproducts