Check out Vixely’s feature on The Grindstone, where we tell editor Meredith Lepore our experience as female entrepreneurs and changing the dialogue around one of women’s most important topics.
The Founders Of Vixely Tell Us How They Get Sex To Be Taken Seriously
Sex is everywhere. It’s on television, in the movies, in every magazine, clearly books and in a way, it is the focal point of the 2012 election. Even though we feel we have seen everything in this day and age, sex is still a taboo topic, especially in many business circles. But what if you had to go into a room full of male investors and pitch the importance of female sex knowledge in Silicon Valley? Well, that is what the women behind the new women’s media brand Vixely are doing right now.
Vixely was born out of the frustration over the lack of quality content for women on some of the most crucial topics, mainly sex. Nora Bass, COO & Co-Founder of Vixely, wrote in an editorial for The Huffington Post:
“Quality answers to women’s sex and relationship questions are buried in books or scattered online, and women’s magazines, by in large, remain completely out of touch with real women’s core questions on these topics. Cosmopolitan magazine, the number one selling women’s magazine, barely scratches the surface. Women’s understanding of their bodies, what they want, and how to communicate their desires are at the core of women’s comprehension of their sexual selves, and yet our society keeps women’s sexual experience shrouded in taboo. We believe there is an inequity between women and men that stems from a culture that encourages men to be sexually exploratory, but admonishes women for the same behavior. The proliferation of online pornography has made it the de facto sex education for young men, and without quality, digital resources for women, the result is a gap of information between Gen Y men and women, the societal implications of which we have only begun to see.”
The company provides a portfolio of interactive iPad products-including a Top 50 bestselling iBook on sex advice, the Vixely iPad Magazine with bi-monthly issues and a daily blog. I was lucky enough to chat with Bass and Jennifer Eident, CEO and Co-Founder about pitching sex content to a room full of suits, sexual politics in Silicon Valley and learning to code, which is actually the sexiest of all.
The Grindstone: So how did Vixely come together?
Nora Bass: Friends since college, Jen, Lara [Glaister, Director of Design and Co-founder] and I reconnected last year over our shared passion to solve women’s needs through content, technology and design. Vixely was born out of our frustration over the lack of quality content for women on our most crucial topics, including sex, in a voice that resonates and that fits our digital lives. We were fed up with with Cosmopolitan Magazine’s repetitive, inaccurate advice, empty Google searches looking for answers and the irrelevancy of books in our digital lives, and wanted to create a media experience that captures women’s real life experiences, as well as the questions and conversations we share with our friends. Further, we see the future of media on the iPad and want to bring women the visual engagement and unique experiences they want with our evergreen content in all the ways the tablet affords.
Before launching Vixely full-time, on the side of our day jobs, I was working on a women’s sexual products start-up and Jen was working on a media platform around sexual content for women. As soon as we connected, Lara joined forces to bring our imagery to life. We are our target demographic and, given our backgrounds, we knew we could fill the void for the 46 million digital Gen Y women who spend billions annually on sex advice and self-help.
The Grindstone: Did you all always picture yourself wanting to be entrepreneurs?
Nora Bass: My mother is an entrepreneur and I grew up around that “can-do” attitude and focus on a customer and creating products and brands to meet their needs. Since college, I was always working on side projects for products I believed in that filled an important need and that I thought could be the next big thing. My passion for women and for solving women’s needs was the catalyst that put me on the path of entrepreneurship and brought me to my like-minded co-founders.
Jennifer Eident: I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset and this is my third start-up—although my first where I am the co-founder and CEO. I really love innovative and creative environments and I am passionate about building products that impact people’s lives. I went to Stanford and learned how to code out of my desire to build a product in the online space for women, whom I feel are a very underserved demographic. Building a company from the ground up takes an incredible amount of dedication and perseverance—it is really hard for it not to take priority over everything else in your life. Starting Vixely with Nora and Lara was absolutely worth this sacrifice, we are all so passionate about our mission and really think we have the opportunity to change people’s lives and solve a problem that has impacted all of us. I definitely would not choose to be an entrepreneur for just the sake of it though—living a balanced life is something I look forward to in the future as we grow Vixely!
The Grindstone: Why do you think you guys work well together as a team? When founding a company how a team works together is pretty damn important. Are you all very similar or different?
Jennifer Eident: It was very important to me that we had a very collaborative, hands-on environment and way of working together. I brought the “design-thinking” methodology with me—all our walls are covered in whiteboard paint and all our ideas and decisions start with Post-It notes. The process of design-thinking—need-finding, brainstorming, rapid prototyping, testing, and refining—is instrumental to how we work as a team and how we see the future of our company. While we strongly believe that these processes are crucial for productivity and decision making, we appreciate that there also is an individual focus needed for other parts of the business, such as content production and execution, that require speed and strict attention to detail. Our different skill-sets as well as just our different outlooks have also been very helpful in shaping the product, but as with any brand, it is also crucial how much we agree on the voice.
Nora Bass: We work well together because while our skill sets are complementary they are also highly differentiated—each of us brings something unique to the table. We love the “design-thinking” technique to collaborate, ideate and get on the same page with the next steps for our company and then drill down on what we each do best to get the highest-quality content and products out for our audience. I think it also helps that, collectively, we always start with thinking about who our audience is, talking to them about what they want and actively following what they do, so that every idea stems from a need and every outcome (whether it’s a single piece of content or an entire product) fills a void. We lean on each other when we need each other’s support and bond because we believe in the purpose of what we do and work tirelessly together for it.
Jennifer Eident: We work really well together in large part because of how much love and respect for each other we have—we are like family!
The Grindstone: Was it hard to convince investors to come on board because of the content Vixely focuses on or was it easier? Did it depend if you were talking to a man or a woman?
Jennifer Eident:It has definitely been one of our biggest challenges to communicate the Vixely brand to some male investors, particularly in Silicon Valley. VCs like a one-sentence pitch or comparison they can make to quickly conceptualize the company. When they hear “sex,” they think “porn.” With women, it is completely different though—they get it immediately. I don’t think the “sexiness” has ever really been a roadblock beyond an initial hesitation though—when investors meet us, they get what we are building. Plus, my existing Stanford and investment network and the background and reputation of our team helped assure everyone that we were NOT going to be building some sleazy sex company or anything related to porn!We are trying to give sex a good name and fight a stigma that is isolating to young women—walking that line has been hard.
In the early stages of a venture it is crucial to get investors on board that are huge cheerleaders for the company. Angel investors tend to invest in the next “them,” and, understandably, it’s hard for most men to personally relate to our users’ need. In general though, investors get that sex sells. And they get that Gen Y women are huge consumers of this content and are underserved in the digital space and that we are the right team to be building this solution. Most of our seed capital and angel investments have come from friends and family (including passionate female entrepreneurs) and we have been very lucky in this regard as it has allowed us to focus all our time on building, launching, testing and refining our products.Luckily, we are a really cash-efficient business and have already started generating revenue and have a really low burn rate. I want to carefully scale the business and to always be cash-efficient, which is why I am not out raising a multi-million dollar VC round right now as I have seen how this has hurt other companies. We do want to make sure we have the cash though to maintain our growth, make some key hires and be able to scale while the market is still very early.
The Grindstone: We have talked with a lot of women in Silicon Valley about the culture being sexist? Would you agree?
Jennifer Eident: I grew up in the Middle East, studied math and engineering, worked in finance, went to business school—all predominantly male environments. The Silicon Valley tech scene, however, is where I have most felt my gender to be an “issue,” a topic of discussion. This is not to say it has been a disadvantage, I personally did not feel any “sexist” sentiment, as I have never felt my intelligence or respect come into question. I just found my gender to be very front and center—there are so many “Women in Tech” organizations, events, articles and each time I am talking to an investor and expand on Vixely the response is “I don’t know that space, but let me introduce you to… [Marissa Mayer, Alien Du, or any one of my other fabulous female role models who don’t work in the media space].” Media is not a typical Silicon Valley company and our milestones, business model and key factors for success are not the same as, say, the typical Y Combinator company. I get frustrated when someone will try to apply the same “start-up formula” on Vixely but most investors get we are not the typical Valley start-up (I would also like to change the word “start-up” to “high-growth small business”!) and their way of making introductions to the right people and to people who get media and the female consumer is really helpful.
The Grindstone: We’ve heard from some female entrepreneurs that New York is just a more friendly environment towards them in comparison to Silicon Valley? Do you feel that way?
Jennifer Eident:I think New York has absolutely been a better match for us. I can’t speak for all female entrepreneurs, but definitely in terms of the media space. I really think it is more of a question though of the product you are building; the problem in Silicon Valley isn’t necessarily the uncertainty of a female as a founder but the lack of understanding of the female as a consumer. How crucial the “brand” is in targeting the female user and how different we are as purchasers. For B2B companies, pure tech plays, and products targeting male consumers, Silicon Valley is the right place for both male or female founders in this space.I attended a New York City Venture Connection event last week my friend hosted and guests received a T-shirt that said “New York: 3 Hours Ahead of Silicon Valley.” I love it! SF is still the place to be in tech I think, but the NYC start-up scene is rapidly expanding and growing up.
The Grindstone: How important is understanding coding in what you do? Would you recommend taking a coding class to anyone starting a company in the digital space?
Jennifer Eident: YES!! That is my biggest piece of advice to any entrepreneur. I currently act as our lead engineer—I am mainly self-taught (W3Schools!), although I have some formal education from Stanford. Understanding the capabilities of our product as well as what it takes to build various features, determining the platform and making tech hires I think is virtually impossible to do without someone with some tech background on the team. Our founding team is all very product focused, we all built it together and have never outsourced anything.
The Grindstone: Why is now such an exciting time to be a female entrepreneur?
Nora Bass: Now is a really exciting time to be a female entrepreneur because there is finally more investment in companies that really address so many of the unmet needs of women and that have female leaders at the helm. Women are highly dynamic consumers, and as female entrepreneurs it is exciting to design our products around the women with whom we are so in touch and to see more products tailored to our needs. Now more than ever, women are disrupting traditional businesses from fashion to beauty to media, satisfying legions of female consumers. You also have more female investors helping female entrepreneurs along the way, serving as great mentors who can also move the needle for female founders from an investment standpoint to launch thoughtful, needed products.
The Grindstone: What is your favorite part about your job and what advice do you have for women who are thinking of starting their own company?
Jennifer Eident: My favorite part is seeing the consumers we impact. My biggest piece of advice is find a really big problem you are truly passionate about solving. Be bold. Challenge yourself.
Nora Bass: I love hearing from women how much our content resonates with them, and that it makes them feel empowered and confident. My biggest piece of advice is to believe in what you do, look for an opportunity that leverages your individual talents and serves the greater good, and stop at nothing until you satisfy your customer.
Read the full interview at The Grindstone.