On the latest episode of Recode Decode, Recode’s Kara Swisher spoke with Lora Haddock, the founder and CEO of a sex toy startup called Lora DiCarlo. Last year, the company was told it had won a CES innovation award for its first product, Osé, but the trade group that runs CES — the Consumer Technology Association — overruled the judges and revoked the award.
“They said we couldn’t exhibit, so we said, ‘Okay, well, how are we going to get in the showcase?’” Haddock recalled. “And then they went quiet for a couple of days and then they sent us a letter saying, ‘We’re sorry, we’re going to have to rescind your award.’ ... They cited words like ‘immoral,’ ‘obscene,’ ‘profane.’” And my immediate reaction was, ‘How is vaginal sexual health and wellness profane?’”
The dispute turned into a marketing opportunity for Lora DiCarlo, which debuted Osé during CES at an independent event near the main expo. But Haddock says she wants the Consumer Technology Association to do some serious soul-searching about how it treats innovative tech products that don’t necessarily fit into old-school categories.
“I would welcome the ability to sit down with the CTA and help them figure out how to move forward, because the fact is, if they don’t move forward with products like mine and with female innovators, with people of color, with minorities, with the LGBTQ community, they’re going to get left behind,” Haddock said. “When you have an entire section of an entire demographic all by itself and those are the only people that are allowed to be there, to innovate, then you lose out on so many other possibilities.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Lora.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor-at-large of Recode. You may know me as someone who looks forward to ignoring CES every year, but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Today in the red chair is Lora Haddock, the CEO of a sex toy startup called Lora DiCarlo. She got a lot of publicity late last year when the trade group that runs CES said it was gonna give her company an innovation award at this year’s show, and then decided to rescind the award because oops, it was for a sex toy.
Lora, welcome to Recode Decode.
Lora Haddock: Thank you, Kara.
I don’t wanna make this a comical thing, because I do think a lot of technology innovation has happened in that industry and it’s often been ignored. It’s always been at the forefront of internet and digital stuff, and so I do wanna talk about it. I do know a lot about it, I wrote a lot about it in the early days of the internet, and how it sort of was an important part, and it’s also not an embarrassing part, either, necessarily. It sometimes can be, lots of things can be embarrassing. [Amazon] leaving New York is embarrassing, things like that.
So, let’s talk a little bit about what happened. Let’s talk about that, and I want some history of your company, too, and what went on.
So why don’t we start with some history of your company, and what happened at CES. And I really, truly, hate going to CES and have stopped doing so. Anyway.
Yeah. Agreed. Yeah, so we ... I started the company back in October of 2017, and the idea had been with me for years before that, but in the span of a year and a half, we went from concept to product prototype in hand, and we’re on our bridge to manufacturing.
And why did you decide to go into ... I want a little more background. What was the ... you know, this has been an area that’s been, there’s lots of innovative companies in this area. All kinds of ...
Yeah. Well, I think a big part of it was, I had this insane orgasm when I was about 28 years old. And it was a blended orgasm, and it literally landed me on the floor, and I stared at the ceiling for a minute.
All right. Innovation strikes anywhere.
And I went, “Okay, how do I do that again?” So I literally started to really dive into the anatomy and physiology of the erogenous zones in females, and I have a background in health care, and it’s a bit of an obsession of mine. So I started really kind of picking that all apart and figuring out, how do you do this? And what I ended up doing is ...
And what was the lay of the land when you looked around at the sector?
Yeah, well, I think it’s important to note that there wasn’t really any product on the market that really spoke to what we’re trying to do now, what ended up becoming this product. I wanted something that was completely hands-free for people with vaginas. I wanted something that could fit everyone, so there were no data points for where people’s clitorises are, where their G-spot, the Gräfenberg spot is. You can’t find that data or that spread of data, so I had to collect that myself.
And additionally, we wanted to eliminate the use of vibration in favor of human motion, or biomimicry. So I wanted to replicate the sensations you’d get with a human partner.
So you’re approaching it from an entrepreneurial sense, like this is how people make dating apps, or photo apps, or things like that. You’re doing market research, and ...
Yeah, yeah. So I actually created a survey, and I started collecting these data points by email surveys. Whoever would talk to me about it, and I wanted to understand ...
I’m gonna interrupt one more time.
But the history has been, there’s been a lot of technology, early porn stuff was what really fueled the internet in the beginning, a lot of sites which were ... And a lot of innovations, like Tinder came from a lot of ... I remember a site called mtomforsex.com, a lot of the early, you know, sample it and then subscribe kind of stuff. A lot of the conceptual ideas were very clearly ... And AOL for sure definitely benefited from sex talk, essentially. Not just benefited, it really did fuel a lot of the growth of the company.
Yeah, if you look at the VCR versus Betamax, Betamax lost out because they didn’t allow porn on their platform. So, what did we end up watching movies on?
Right. So technology’s always been a part of this, and had you researched that? The idea that this has been ...
Not at that time. Not when I first started. It didn’t really become ... because I, like I said, I have a health care background. I was more concerned with the anatomy and physiology, and the workings of it, like how it interfaced with human interface.
So it, at that time, it didn’t really occur me, I just knew that there was a dearth of technology that spoke to female physiology and how those products worked. They had ... there was a ton of stuff that’s like, one size fits all, and you and I both know that nobody, like there are no two people that are the same.
So when I started realizing there just wasn’t a product like this, I just started doing designs for it. And I started creating ideas around this and what I wanted that perfect product to look like.
Did you have funding?
Not at that time. I started gathering all that data, and then I ... right after I founded the company, I started pulling in funding, and that was actually part of what made this possible was a partnership with Oregon State University. Because if you’re gonna go create a new mechanical object or project like that, it’s extremely capital intensive. Engineering is, period. So I sat down with John Parmigiani from the Oregon State University Prototype Development Lab, and at first I told him ...
Can you explain what that is for people who don’t understand? Prototype. Not just Oregon State, but in general, what that entails. You’re making something, proof of concept.
Oh, prototype, yeah. So it’s what John helped us do. We’re creating a product from ... basically from conception all the way to you have something in hand. It might not be pretty, but it works, and that proof of concept is what generally is going to allow you to file for a patent, or protect your IP. And at that point, if you can say, “Yes, I’ve created it, yes, it works,” then you can protect yourself.
And that’s what we were aiming to do when I sat down with John, and you know, all of the ... my experiences aside, he was like, “I’m not sure about the application,” but when I handed him a document that had 52 engineering requirements in order to create the product, he went, “That’s something we can do.” So he gathered a team at Oregon State who ... Oregon State happens to be one of the top four robotics programs in the country, and we had a team of engineers that specialized in robotics.
I’ve got, actually I was speaking to Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short this morning, who is our mechatronics engineer, and she’s a PhD that specializes in robotics. And she was one of the first folks on the team, and we started creating that product, and throwing down the designs, and creating proof of concept, and we ... by the time we kind of wrapped up that industry-sponsored research project with Oregon State, we’d filed five patents. We just finished filing another four. So we’re on eight patents and we’re talking about filing a few more, in order to protect that IP.
All right, let’s talk about the product. What product did you create? Because robotics ... you’re talking about robotics. Explain what the product is.
So, what we’re trying to elicit is a blended orgasm. In order to do that, you need to stimulate both the clitoris, the part that you do see, and the Gräfenberg spot, which is actually associated with the clitoris, it’s part of it, it’s all a part of the same erogenous tissue. Most people really don’t understand that. It’s about the size of a halved avocado, and shaped like a wishbone, the clitoris. And it actually lies underneath the external ... internal labia. And what we’re trying to do is stimulate the whole thing, from the part that you do see all the way to the part you don’t see on the internal vaginal canal, on the anterior wall.
And so the product goes inside, it actually swells and conforms to fit to the individual user, and we’ve created a sweeping motion, kind of like a “come hither” …
I just love that term.
Right. So that sweeps over the G-spot. And what we’ve done is we’ve created a range of where most people’s G-spots lie. So we’re sweeping over that range. And then it flexes over the top of the clitoris to stimulate the clitoris touchlessly, and delivers an additional sensation to the entire body over the course of the clitoris.
So we’re stimulating the whole thing in a hands-free platform, without the use of vibration.
Right. And why is that? What was it ... I’m really interested in the actual technology of this, because I’m a technology writer. Yeah, but go ahead.
Why are we eliminating vibration? For me it was in favor of the use of biomimicry. Penises don’t vibrate, hands don’t vibrate, and I did not have ...
Well, in movies they do. In, like, Marvel movies. But go ahead.
Right, right. You know, I didn’t have this kind of orgasm using a vibrator, and we wanted something that was much more biological in nature. And in order to do that, we had to create microrobotics that utilized biomimicry.
Why had previous technologies been around vibration? Do you have any idea?
You know that’s ... I mean, we know that they started creating vibrators as early as the 1920s for medicinal purposes, and that was, ironically, then used to treat “hysteria” in women. Of course, everything looks like hysteria in women, then, so. Another thing is that they ... the vibrator was actually, I think, the fourth or fifth electronic device that was actually a household item.
Yes, that’s what I was going to get, I didn’t have the ... yeah, yeah.
And what that’s done, though, is it’s also vibrators have ... Vibrators are great, though. They’ve actually pioneered the way to miniaturizing motors. I mean, basically a vibrator is just a motor with a spindle with an offset cam, and you turn it on and it vibrates. So I think vibrators are great, they have their place, but ...
But you went for the latest technology.
Yeah, I want ... that’s what I wanted, I wanted that biomimicry, I wanted that real partner feel.
And inside the device, could you explain ... give sort of a broad sense of what’s in there, what you’re using from a technology point of view?
We can’t right now, because I know we ...
It’s a sweep, it’s not a vibration, it’s a movement.
So it’s a robotic movement.
Yes, it is.
Okay. And then it ... it moves, it gets bigger and smaller, correct.
Yes, it does. It gets bigger in order to ...
And no one had done this, no one had innovated in this area?
Not in the way that we have, no. You’ve seen some things on the market that are close, maybe similar, but all of these functions, all four of these functions all into one tiny package is what was really special about this. And no one’s really gone to the extreme of really trying to understand what the physiology, the human physiology looked like, and how you can speak to that with microrobotics.
And how much funding had you gotten for this?
It’s routed through an organization called the Oregon Opportunity Zone Limited Partnership.
That we created after federal law created the Opportunity Zones. In Oregon, it happens to be that they are right in the middle of some really great places. Downtown Portland is one of them, downtown Corvallis, and downtown Bend, so all of our suppliers are there.
What they’re trying to do is get startups going. All kinds of startups.
Yeah, and that’s really attractive to investors, because what that fund does is, when you invest capital gains, those cap gains sit in that fund as investments. And in 10 years, when you pull them out, there’s no taxation.
So you were part of these programs that are trying to encourage entrepreneurship in different areas besides Silicon Valley and other places.
A lot of cities are doing this.
Yeah. In addition, we actually took on ... we just got the grant for Oregon state’s Business Development Oregon, we got a Phase Zero grant for $100,000, because ... Not for, not just the technology, not just for a sex toy application, we are actually probably the first company that’s creating a sex toy to get a state-funded grant. But we’re creating jobs, and we’re creating new technology, and that technology has other applications outside of just what our application is.
And had there been any problem with these when you get them, even though you’re the first?
No. Not there. Not at all.
No reaction. I mean, obviously people make jokes.
Smiles, yeah. Like what ... not, it’s jobs, it’s making things.
Sex toys have been around forever.
We’ve had folks in the lab, they’ve seen what we’re doing, and they see it as innovative. They don’t bat an eye at it.
So, you have this thing, you create a startup. How many people are you employing?
Currently we are at about, we’re at 10. We’re in the middle of hiring right now, so we’re looking for all kinds of ...
Right, looking for 15 right now.
Robotics people. Yes.
We’ve got engineers, a mechatronics engineer, a senior mechatronics engineer. We just hired on a new director of engineering who’s a 30-year veteran in mechanical engineering, Kim Porter, out of Bend. She’s seen products from concept to fruition multiple times over. She’s amazing.
Right, and hardware is hard. Trust me, I’m not trying to make a stupid joke here.
It is, it’s very hard. Like I said, it’s extremely capital intensive.
Right, exactly, and most people who do hardware — like from everything from the Fitbit to other things — have very tough going.
Not just to sell and market it but to create it, rather than software that repeats itself over and over again with no additional cost. So it’s a long road. It requires a lot of not just money but also fortitude, and when you get awards like this it’s a big deal. Innovation awards.
Agreed. It’s an extremely big deal.
So tell me what happened. Tell the story.
So we had applied in, I believe, in September, and we received the award in October. The process you have to go through is, you have to get vetted by the CTA, your company has to get vetted and then your product has to get vetted and then they pass it along to a panel of expert judges. So we had experts in robotics and drones reviewing our product and they said, “Yes, this deserves an honorary innovation award in robotics and drones.” And they bestowed that award upon us. And we were ecstatic. I have a large team of engineers who felt very validated by this. The CTA is ...
What do you mean the drone area? That’s interesting.
Well, it’s “robotics and drones.”
They lump everything in. That’s the one category. If you’re a robot or a drone you’re going in that category. We know that CES has been, or poses itself to be, a pioneer in technology.
Had you been?
I hadn’t been before.
What did you do before?
I’ve been in health care for about 10 to 12 years. Everywhere from front of house to back of house, nursing, I was pre-med at Portland State. And I ended up going to Norwich University on a full-ride scholarship with the Navy prior to that and I was pre-med at the time when I started the business and I decided I didn’t want to spend another 10 years still to finish med school, so.
Good choice. So you got this possibility of an award, and?
So they gave us an award and we started planning for it. We put a PR plan together to be there at CES and to basically do our soft unveiling at CES and we were extremely excited about it.
When you apply and you get the award, they give you a showcase spot. So if you want to be in the showcase, you also have to be on the exhibitor floor. So we were applying for the exhibitor floor, you have to pay for that, so we were going through the rigamarole there.
These are booths, like any other convention?
Yes, and so if you want that, you have to apply for the exhibitor space, the booth, and that’s when we got flagged. They said, “You’re an adult product, this has to do with vaginas, we can’t do this. Nope.” And they flagged us.
They said “vaginas”?
Well, they said it’s an “adult product.” And the thing that we thought was strange is there are a number of adult products on their floor, exhibiting on their floor, so that was our first flag.
You see Naughty America? They do VR porn. There’s also a company called OhMiBod, they do vibrators and sexual stimulators. And we’ve seen a couple of products in the past, one called Little Bird by B.Sensory, really neat idea that was connected to an e-reader. And some other products that have won.
So they had done this before and they have had a lot and actually years ago, the pornographic show, what is it called?
The Adult Video Network and CTA, and the CES show, were the same time.
Was at the same time.
They were the same show. They weren’t at the same time, they were the same show.
Oh, they were? Okay, I didn’t, they were ...
It used to be in the same building, same show, it was because of the advent of video technology and the VCR. The VCR made its debut there. And so slowly, they started to part ways. They literally started to divide down the show floor and porn went to the back and CES went to the front. And then they split venues and then they started splitting further and further away in time. Now they’re two completely separate shows.
Absolutely. But the shows were at the same time. After they had split, you would see ... it was fascinating.
Yeah, for a time, yeah.
And you would wander into one because it was one of the halls and ... But it was great, it was actually kind of cool. I remember thinking, “This is kind of neat.” And if they are adjacent in terms of businesses. And it was often even a running joke there, if you can recall, you know what I mean.
Yeah, I can imagine. I’ve heard so many stories.
So one of my friends who was an engineer was like, “Whoa, are you a porn star?” And she was like, “Thank you, thank you so much.” They were like such a problem.
Yeah, we showed up at AVN last year and they were like, “Are you talent?”
“No, we just have the tech.” Tech. So they had had it before, they had been comfortable with this before?
Yeah, and they had it at that time. So they said we couldn’t exhibit, so we said, “Okay, well, how are we going to get in the showcase?” And then they went quiet for a couple of days and then they sent us a letter saying, “We’re sorry, we’re going to have to rescind your award. We’re taking your award away because ...” They cited words like “immoral,” “obscene,” “profane.”
Yes. And my immediate reaction was, “How is vaginal sexual health and wellness profane?”
And who said “profane”?
The CTA. They sent us a letter citing those specific words. And when you have a company called Naughty America, the naughty is synonymous with immoral or profane. And that doesn’t quite make sense.
So we said as much to them. We sent letters directly back to them citing that their decision was arbitrary. It was extremely capricious. And additionally, we thought it was extremely biased, considering what they had on the floor. And they returned back to us saying that, “Well, nevermind, forget we said that. There was just a misunderstanding, you should have never gotten this far in the first place.”
Right, okay. But what he ...
And the CTA, it’d gone straight up the ladder, straight to the head of the CTA. And what was interesting, it wasn’t the expert judges that rescinded our award. It was the administrators. So the administrators were deciding what was innovative. So at that point ...
Which is the way it should be, right?
Of course, of course. Same thing in art.
So at that point we said, “That’s absolutely ridiculous. Because we went through your vetting process. Your expert judges gave us the award. And now you’re taking it back?” How is it a misunderstanding, it got this far? And then they said again, “Forget everything. You are banned from the show and you are not, you don’t qualify for any category ever, at all, whatsoever. End of story.”
Why had they ... had they never given a sex toy an award?
They have, they have. A French company called B.Sensory, the product was called Little Bird. They’d given another award to a product that was produced by the company OhMiBod. And cable exercisers and multiple other products. But somehow this is where the buck stopped.
And do you know why that is?
They never gave us a true reason. And then after, they said we weren’t qualified for any category whatsoever. John Parmigiani at Oregon State sent them a letter saying this does qualify, it is a robotic product. It in fact qualifies for many of your other categories. And they never responded.
Never responded. Okay. Did you ever get to the bottom of why they did that?
No. They released a statement to the press saying, after everything had been leaked and we started getting coverage, saying that “We told them we were sorry two months ago. We said we were sorry and they never qualified.” That’s it. That was all we heard from them. So at this point ...
This is just ... I’m going to interrupt. This was a group of people that did a — I’ll never forget this — when I was at CES, they did a whole display of pink-colored devices for women, you remember that?
That was just horrifying. When I walked into it I was like, “What?”
Yeah, because women love pink. I love rhinestones, too. I mean, glitter’s great.
It was just insane. It was an insane display. And the whole push was to get more women involved. But they had pink-colored devices and I literally was like, “I will never come here again. Just who is thinking up this crap? Is it a child?”
No. So anyways, so they never gave you an explanation and then you just didn’t go?
No, well, we didn’t go to CES, we actually went to ShowStoppers, which is a press event at CES, and we did our release there. And you know what happened at the end of the show is they ... IHS Markit Innovation awards ended up giving us an honorary innovation award in robotics and drones. Go figure.
All right. So you went to some of the things. The side things that were there?
There’s all kinds of — for those that don’t know — there’s all kinds of side things in the ballrooms.
Press releases, shows, and ...
Press releases, which are good. Which are actually, they gather these companies. One is called ShowStoppers. The other, I always try to remember the name ... there’s bunches of them.
I can’t remember the name of it.
ShowStoppers is the one we ended up at.
But what you do is you pay to be there and then it’s easy for the ... and they have food and the press comes in. And it’s actually somewhat helpful. It’s like living press releases. And you get to look and stuff like that. And it’s actually a very efficient way to look at things because the floors are so enormous that you don’t ... Many of them have very good selections about who they pick, even though you pay to be there. They’re actually very good, they’re good at curating it. And so what was the result, then? You went there and got this attention?
We had already done the leak so we had already started getting some attention and getting some press coverage. So we had people walking up to our booths and going, “Oh my gosh, you’re here. Oh my gosh, that’s the product. Oh wow.” And it kind of exploded at that point.
And like I said, the ShowStoppers also put on in partnership with IHS Markit Innovations out of the UK and they gave us an award for robotics. And one of the things they said when they walked away was, “We promise we won’t take this one back.”
So what impact did it have on you? You got a lot of press. I mean, everything is a marketing opportunity, in a lot of ways.
You know, they couldn’t have done us a bigger favor. Because we know exactly, we know this product is innovative, it’s technologically innovative. What we’re doing and how we’re processing, the process by which we’re creating itself is innovative, we’re iterating on a daily basis. Our team is very dialed in.
And we kind of look at CES, and yes, they do poise themselves as pioneers in innovation and it’s kind of the show to be at each year. And I’m not mad, I’m not upset. I would welcome a conversation with them. I would welcome the ability to sit down with the CTA and help them figure out how to move forward, because the fact is, if they don’t move forward with products like mine and with female innovators, with people of color, with minorities, with the LGBTQ community, they’re going to get left behind. These people are innovating and they’re going to get left behind.
When you have an entire section of an entire demographic all by itself and those are the only people that are allowed to be there, to innovate, then you lose out on so many other possibilities.
Right, right. And they use the excuse of sexual, adult, whatever.
Like I said, where did we get VHS from? Where did we get ... how do you pay for things on the internet? Where do you think that started from? That started in porn.
Absolutely. All of it. People don’t know that. I’ve said this so many times, a bright line. There was a woman innovator who I brought to CES, actually, I did an interview with her. And I’m blanking. She was the most-downloaded woman on the internet but she was also brilliant. What was her name? Anyway, she was a very early pioneer all this. And she was absolutely brilliant in conceptual ideas around the internet. And it was downloadable porn, all kinds of things.
I brought her to a session at CES and all I had was guys snickering. And I was like, “Are you stupid? This woman has ... Her ideas are brilliant and she runs circles around you.” And Danny ... Danny something ... Anyway, it just was, she was way ahead of her time in terms of... In any case, they were snickering and I was like, “Oh God, stop. Get away from sex because you’re all teenage boys.”
And actually, my kids are teenage boys, they’re not like that. And it was amazing. I remember thinking, “What a bunch of idiots. This woman’s saying things that are very smart that you should listen to.”
Well, I mean, CES has had issues with being able to make women or people outside of white, cis, straight males feel “comfortable” at CES. And the biggest problem there isn’t the products particularly. Yes, a whole wall of pink is pretty atrocious. But the problem is how men act around sex, more so than the products themselves, that make most people uncomfortable.
Yeah, I can agree. One of the things you brought up is the bigger picture of women in technology. You’re probably one of the few women CEOs in technology. There’s so few, especially in startups.
Yeah. The fact is, only about 2 percent of all female founders, entrepreneurs, end up with VC funding, and .2 percent of that are minorities, people of color.
And two percent of all VC funding, and I think that spread in itself describes the dearth of female representation, of queer representation, nonbinary people, people of color, minorities.
Yes, completely, and when you have so little diversity in technology, you end up with things like hiring processes or hiring AI that discriminates against women. You end up with companies that don’t make as much money if they had actually started including women because they’re only marketing to a very small segment, a very small demographic that looks like them.
And you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. I mean, where women spend, where we spend our money, 70 percent of that comes from the female end of the household. We make 80 percent of the buying decisions, and you’re only marketing to the male side?
Right. Why do you think that is? I have no idea of why it is, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
To me, I mean, I’m in my 30s. I’ve seen ... I’ve talked to my mother about this. She burned her bra.
Did she actually?
She actually burned her bra. So I grew up in a very feminist-friendly household and wasn’t really exposed to a lot of this until later in life when I started realizing, wow, there’s a huge divide between men and women, where my ability to make choices about my body, where my ability to date someone and not be called a slut are concerned, and it kind of ... It passes through to everything. It passes through to business, to technology, even to health care.
Women actually spend as much as 20 minutes longer waiting for medication than men do, but it’s ... It’s to me it’s old guard. It’s been this way for a long time, and it’s just something that we’ve been used to, and I think a lot of people that are in positions of power, that C-suite, the manager ... The people in power that are holding the keys, that are guarding the doors, they’re men, and it’s not ...
I think on an individual basis, they’re actually very amenable to and want to allow diversity on an individual basis, but as a group it seems that people tend to want to allow others in that look like them, that talk like them, that have the same education as them.
I call it the mirrortocracy.
Yes. And you also had something that was a little titillating to them in some way, for some reason. It’s a mechanical device is what it is.
Well, something like that ... It’s a little frightening.
It’s a little off-putting.
And it’s aimed at women.
It’s a product, which you’re marketing to, correct?
We want to be as inclusive as possible. So it’s not that ... We realized that ...
Well, it’s hard. Men don’t have vaginas, from what I understand.
But they do buy for their partners.
Yes, they do. Exactly.
A good percentage of them do buy for their partners, and I’ve had a number of older white males come to me and say, “I really ... I appreciate my partner. I’m not intimidated by this product, and I want to get it for her.” And that’s what I was talking about when the individual ... Generally, on an individual basis, they do make the right decisions, but as a group they’re stuck in this rut.
How do you change this perspective?
I won’t shut up.
I’m just going to keep driving ahead at this point, and I think that’s how we’ve gotten this far in the first place. Every time somebody has looked at me a little funny, “Are you sure you’re going to do okay with that?” or, “Oh, that’s a cute idea that you’re starting a business.”
Do they use the word “cute”?
Yeah. The word “cute” has been used.
I hate that word.
I’m a part of the Portland accelerate program in ... or Accelerate Fund Portland Program, and that’s a collection of female and female-facing entrepreneurs, CEOs, and founders. It’s a cohort helping those people trying to really get ahold of their business.
This is advice and things like that?
Yeah. It’s a little class. It’s fabulous.
So we told that entire group what we were going to do. That we were going to do this leak, and we were going to blow the lid off the whole thing and expose it, and the reaction we got from the whole room was, “That’s great, but aren’t you afraid that somebody’s going to call you bitchy or whiny, or are you afraid that somebody’s going to pull your funding?” And those are all very real possibilities, but I don’t care.
We need ...
Has that happened?
I mean, we could get trolls. You’re going to get people that are going to be like, “Oh, she’s just being bitchy, or she’s just being whiny.” I’m sorry, if I was a man and I was doing this ...
You’d be “bold.”
Let’s think about Jeff Bezos last week. A hero, a hero for exposing ...
I’ve read a bunch of those tweets.
Some of them are very funny. Let’s be honest, it was funny.
Yes, it was. Oh, the tweets. I wrote a column in the New York Times about it.
I saw it.
They were very sweet. It was shockingly sweet.
I love the way you write.
Thank you. I wrote about him twice in two weeks about his penis. It was really quite something. In the New York Times. I was like, never in my life did I feel I would reach this peak of journalistic excellence, but actually this week I’m writing about the Amazon headquarters, which is not quite the ...
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she had a bit of a hand in that.
She did. She tweeted the heck out of him.
I just love her.
So do I. I mean, really, let’s be honest. She’s fantastic. Speaking of Xena, Warrior Princess. Nobody remembers that who’s under a certain age bracket.
I do. I identify with that, actually.
Yeah, exactly. Ay-yi-yi! Whatever, the yell. The whole weird Gabrielle relationship.
So anyway, we won’t get into that. So you’re ... what is your plan going forward? Let’s finish up talking. What are you going to do?
So I think it’s really important.
You’re still in Portland.
Yes. Well, we’re actually in Bend, Oregon.
We’re in Bend, Oregon. We also have an engineering lab in Corvallis. It’s right next to Oregon State University.
A lot goes on there. I think Nike’s there, right? There’s a lot of innovation.
Nike’s out of Portland. It’s in Beaverton.
Beaverton, that’s right.
There’s a lot of innovation in Portland. People forget that Portland’s got a lot of really fantastic, large companies, and also technology.
You don’t think of Nike as technology, but Intel’s there.
Oh, it is.
All kinds of companies.
You’re creating things, but it is a very sex-positive community as well, which is nice.
I think it is really important to note, though, that I think I’m always going to try to look at things from a more positive light, I suppose, and I think CES and the CTA still has an opportunity to turn this around.
What would you like from them?
I would love to sit down at the table with them and talk to them about how they promote better diversity. How they talk about sex in a way that is not immoral, that’s not profane, and I would love to see them turn that around, and I would love to work with them on some guidelines about how they do that.
You know what’s profane? The Facebook Portal, but go ahead.
Oh my God.
That’s profane. Someone gave me one, and I think I threw it at someone’s head.
So you’d like to sit down with them and talk about it and try to help them get there. Interestingly, Gary wrote me a note because I said something negative about CES, and he’s like, “We should talk.” So maybe we will have that happen. What could they do? What could that group do? Because it’s just one group, and it’s just a big event.
Having this biased rejection, it didn’t make any sense, and it’s just going to blow up in their faces, right? So, I mean, I think laying down some guidelines about what kind of products and what kind of companies and how you market on the floor.
That makes sense if they want to keep things a little bit more PG. That makes more sense to me, and really allowing a certain amount of companies in that fall within this category, because the last thing I want to see is a whole wall of pink.
Right, right, or something like that. Well, you also don’t want to be put in an area, right?
No, I don’t, and I think that’s really important. The last thing I want to do is be allocated or segregated to a corner, and have AVN start all over again. The fact is, some of these products are very innovative, and they do deserve awards.
Yeah. You don’t want to be in the back with the people who make those twinkly lights. You know, all these people in the way back.
Or cell phone covers.
Yeah. Cell phone covers.
There’s plenty of those. I think there are plenty of ways for them to approach this, but truly, if they weren’t to do anything, I’m going to move on. Our company is going to move on.
Where do you go as a small company to get attention and stuff?
Right now it’s ... We have a great opportunity to continue talking about this dearth of female nonbinary and minority representation within tech and within business because of what’s happened. I’ve actually been invited to speak at South By Southwest. I will be speaking at Muse Conference out of Bend. Muse is for women and young women, girls, and I’ll be speaking at Forbes Women in Tel Aviv end of March.
Getting the message out.
Yeah. And I think that’s really important. So we’re going to use that platform. And what’s really amazing about that is I’m not a woman of color — I’m Sicilian — but it allow us a platform for us to lift others up and lift their voices up, and for them to be able to talk about what they’re doing. So I want to take that opportunity. I want to be able to tackle that.
What about the company?
The company itself, we’re going to be releasing the product in Q3.
What’s the product’s name?
It means “risque” in Italian.
Okay. My family’s Italian, but I did not know that.
So we will be releasing that in quarter three, so end of fall, and we’ve got a couple of products on the road map. Actually, my director of marketing, Sarah Brown, likes to call it an “interstate roadmap,” and so we’ve got products for partner play. We’ve got a couple of lifestyle products that we’re hoping to fire off, and further down the road we’re hoping to start creating platforms, a developer’s toolkit for VR for our products. So people with vaginas can also experience VR.
I think it’s a side note, really interesting to note that Naughty America, we had somebody that actually went to their booth, and they asked her do you want the male perspective or the female perspective, and she was elated, and said, “Oh wow, you have the female perspective. I want to see the female perspective.” And then she put on the goggles and you know what she saw?
Two women having sex.
Oh. I know the guys...
So it’s our intent to truly create something for everyone.
And that’s really a big part of our mission is the inclusivity. Our values as a company is respect and empowerment and integrity, and that spans gender. That spans preference. That spans color. And that’s incredibly important to us.
Absolutely. I’ll end on that because that’s a fantastic way to look at it. Lora, it was great having you on the show. Thank you for coming, and good luck with your product.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.