When Soumyadip Rakshit introduced himself to YourStory at Arctic15 in Helsinki he talked about his degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering at the University of Kalyani, West Bengal, his PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Bath, his work into research, and his career as a consultant. All things one expects from a regular top techie, except he is not one.
While talking about his past studies on optical sensors, he casually pulled out a black box very elegantly wrapped in golden ribbons. As he laid it on the table, it looked like a normal pencil case, but its contents were certainly not stationery. Laid in silk, like an oblong electronic prince, was a vibrator. Once the story unfolded, it became clearer that dildo was meant to be the emblem of a message, rather than simply a sex toy.
Crescendo is the first product of MysteryVibe, which was founded in 2014 by Soumyadip, Robert Weekly, Shashan Xu and Stephanie Alys. Soumyadip, Rob and Stephanie were colleagues at Deloitte Consulting in London and the initial spark of the idea came on their way to work. Every day, they had to walk by Soho, a London neighbourhood known for Chinese restaurants and sex shops. They noticed that the sex toys exposed in the shops were always the same and wondered why. “For sure people wanted some other things. So we did a very informal survey chatting with our friends, and it turned out that most people had never found anything different on the market, so they never wished for anything new,” explains Soumyadip.
This was a very intriguingly unusual challenge for two engineers like Soumyadip and Robert. They wanted to see if they could create an innovative sex toy. “At the beginning it was just for fun, we were playing with electronics and it did not cost us anything,” recalls Soumyadip. Later, they became more serious and started researching into more data, and Stephanie and Shashan joined the duo.
The team’s first mission was to create a range of sex toys for women designed by women (Soumyadip and Robert would overlook the engineering aspects) to compensate for the great lack of good quality products of this type on the market. More than the idea, however, their winning move was their strategy of operation. They realised that the only way they could succeed was through partnership and interaction with users.
After a few months, they managed to partner with top brands like Seymourpowell (which include collaborations with Durex in its portfolio) for product development, Condiment Junkie for the sensorial experience, Untitled Kingdom for technology, and Fueled for the app development. The result was Crescendo, a flexible vibrator with six motors able to take any shape and to vibrate in 16 different rhythms with an induction charger.
As soon as it was ready, the team shipped the product to the first 1,000 customers who had pre-purchased it during the phase of development. The aim was to collect feedback to further improve the vibrator before releasing the final version. What came out of that, Soumyadip says, was a complete revelation. “We shipped Crescendo to our first 1,000 customers in 51 different countries (including India) and when we received the feedback we found out that it appealed to a huge variety of people from any age, sexual orientation, and gender.”
The feedback received not only helped the team to considerably improve their product, but also led them to broaden their ambition, both in terms of technology and vision.
On the tech side, they are now creating what they define the IoT for the bedroom. Soumyadip explains the assumption is that, “Working around to create the best sexual situation is actually counterproductive because that takes the instinctive and most pleasurable side away.” Grabbing a piece of paper, he sketches an ‘arousal map’, which he divides into four factors that affect sexual experiences: light, temperature, sound, and visuals. He shares that MysteryVibe aims to introduce sensors into their product, which could control each of these four parameters by collecting data from the body and sending them to other devices in the room such as smart lamps, temperature controllers, sound tools, and smart TVs.
“This could all be offline; it doesn’t need to connect to the Internet. The vibrator can send data to the computer and then send a little pulse to, say, your room temperature controller. It would create a much better and personalised experience in the bedroom,” exclaims a very enthusiastic Soumyadip.
As for the renewed vision of the company, MysteryVibe has embarked on a mission to spread healthy debates on sex and debunk the doggy stereotypes around the topic. They launched #MysteryCampaign to promote informative and non-doctrinal conversations on the web about sex-tech and sexual-related themes. “We want to be a catalyst for enhancing discussions about sex between people because we believe this leads to much better sexual experiences. Fifty percent of what we do is talking about this. That’s why you don’t see the product on the main page on our website,” says Soumyadip.
He explains that their decision to focus more on promoting sex related discussion rather than to market Crescendo is that selling is not their greatest issue. “It’s kind of easy to sell, so we don’t really worry about it. If you make a good product in this field you have very little competition. There are actually less than 10 companies in the world making luxury toys above the sub-$50 category,” says Soumyadip. Examples of competitors are the Swedish Lelo, and US-based Jimmyjane and Good Vibe. They all sell vibrators between $150 and 200, the same price range as Crescendo which costs £129 ($199).
Yet, low competition does not mean an easy path. The taboos about sex and the legal grey areas in matter of sex-related businesses have created a lot of headaches for the team, especially in their financial operations. Soumyadip shares, “When we went to open a bank account for the company most of the banks we approached declined our request because it was a reputational risk for them.” Then, thanks to connections they managed to talk with the head of a bank in person and persuade them about the integrity of MysteryVibe’s objectives. “But also VCs have morality clauses. Which is a big challenge because we’ve met several VCs who are interested but they can’t invest in us,” he continues. Yet, the team has managed to raise a total of £ 2.6 million primarily from angels in London, and in Hong Kong and India.
This helps explain why MysteryVibe is investing a lot in talking about sex. “The problem of sex tech is that at the moment the players are a few and there is not a proper ‘ecosystem’, like for example transport, where you have Uber, Bla Bla Car and other local companies,” says Soumyadip. Fostering debates on sex and pleasure would help the company grow besides benefitting people’s satisfaction in bed.
MysteryVibe is making its way into the market. It is now part of Google Launchpad, and Soumyadip says the technology they will have access to through the platform will help develop the sensors inside their product they are designing. “We’ll have access to tools like Nest, Deep Mind and we will really make the IoT for the bedroom happen,” he adds.
And so this is Soumyadip, an electronical engineer graduate from Kolkata with a career in corporates who became the CEO of a company that champions sexual wellness. He shares, “One of the best advice I’ve ever got was by this famous professor who said tech should be made for humans.” One cannot say he didn't take this advice literally.