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Dame Founder Alexandra Fine sued the New York Subway to make a stand for women’s pleasure...

Today on the show we have Alexandra Fine. One of the women behind Dame.

Dame is leading a sexual wellness revolution as a women-powered resource for game-changing products for pleasure and supportive content. Through in-depth research, smart design, community input, and plenty of empathy, the Dame team has designed a line of exceptional tools to enhance sexual wellness for vulva-havers and their partners everywhere.

Dame is not only revolutionizing toys for sex, but changing the way we experience, understand, and explore sexuality as part of holistic wellbeing. Since 2014, the team has opened doors that have long been closed to the sexuality industry, becoming a key player in the movement to bring pleasure to the forefront of wellness.

We talk through her approach to building this business, crowdfunding, marketing and how she uses the businesses challenges as her opportunity. You might have heard that Dame sued the MTA and has had some pretty exciting stuff in the works these past few weeks.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Alexandra, hi, hello, welcome to the female startup club podcast. Hi Doone, thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be talking to you today. We have a lot to cover lots of exciting stuff in the works. I always love to just start by getting you to actually introduce yourself in your own words and tell us what game is from Alexander. Fun. I am, I think a pretty weird person I ever could be called the products. You need tools for sexual pleasure. So that looks like toys for sex, that looks like lubricants, body positioning, pillows, content courses. Those are all the ways that we are trying to help close the pleasure gap, help people honor their sexual pleasure and yeah, that's me. Yeah, that's you. I mean, well we love weird people on the show, I would say, I'm probably kind of weird to, I'm down, I'm into that. Let's rewind. I know that you started somewhere in the vicinity of 2014 at the kitchen table, probably with humble beginnings.

00:04:34Edit I think I read you had some silver coins in the mix somewhere. Can you take us back to that time? What are you thinking about starting this business? Where does your entrepreneurial story begin? My dad worked for the family business and my grandfather started so um that I was exposed to it. I knew what it looked like to work for yourself. I knew that you did not have to be brilliant to run a business. So that was definitely something that was interesting to me. I knew that that was Jeffrey, a can be a powerful way of just being in control of getting to be more of your foolish self, whatever that means in the workplace. I knew that you could realize a lot of wealth that way too, that if you want a successful business, you can either sell that business or it can, you know, generate increasing cash flow for you. So I think just witnessing the family business has made me want to be entrepreneurial. But then my passion was really for passion.

00:05:39Edit Like I was really just fascinated by both like this experience of sexuality pleasure being a woman and that intersectionality of those things of like, you know, my first kiss feeling like the guy was high fived and like I was like shamed, but we had like we did the same thing together. I don't understand why we're getting different responses. So I think that really sparked something in me and it just felt like so much burden of sexual pleasure of intimacy. Yeah, strong intimacy was put on just women and I wanted to that's kind of where my like, education flu. I was really into sexuality and sexual pleasure. I ended up getting my Master's in clinical psychology at Columbia, but realized like I'm pretty impatient and that I didn't think going, getting my PhD and for another like six years was really what was going to feel fulfilling to me, I was filling me with passion.

00:06:43Edit So ended up working in consumer goods after getting my master's in clinical fight? And I loved it. It just wasn't theoretical, it was pretty tactile. It was like nice to like do something and see the results pretty quickly. And then I was like, okay, how can I combined my passion for pleasure and intimacy and talking about this topic that impacts us so much that we can't seem to figure out how to talk about with owning a business. And it was just so apparently once that clicked for me that like, oh toys for sex, sexual pleasure products is the whole industry that I don't feel like is innovating in their product category and I don't feel like they're marketing to me in a way that resonates with my experience for these products. So that just felt like great, that's an opportunity right there. And that was kind of where the idea started. I had a first product idea that was either the hands free vibrator that you can wear a while you're having penetrative sex.

00:07:49Edit Most people with bulbous and need control stimulation in order to have an orgasm. So this provides that. And we launched a partnered with M. IT engineer who helped me iterate on that concept. We launched on Indiegogo and raised $575,000 and 45 days. It was a really tremendous way of starting a business? How did you come up with, like a prototype to even begin with? And then what was leading you towards the crowdfunding? Like how come you weren't like, let's go get VC dollars or like let's put our own money into it. What was the journey there? Yeah. So you did put our own money into it, you know, there was like a year of work before we got the crowd funding to your point, you know, and I think you have a product idea, there's a good chance you can start making it in your home in someone. And that's like what I did also, I did get my art minor which was ended up being very of a minor and fine arts is very helpful in this endeavor and starting a business.

00:08:54Edit The first thing I did was I took a half dollar coin, I wrapped in some cellophane and I put it in between my outer labia and it stayed in place and I was like, oh wow, like this part of your body can hold something. So that was like arguably my first prototype. And then from there I got multiple plastic and I molded it around the pancake motor, which is a vibrating motor type. And I started making vibrators and trying those out by taking apart other vibrators and using multiple plastic. I was able to make it stay in place. I started having friends come over to try it out. All of this is easier if you're not making a sex toy to you know, because it's easier to get your friends to come over and try out whatever else it is that you're designing or creating. Uh but my friends are pretty awesome about it and I learned really quickly that you know, and needed a movable part in order to adjust to not only different body types but also as we open and close our legs and move our bodies.

00:10:02Edit So I started, you know, iterating there, I joined a maker space and starting to learn how to three D. Print. And I started going to like founders meetups where I eventually got put in touch with M. I. T. Engineer named Janet Lieberman who was able to do everything. I was doing much better. Uh huh. So she took like there's like three D. Printed products that I was starting to make and she went home, she tried it, she was like, oh this is I can make this. Like I totally understand what you're going for here, this is really informative. And then she was able to Design A three D. model really quickly or much faster and start testing that with real people. Um when we got it to a place that we felt really comfortable with and started finding a supply chain, that's when we went to Indiegogo. So I had purchased like a three D printer. I already wasn't working a full time job.

00:11:08Edit These are important. Yeah, these are important moments. Yeah. I got I was working on the product by myself and then I got a goat from the start if I was working on and I think that was like It was so awful. I was 25, I you know, it was like a straight a student. I never thought I would get fired. That was not something I'd ever considered. And so it was really tough for me. Um it ended up being amazing. It was the silver lining. It was such a silver lining. I feel like that happened often in life moments that feel like problems are often really opportunity is and that was really the case for me. Like I was already working on game and the first product Eva and then I mean I was kind of applying to jobs but I just started working on it more and more and more. I was living in my grandma's pool house which was a huge privilege.

00:12:14Edit So I didn't have to worry about rank. Then I met my co founder and I had some savings and she had a little bit of savings. So he put it in and we bought a three d printer, started working with a marketing agency to help us put together the crowdfunding campaign and then re launched. And I know you also asked why crowdfunding. I think that if you have a physical product offering crowdfunding can be a really powerful way of getting your first injection of capital is likely to be some could be your most expensive or probably will be your most expensive capital. And I think it really depends on what kind of company you're trying to start. But for me There was just no way 26 year old out with her bag of prototype vibrators was convincing a VC to invest. And then also In 2014 or I think it was 2016 when you did the campaign, It was 2014 when we launched the campaign in 2015 when we started shipping.

00:13:22Edit So it was even like 2013 when I started having the idea and you know, I remember I applied to an accelerator where somebody asked me if it was a joke after the company concept was like a joke and male or female who asked you, I don't know but like we know but we know so it was like an accelerator where the judges like gave you written feedback and that was supposed to be like, hey look at the very least you're gonna get written feedback from some experienced entrepreneurs. And you know, I got one that was really helpful, took it seriously and one that literally that was the whole thing they wrote was like, is this a joke? Um yeah, really disheartening. But then there were other moments where like I, we went to go get a patent and because the way the product works is really unique and I wanted to protect it and I got into a entrepreneurial program with Fish and Richardson where they did not charge me for the for the legal work until like later on in the business and there were two female lawyers and they totally got the concept and they were like yeah we'd love to do this work for you.

00:14:47Edit So that was like a moment of real validation in the direction I was going. So really like I look back and I'm like wow had I not gotten that validation and maybe only gotten some of this negative feedback early on, I wonder if I would have kept on going. It's really important to also like create your own validation and not to lie to yourself, but like create a survey, go on google survey I think is what's called where you can like pay some people to like, are you interested in this? Like does this product or offering seem like something you would use or go interview people in the niche that you're in or whatever it is because it's important to have conviction in what you're doing. 100%. And I mean for you, you had obviously you have that moment with those two female lawyers who gave you conviction and what you're doing gave you the confidence boost. But then you obviously go through this crowdfunding campaign, you raise half a million dollars.

00:15:52Edit I think your goal was something like 50,000 or 38,000 or something a lot smaller. You sell 10,000 units. It takes off. Do you think that was because of the planning and the marketing agency doing something extra special than usual? Or do you think it was just truly right place, right time it hit the right people and it just spread? Yeah, I think a little bit of both, but mostly the latter. I think that when you find product market fit and people really want it, that's really important. But it's kind of two fold because it was also timing. So when I think that Eva as a product concept was, is a product that a lot of people desire and want. So if you have something like that, you have a great product that is great, but also a unique product. Then crowdfunding press. Those things will kind of come to you. I think we did do a great job of articulating the problem.

00:16:57Edit There is a pleasure gap. Women are four times more likely than men to say sex is not at all pleasurable. People with all those need more control stimulation. Here's a product that gives you more clitoral stimulation in a way that's going to likely work with your current sexual practices. So, that really resonated. I also think we did a great job in the video of explaining like this is how far along we are on the prototype. Like convincing people that we could actually make the product. And I do also think it was like culturally decent timing. We really were the first female team to come together to make a product, make a vibrator and like just nobody even done that before Really, Which is wild and that is so wild. My God. Yeah. Yeah. And like it's a little hyperbolic, you know, Babe Lands existed. Babe Land is a sex toy shop and that was started by women and I imagine that at some point they probably white labels and made some products, but really they were a store first.

00:18:04Edit You know, we really were innovating on the product category. So I don't know do you think that was really timing? You know that was just like us existing and like feeling the pull of the universe into the space that the universe was ready for. Then on the flip side it feels like the universe wasn't ready for it because in a really eye opening experience to watch the world change around this conversation Like 2014 vs now talking about women's pleasure and talking about sexual pleasure as part of the public discourse has like that, that's just completely shifted. So that's been really cool to be a part of that wave. Yeah, pioneering that change and being you know, the voice for women everywhere. I love it. I want to switch a little bit to marketing because I know that you have obviously had a lot of challenges in this space. You know, it's typically one of those categories that falls under the umbrella of taboo, which is wild, but I feel like you've probably got some real gems in how you got the word out in the beginning, how you were spreading the message.

00:19:12Edit Obviously you have the Kickstarter campaign, but following that those next few years and I want to talk about it because I read an article you were saying somewhere online that you were accustomed to coming up with creative solutions when capital wasn't readily available to you. And I want to understand what are some of those creative solutions you were doing over the years? Dad, I said it that well, like that was a quote where I'm like, uh probably said it less eloquently. Um, but I think just like if you make great products, like that's really important to say something powerful, I'm saying something like if in your marketing you can really have a conversation that provoke people's ears. I guess people interested in 1000 conversations back with you. I think that's really important. I think it's important in the same vein there things that are going to get presses attention, which is kind of that's too full, but you can get press attention.

00:20:17Edit You don't need that earned media earned media is so powerful. There's freeways is getting people to talk about your brand bye. You know, for us like our challenges, we just tried to turn that in to our opportunities again. So as much as we could you have an example. Yeah like the M. T. A. Campaign or when facebook shut down our odds. We try and get journalist to talk about our initiatives there and the challenges we're having because then we're getting the advertising and I think in both those instances they really sparked a fascinating conversation around why is this a taboo? Like how the taboo gets created in the first place? I think it took me a second. I don't love complaining. And sometimes those things felt like I was complaining but they are my real experiences of platforms preventing me from growing my business. And they also are preventing my business from realizing its mission of honoring sexual pleasure and helping consumers and people honor their sexual pleasure as a key part of their well being.

00:21:32Edit But if we're not allowed to hold space for those conversations then like what we're implicitly telling people that their sexual pleasure isn't important and that all of these other things are like you know for example in the M. T. A. Like where we couldn't run ads like you know there were ads for breast augmentation that's apparently important with ads for erectile dysfunction medication which is they're both important. Everything is important and valid and those are a real need that consumers have but so are sex toys and we should be allowed to advertise as long as we're not making people feel aroused on the subway. I see no reason why we can't advertise. In fact, I think my whole mission at game is also to help people understand the importance of having public conversations around sex. So this way we can have clearer boundaries around what is OK and what is not okay, I think that what we're doing is helping stop people masturbating on the subway, not encouraging it.

00:22:34Edit You know, I've experienced that here in new york and it's awful. It's an awful experience Doing here as we get deeper into the holiday season. You might be thinking about ways to keep your business connected through the madness with things like employee holiday travel by our behavior changes and Q4 wrap ups, staying connected has never been more important from marketing to sales and operations, hubspot Crm platform is ready to connect all of the touch points of your business, whether you're just getting started or scaling to what's next. Hubspot is consistently working to make its platform more connected than ever, improved forecasting tools, give you a bird's eye view of your entire pipeline to see what's around the corner, see how your quarter is going, inspect new deals and use customizable data driven reports to improve team performance as you grow with custom behavioral events, you can get into the details of what makes your customers tick track site behavior and understand your customers buying habits or within the platform, learn more about how a hubspot Crm platform can help connect the dots of your business at hubspot dot com.

00:23:43Edit You've just announced this crazy news, crazy win for you guys. But basically to backtrack for anyone who is listening in and doesn't know what the M to is, which was me before. You know, I looked it up to is the new york Metropolitan Transport Authority I think it stands for and basically it's the subway and you as a company sued them some year, you sued them at some point. And can you explain like the context of that process? Like how much does it cost us to the M. T. A. By the way, Are you allowed to talk about how much the legal fees for this one? I think I am, I'm never like there's definitely things I'm not supposed to talk about but like I really doubt I'm not talking about things. I really feel like just like insects, like honest open conversations about money are so important. So yeah, we went to go run ads, they said we could run ads and they decided that we couldn't say that no, sexually oriented business could run as but clearly there were lots of other sexually oriented businesses that were running at.

00:24:49Edit So getting clearer on what that meant. It really impacted the business. Like they had planned for it and I tried to get some press around it. We got some press but ultimately I decided like a lawsuit would be in our best interest and that it would hopefully make real change. It would hopefully allow us to advertise and that it would help push forward an important conversation that would hopefully get us earned media. So like it seems in alignment, I found a lawyer and I hate the whole lawsuit I want to take off, but $300,000, there's a lot of money. I can't tell you about the settlement, but I can tell you that like for me, the experience was worth it in like, and you know, I think it was one of the most powerful marketing campaigns. It's a really sticky story. And it's weird because like very few people start a company to sue people, right?

00:25:53Edit Like does that feel like it's going to push us forward in the direction of whatever we're trying to grow at game was a really took me a while to like sit with that thought before. I was like, no, I'm going to spend money, some of which are investors dollars, investors were kind of like, you're gonna do what you want to get into a lawsuit. That sounds like a distraction. That sounds like it's gonna be a big money suck. But it I think like acknowledging the ways that it could impact us negatively helped us just plan for that. I just made sure that I wasn't giving a lot of time to the lawsuit only was involved in things that were really important. I tried to, you know, bring it into the narrative of what we do at damn often. And yeah, I think it was a solid decision. That's just so wild and so amazing. Obviously congratulations go you what a triumph in the business but also in the landscape because of course this, you know opens the way for so much to come.

00:27:00Edit I hope so. I think so. Have the ad's gone up on the M. T. A. Yeah, they're out. Yeah. Here in New York City subway there's a 10% chance you will see our advertisement. I mean I do think it's a huge step in the right direction, technically we ended up settling. But a lot of the press coverage just as we one which I think is really fascinating because you know it's tough. Like I don't think I got everything I wanted but I know I didn't but my intention was to run advertisements and I think that getting to run any ads on the subway system and step in the right direction, that it does help change the landscape, change the conversation so that's really exciting. And I really hope that I get to work with the M. T. A. Again and continue to like shift that landscape and our understanding and make people feel comfortable so that they can have empowered sexual experiences. Yeah. That's so exciting. And do you think like you pursue that kind of approach when it comes to other platforms like that are holding you back from the advertising that you want or has that already started to shift anyway when it comes to like the facebook matters of the world.

00:28:14Edit No, but here's the lawyers tell me that it would be pretty hard. Like the subway system is a government entity. So it has to abide by certain rules that private organizations don't necessarily have to. So it gets pretty challenging there. It's definitely something I've considered and thought about. I do feel like especially with facebook and such a big company, like, you know, I'm not the only one that's impacted I think to companies that sell menstruation products, menopause products, they all have issues around this idea that their products are inappropriate for the world. Would really like we're just trying to bring value to life experiences that are real life experiences for a lot of people. And it's so infuriating just to see the ways in which these businesses and organizations are stifled because at the end of the day, I think it really does stop again.

00:29:17Edit Mostly women, mostly people with Jehovah's from having a higher quality of life because they can try a healthier tampon or learn more about menopause or you know, buy a safe vibrator that feels really good and helps them have, you know, more pleasure in their life. Like it's been frustrating. I mean it's mind blowing. It really is mind blowing? I'm sure there's not a woman out there that can't agree with that. That's just crazy. It's crazy. It's obviously a challenge that you'll have to I guess battle with constantly. Yeah, no, it is. And I want to say it does feel wild, but there's also like, you know, I am trying to shift our cultural conversation around something we don't like to have a conversation about. So it's both wild why the business exists and there are like legitimate concerns around what like we should and shouldn't be advertising.

00:30:18Edit Like I wouldn't want to see advertisements in the world that are arousing in public or inherently erotic. So like, which by the way, I think we do all the time for like clothing companies and like other brands, like we use sex to sell other things. So do you think it's a really important conversation and a challenging one. But I do feel that vibrators aren't inherently arousing or acknowledging them. So yeah. And people always ask me about like, what about the care of the kids see it? I think the kids kids need to see it. You need to see it. You see it earlier. They need to see it much earlier. They need proper sex ed. They need proper sex ad. They do. And I think like usually I like to ask what is your feeling because I think really what people are saying is like, I actually don't have the language test have these conversations and it makes me uncomfortable to think about having to explain it. Like, well that's, that's exactly why you need us let me help you have those conversations, we'll talk about it and hopefully for younger generations it is really different.

00:31:27Edit Hopefully for younger generations they have different kinds of sex and they have more companies supporting them, more brand, supporting them, more open conversations around it 100%. What do you think is important advice for entrepreneurs coming into 20, I think that the advice I'm gonna give is probably just universal to any time, which is like very important to be aligned like within yourself. Like what is it that you want? Why do you want to start a business, get really clear about that for yourself and then own that, you know, like at the end of day you have to like live with all the decisions that you make, it's really running a business is tough. I think it's a lot of emotional labor, you have to make decisions where there isn't like a right answer. There's a, your answer. And it's important to just sit with those questions and decide what you want to do based on like what feels good to you.

00:32:30Edit Like that's a big thing that I've learned from sex education, sexual pleasure. You know, like it's important to know what feels good in our bodies and why and to explore that and to do things. I think that feel good. So like if you're going to let somebody go, how much severance should you give them? Like if you're if you want to raise capital, why do you want to raise capital? How much money? What's your end goal here? And I just think it's important to like, know what you really want and to take a breath every now and then and to just know your own intention. Absolutely, thank you for that. We asked a series of six quick questions at the end of every episode, some of which we might have covered, some of which we might not have. But I asked them all the same Question. Number one is what's your why? Why are you doing what you're doing? I see what I do because I believe sexual pleasure is important and I want people to know it and to rethink about it and to have more pleasure?

00:33:37Edit 100%. We all need it. Question number two, what's been the number one marketing moment that made the business pop? I think if we when we stood the new york city Subway, It's a pretty big one. Yeah, That was a pretty big one. We were also on Megyn kelly today show. That was a big moment for us and the first Indiegogo campaign was a large moment. Mhm. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading to or listening to or subscribing to? That would be good for other founders to take note of there's just so many, like I have a game executive coach and that's so helpful and like I like reading Professor G scott Galloway stuff around marketing. He's really informative and interesting. I do love reading too. It's like right now I'm reading the netflix book, the No Rules rules. Oh, I don't know that one. I haven't heard of it. And then I also do feeling that like another book I read that I did think it was really helpful to was like the way of integrity market back.

00:34:52Edit So I really also like things that helped me just sit and get in tune with like who I am and what I want. So I'm going to link them all in the show notes for anyone who wants to check those out. Question number four is how do you win the day? What are your AM or PM rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated? Honestly, I, I, I'm a really big fan of five minute journal, but now I often just like yell them out loud at my husband. Like just three things I'm grateful for like what would make today a great day. I love that question. Thinking about that in the morning and then spending some quality time with my daughter is really nice and usually that happens in the morning and then like a joint at night is, you know, really helpful for me winds down the day. Yeah, wind down the day sometimes I think it's even just the breathing exercise just like sitting outside and like I think I'm doing something so that makes it okay to slow down and then really it just slow down and it's so nice and I have so many good ideas or I think they're gonna, I smoke or if I go for a walk or if I just do something that really helps me slow down.

00:36:13Edit I realized like I can think better. Um, because it can be go, go, go, go, go a lot of the time. Yeah, that's awesome. I love that Question # five is if you were given $1,000 of no strings attached to grant money, where would you spend that in the business? And it's to highlight. I know it's not a lot of money. It's to highlight where the most important spend of a dollar is for you. It's a good question. Um, I think for they're tough because every channel depending on what we're doing in each channel can be different. So, and I think, you know, getting hung up on the $1000 like affiliate marketing has been really powerful for us. So I think $1,000 into press in some way I think it would be like towards the somebody that can help me. I mean you press, which is, I think interesting to think a lot of times pr agencies can feel like hard to see the return on. So that's been really, let's try and put it. Mm hmm. And last question question number six is how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset and approach when things don't go to plan and fall to pieces?

00:37:23Edit I think taking a second to realize what did work is really helpful and honoring that because I also think that as a leader sometimes things can seem really successful, but it doesn't meet your expectations and like but your team still worked really hard and there was a lot of things that were really successful. So making sure that like I take the time to see that and acknowledge it also not only because for the team, but then I realized that it helped me to So there's that. And yeah, I just I think taking a second to see what was successful about it. There is there's always a learning. Mhm. Always a learning so true. And it's okay to fail. You know, like failure good for like honoring that I think is important. I'm so with you. It's still hard sometimes, you know, it is hard. Sometimes it is sometimes you're like, I don't want to get out of bed today. Yeah, I don't have $5,000 maybe to us.

00:38:25Edit You know, like sometimes there's a little change in your conversion rate on your website can make a huge difference in everything else. You're doing so fine for the funnel really good too. I love that. Haven't had that on the show as one of the answers. So grateful for it. This was so fun. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing bits and pieces of your story and what you're doing in the world. You're just a superstar. I love it. Thank you.



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