Running a sextech startup is not as easy as it looks

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A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in Model View Culture’s Sex and Technology issue. Having a foot firmly planted in both worlds, I had so many experiences to share. I previously wrote about slut shaming adult companies. I decided expand that thought, and wrote about misconceptions about the adult industry and the implications of running industries on morals instead of ethics.

There are many damaging restrictions adult startups face that ultimately make it incredibly difficult to run a business in the industry ethically and with transparency. Often, these restrictions are based on moral objections to the space we occupy. In the end, everyone pays, but most especially the customers.

On morals vs ethics:

People often conflate ethics and morals, using the two interchangeably, when at times they’re almost the opposite of each other. Where ethics are objective and impartial, morals are subjective and intuitive. For those reasons they can be inconsistent because we don’t always critically and rationally examine our morals or the beliefs we base them on.

Running an adult startup is a difficult task, but in many ways, sex toys was much more difficult. Where with the adult entertainment side of the the industry, prohibited activity on the TOS for mainstream companies was clearly against porn, the lines are blurred with sex toys. Sex toys are not pornographic, but depending on the mainstream company and its understanding of human sexuality, health, and wellness, they can get lumped in with porn. Again, this brings us back to the problem of running companies on morals instead of ethics.

If you have a moment, please read SexTech Startups in a Hostile Business World, as well as the other fantastic articles in this issue.

The aftermath of violence

Early this morning at around 3:30 AM, a young man died outside a bar two blocks from my place. Jesse woke me up after hearing three loud gunshots. From our vantage point on our balcony, we watched the aftermath as people scrambled to safety and police, ambulance, and fire trucks raced to the scene.

When I got up this morning, I sat by my window and watched the sidewalk for awhile. People came and went, chatted with friends before parting ways, checked their cellphones- all unaware that 5 hours earlier, blood was shed there and someone lost their life. It’s a chilling to witness the callousness of time.

That tainted little patch of concrete will always be “the place where that man died” to me. Whenever I see it or walk on it, it will recall an unpleasant memory and a story. But for his family it will be so much more- a life changing tragedy they can’t recover from.

I don’t know what sparked the gunfight. I don’t know anything about the people involved. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the two people involved were drunk, or had a history of violence, or were tourists in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whatever. They were real people. This morning, that’s enough.

Slut-shaming adult businesses

A few years ago, Apple unceremoniously purged the Apple App Store of apps that dared bare a bit of skin, dubbed “bikini apps”. It became widely known that, while not an option for hardcore apps, Google Play was a viable alternative to developers who desired to create and share apps of racier fare. Everything was working for awhile. Developers would distribute their sexy but censored apps in Google Play, while offering the full monty in the MiKandi porn app store. That is, until last month, when Google changed their minds and gave sexy apps the boot, Apple style.

While it’s disheartening to see perfectly legal businesses further marginalized by policies, I’ve always felt that markets should be allowed to decide what they want to offer in their stores so long as customers have an alternative. The great thing about Android is that if Google Play doesn’t want to distribute adult apps, that’s fine. Android users can go to other markets like MiKandi to get the content they want.

But…

And there’s always a but…

I feel there is a significant problem going on here that, until recently, was going on unchecked- dehibilating restrictions placed on adult companies from mainstream services due to moral objections are making it increasingly difficult for companies to survive, much more succeed.

It’s not just being pushed out of Google Play – it’s not being allowed to use MailChimp or similar newsletter services. It’s not being able to find a bank that will take your business, as Cindy Gallop of MakeLoveNotPorn.tv highlighted here. It’s being slut-shamed by your personal bank. It’s Tumblr enabling their users to steal and distribute your content on their platform while prohibiting you from recouping your losses through affiliate promotion. It’s not being able to accept money via American Express or Paypal or Google Wallet. It’s having to settle for incredibly high rates from credit card processors that want to charge an upwards of 13% of each transaction (thankfully, not our processor, who we love dearly).

While one on one these restrictions are small, collectively they’re catastrophic. Keeping up with the technical obstacles is expensive and time-consuming. Unless your adult company has strong technical chops or enough money to spend on full time engineers, you’re not going to make it. MiKandi is tech-first, so we’ve been able to weather this perpetual storm. But how is this business climate fair to sex entreprenuers who aren’t?

The blanket restrictions many services place on adult businesses creates unnecessary obstacles for companies that wish to deliver legal content to adults who want it. I argue it’s a form of censorship. Some say that it’s a good thing if pornography were more difficult to come by. I wonder if we weren’t talking about pornography here, but instead political ideas and issues, would there be a larger outcry? I think so.

I was speaking with a reporter about my issues with Google and Google Glass. At some point I said just that. It’s easy to vilianize porn, but censorship is a slippery slope. “Isn’t that a bit of a stretch?” he asked. It’s not. Once we start censoring legal content simply because some find it objectionable, it’s gets increasingly more difficult to draw the line. Because it’s much easier to shelf polarizing ideas, thoughts, or opinions than it is to deal with them. But just because it’s easier, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

All that said, the adult indsutry has its fair share of the blame. One of the reasons why we’re in this predicament is because the adult industry is rife with individuals and companies who are more than happy to spam and scam their customers for a quick buck. These are companies that don’t intend of be around for long, so they find shady but technically legal ways to part you from your money. Those that are trying to make real change in the industry are left holding the bag. “Next-generation” adult companies are attacked from both sides.

Being a “next-generation” adult company is something we strive for at MiKandi. We go by our real names, which is almost unheard of in the adult industry. I’m readily available on this blog, Twitter, G+, and Tumblr. We still answer every email and inquiry personally. We try to maintain a culture that’s transparent and non-judgmental and all about communication. Sure, we like to push the envelope because it needs to be pushed. But we don’t step over boundaries. At the end of the day, MiKandi is a small, growing, innovative company. We’re learning and we’re listening and we’re human. Shouldn’t that count for something? Or are all next-generation adult companies damned to forever wear a scarlet A?

Good reads

Five Business Lessons I Learned From Launching A Porn* Site

Chase Bank Is Slut-Shaming Porn Stars, And It’s Totally Legal

The Difficulties of Running a Sex-Inspired Startup

Wanderlust

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When I was a kid, we had a this globe that lit up that my sisters and I loved. It didn’t slyly house tumblers and whiskey, nor was it simply decor. Ours was prominent in our living room- it sat in its own wooden stand, used its own outlet, took up its own corner in the room next to the loveseat. Everyday, we stood over it, wondering what life was like in all those little multi-color shapes. If I wanted to travel to the world, I’d give the globe a spin, plant my finger down, and imagine myself in the country chosen at random. If we had our way, my sisters and I would keep its light on at all times. It was especially beautiful at night, when the world was dark and quiet. In my memories it was a fancy globe, the kind you find in a dark library with mahogany shelves. In reality, it was probably just a plain ol’ plastic globe. But reality pales in comparison to imagination anyway, which is precisely what a globe emits.

I think it’s kind of rare to have a globe these days. You just don’t need one, with the Internet, Google Earth, Wikipedia, Facebook, etc. Still, I feel there’s something, I don’t know… romantic about having one in your home. I assume inquisitive people would own one. A globe in a home is a constant reminder, beckoning you to come play, to explore. It waits there in the corner of your eye. And when you finally play with it, it doesn’t give you immediate gratification. It forces you to rely on your imagination for just a little while.

I don’t know what happened to our globe. I assume it got lost during one of our many moves. Or perhaps donated by my parents to another family. I hope its found a home. From where I sit right now, I notice there’s an empty corner in my room- I just figured out what it’s missing.

No, I’m not good

sigh

Whenever someone asks me how I’m doing, my immediate response is always, “I’m good!” Even when I’m not. And for the most of 2013, I was not good. I was under an enormous amount of stress, over-worked, and physically, mentally, and emotionally tired. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve been definitively good. Yet, day after day I tried to hide it from anyone outside my family. Even to that, only my two partners really knew and understood the extent of my stress, because they were experiencing it too.

I developed ways to inspire myself to keep going. Whenever I experienced what I felt was a Totally Shit Time, I told myself it would just be a really good chapter in my biography. I’d listen to Here Comes the Sun on repeat. I’d read books on Teddy Roosevelt and other inspiring leaders. Sometimes, I would retreat into anything that was decidedly not work. And then I’d collect myself and get back to it.  A great deal of time was spent on analyzing myself, my business, my strategies- every aspect of my life. But sometimes that can be depressing- thinking about all the ways you suck and why. Sometimes you just want things to be okay when they aren’t. Of course, things don’t magically become okay. You have to make them okay.

It’s just… sigh… that’s so exhausting sometimes.

But you want to hear something crazy? Even through all of that, 2013 was by far the best, most fulfilling year I’ve had in a really long time. Possibly ever.

For two years, I lived in China building a brand from the ground up. I take a lot of pride in the products and brand I created with Jesse. Even though I played an integral role in the development of KEY Pleasure, at the end of the day, I wasn’t on paper- it wasn’t mine. On the other side of the world was my baby, MiKandi. I was splitting my time between building someone else’s dream and my own.

So I came home and, in 2013, dedicated all of my attention to my dream. To build MiKandi into a world-renowned, next generation adult company.

When you own your own business, you’re obsessed with it. You spend 12-16 hours a day working on it, but you enjoy it. Because your identity is so closely tied to your company, every high and low is felt intensely. That’s what I experienced. That’s what I’ll continue to experience so long as I work for myself.

When MiKandi has a poor sales day, it hits me hard. When members leave, it hurts. When we miss launch dates, job listings on Craigslist start calling my name. When anything not awesome happens, I feel like shit. But when our products go viral, when we get covered on Fast Company, Vice, TIME, and hundreds more, when our user base jumps, when our customers love us and tell us how much they love us, when we can continue to create things that excite people, that’s when I feel alive.

So when you ask me how I’m doing and I say, “I’m good”, I’m lying. I’m fucking great.

A Glasshole is Born Everyday

A Glasshole is born every day and they’ve probably never touched the device.

Since its advent, Google Glass has evoked empty threats of violence in comment sections around the web that have turned out to be just that- empty. That’s not to say I wasn’t a little worried the first time I wore my device out in public. Especially after a year of editorials like this. But I’m happy to report that in my 7 months since receiving my device, I haven’t been punched, or drop kicked, or smacked by any internet tough guys.

In truth, most of the interactions I have with strangers are positive. People are curious and excited about this undeniably innovative device. Occasionally, I get some side-eye from passersby, but that probably has less to do with the technology and more to do with the strange girl wearing a weird blue thing on her face. This lot tends to keep their distance but is otherwise indifferent. Or not. Maybe they take to Twitter to vent about my grievous offenses. I like to think they just don’t care about it all that much.

And then, least often, I come face to face with that guy from the comments section. I’ve been called I’ve been called a dork, a cock, and a Glasshole in conversation by total strangers. To be fair, Glass does look kind of dorky.

But honestly, ridiculing a stranger on what they choose to wear, accepting your ignorance on a device you’ve never tried and never want to try, expecting others to share your displeasure, and judging those that don’t? Yeah, I’m the Glasshole. 

yeahokay

That’s not to say I’ve always kept it Glassy. I may not be staring off in my peripheral mid-conversation or sticking my face in a plate of food to get a picture, but sometimes I stop reading people. I can get caught up in my excitement and assume everyone is as into Glass as I am.  Sure, most are, but I should be more sensitive to those that aren’t. I often quip that we’re never going to have a United Federation of Planets until we are willing take lofty leaps in technology, and I’m only half kidding. But the possibility of a Federation to one is the possibility of SkyNet to another. I don’t agree with it, but I try be sympathetic and aware. I just slip up on occasion, but one thing I never am is intentionally mean or cruel.

The ironic thing is that out of all the wearable devices, Google Glass is the least invasive and the most indiscreet. A cell phone is much better equipped to capture you unawares and upload video or photo of you to a plethora of networks without your consent. A smartwatch even more so. Google Glass? It’s a nerdy computer strapped to your damn face that displays a light when it’s on. It doesn’t even stay on for more than 10 seconds unless you activate it. It looks invasive if you don’t understand it, which is why I advocate everyone try it first before making knee-jerk reactions.

And maybe let’s stop assuming Glass users are recording everyone? Unless you’re wearing a tutu riding a unicycle having a one person lightsaber battle in a rainstorm, then by all means assume a Glass user is interested in you- as well as anyone else with a camera or a mobile phone or a heartbeat. Because you, person I made up for this point, are epic.

Whether or not Glass stands the test of time, there’s no doubt wearable devices are a brave new world. There is going to be a learning curve from the community on how to apply this new technology and how to interact with it. History has taught us that things will work out in the end.  So can’t we all just get along?

Check out my guest post on Android Central’s Through Glass series- Through Glass: Breaking the Ice.

 

Skyrim Porn

Skyrim Porn

Skyrim Porn

I’ve finally picked up my controller and started playing Skyrim again after a 6 month hiatus. I’ve found I have this world on my mind almost all the time. It’s particularly evident to me whenever I see a chest or wardrobe, or when I walk by wildflowers. Harvest lavender, anyone? Oh, is this some Elves Ear? What’s that, a chest? Perhaps I’ll find some gold coins or lockpicks!

If I get arrested for trespassing, I blame Bethesda.

 

Google Glass and the Adult Industry

X-posted from MiKandi’s blog

google glass porn

Our friends at XBIZ conducted a survey over the summer, asking folks in the adult industry if they felt Google Glass would be as amazing for porn as everyone else thinks it will be. As we expected, the results showed most were unsure about the future of porn with Glass. In some respects, we agree with them. It’s such a new and innovative device that it’s hard to tell if consumers will adopt it for their everyday lives, let alone for porn consumption and creation.

But here’s the thing- those who believe Google Glass porn is just hype are forgetting one crucial fact. Glass is a communications device. It is not simply a head mounted camera. If the intention is to just use it to film POV videos, frankly that would be a waste of everyone’s time. And to be honest, those who intend to use Glass in that manner alone are not likely to introduce amazing innovations in the adult industry, are they?

More than Porn

Do we think people will prefer to watch adult videos or browse adult sites on Google Glass? No.

But here’s what they will do. They’ll use it to get notifications that their favorite cam model is about to do a live show, and open their laptop. They’ll get pinged that a site they’re subscribed to just uploaded more videos that are tagged with their preferences and unlock their smartphone. Like non-adult use cases, adults will use it to share intimate photos and videos with each other. Models and performers will use it to stream personal videos to their fans. From the seemingly boring and mundane to the steamy and salacious, fans will tune in because it will be, by far, the most intimate and fascinating interaction they can get with their favorite performers.

More than Glass

Google Glass is a big step toward making technology fit more comfortably into our daily lives. Glass will evolve over time and we’ll undoubtedly see more wearable tech thanks to Google’s innovation.

XBIZ‘s senior technology editor, Stephen Yagielowicz, gets it when he says,

Google Glass does, however, remain a very intriguing technological milestone in the merging of man and machine, so it follows that any whiff of humanity will have a sexual counterpart, with this platform far from exempt.

Already there are smart watches with cameras and video recording that sync seamlessly to your phone and sticks that connect your phone or laptop to your TV. We’re beginning to see a convergence of all screens and devices. OF COURSE porn will change. If Google can get consumers to fall in love with Glass, Glass will be the first device to start the journey.

PAX and Google Glass

This weekend, Jess and I attended PAX Prime in Seattle. We weren’t able to attend all four days, but were fortunate enough to snag a couple of Saturday badges. I quickly learned that one day is not enough time to enjoy the event, but we tried to do as much as possible. Next year, I’ll be much better prepared… and possibly in a costume.

Cosplay

Speaking of costumes, check out this little cosplayer. I saw this squirt in the lobby with his or her dad. My first reaction was to squeeeeee like my life depended on it (and I did). But little homie was having none of that. No response to my waving, no hiding behind Daddy’s leg when I came barreling towards him, camera ready. He or she did the only appropriate thing for someone in a suit like this- stand firm, grab your weapon, and pose like a badass.

Cosplay Kid

Cosplay Kid

There were tons more folks dressed up but I didn’t get a chance to take many photos. The saddest part of my day was while I was heading out for a meeting, I saw Harley’s Joker riding up the escalator. He saw me too, pointed and did the face. That was my second squeal of the day. My heart broke as we passed each other. All I could do was watch him slip away. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for him so I could grab a photo but to no avail. Sigh. Next year.

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Tap my Glass

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Tap my Glass

I donned the ever-so-sexy sky blue Google Glass for optimal nerd efficiency. Remember when I said that Seattle folks are not as receptive to Google Glass as I assume they’d be? It turns out PAX attracts all the people in Seattle who are excited about the device and gathers them in one convenient location. Which is wonderful, because I truly love sharing Glass with anyone who is curious or anxious about it. I honestly see no better way to ease someone’s trepidation or amp up another’s excitement than to let them try Google Glass first hand. Plus, I live for the way their faces light up the moment they say, “Ok Glass.”

In the future, I’ll ask folks if I can share the photos and videos they take. Not that there’s much to share anyway. Most of the shots are of me cheesing like a camera ham, or watching them anxiously for their reaction. You’d think I created the damn thing.

Let’s play a game

Between meetings, searching for Harley’s Joker, and fielding questions about Google Glass,  I managed to sneak in a game or two. But forget about demoing any big production console game, unless you don’t mind waiting an hour. I’m totally impressed with indie game developers- the quality and caliber of their products was astounding. I had a lot of good old fashioned giddy fun with BeatBuddy.

But what I’m most anxious for is pretty much anything that have anything to do with the Occulus Rift. Like this FPS with a freaking treadmill. This alone will cure the obesity epidemic in the United States. LOOK AT IT!

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