Interview: Cindy Gallop, sextech evangelist

"When everyone in the world is having more sex, better sex and feeling good about themselves as sexual beings, the world will be a much better place."

Of the 307 million users on Twitter, Cindy Gallop’s bio has to be the best: “I am the Michael Bay of business. I like to blow shit up.” A quick scroll on her social media profiles prove that this is no idle boast; Cindy means business, in both the literal and figurative senses.

Having worked in publicity for a number of years, in 1989 she joined Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the internationally known British advertising company, and quickly ran the firm’s largest accounts. In 1996, she was pivotal in taking BBH to Asia and in 1998, she opened the BBH office in New York. In 2003, Cindy won the Advertising Woman of the Year award in New York.

At 45, Cindy took stock of her life and decided to exit BBH, at which time she was Chairman of the Board. She wryly comments that when she did this, she had no new job to go to so instead adopted an approach that said “here I am, what have you got?” and decided to see what came next.

What came next is now the stuff of internet legend. Discovering through her personal life that hardcore porn was becoming the de facto sex education of young males, she launched her startup, MakeLoveNotPorn, at the 2009 TED conference. MakeLoveNotPorn is all about championing real world sex as the hottest sex there is. (Cindy has another startup too, IfWeRanTheWorld, which is a web platform for micro-actions.)

Her four minute TED Talk has become one of the most-talked about, and for good reason:

It effectively positioned Cindy as the evangelist of sextech. Sextech is the intersection of technology with human sexuality and human sexual experience, and puts all the other “something” techs, like fintech, healthtech, edtech etc., in the shade with how disruptive it can be.

With this kind of power, you’d think that venture capitalist firms would be climbing over themselves to invest in sextech, knowing the amount of money that can be made by making real world sex socially acceptable and shareable. “Think EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey,” Cindy points out to anyone trying to get their head around the opportunity. However, this has not been the case. Not only do VCs not invest in sextech ventures because they’re scared of what others will think (even though, on a personal level “everyone understands what we are trying to do – and supports it”), but existing platforms that other businesses use are not available to sextech entrepreneurs, such as PayPal or hosting packages, because “no adult content” is always written in the small print.

The groundswell for sextech is growing, though – once anyone “gets” what it’s all about, they can’t help but be inspired to join the cause. We caught up with Cindy to find out how she’s changing the world of sex as we know it.

You’ve said before that women challenge the status quo because we never are it. Do you think that sextech is as disruptive as it is precisely for the reason that female entrepreneurs are taking such an active role in driving it?

Yes, absolutely. I say all the time to people that the most interesting, innovative and disruptive initiatives in sextech are coming from female founders, and that is no accident, because as in every other industry and area of life, women are finally seizing the opportunity to take ownership of their own experience, in this case of their own sexuality. And men have no idea how much they’re going to love the world of sex explored and disrupted through the female lens.

You and other sextech entrepreneurs are having a very difficult time acquiring VC funding. Are female sextech entrepreneurs encountering any challenges that their male equivalents aren’t, and are they dealing with the challenges in different ways to their male counterparts?

No. This is one sector where the gender of the entrepreneur makes no difference whatsoever. The challenges of building and growing a sextech startup are exactly the same. But I would say that I think – for the reason I outlined before – that female sextech entrepreneurs are particularly passionate, and therefore persistent and resilient in the face of huge obstacles, because we are motivated to reinvent and redesign the future of sex for ourselves.

Male sextech entrepreneurs are operating within a male-lens, male-oriented, male-centric industry paradigm around sex; we’re working to create better and more empowering sexual experiences for ourselves and for all women – and men, and everyone in between.

You’ve been vocal about the future of business being making money and doing good in the same place. Sextech is a great example of that way of doing business, but what is your ultimate goal for the industry?

If the world started communicating openly and honestly about sex, instead of perpetuating the current paradigm of hardcore porn on the one side and a sanctimonious, puritanical view towards sex on the other side, we would be one step closer to world peace. There’s no doubt that when everyone in the world is having more sex, better sex and feeling good about themselves as sexual beings, the world will be a much better place.

There’s a feeling of community amongst people who ‘get’ sextech and I get the feeling it’s the same with the MakeLovenotPorn stars. Have you met any of the people who submit videos to MLNP?

Of course we have.

My 30 years working in brand building, marketing and advertising have taught me that the single most important quality for any brand is trust. It’s particularly important for us because we’re asking people who’ve never done this before to share their #realworldsex with us. So we do things nobody else in the adult world does, to build a community based on trust in a safe social space for sharing sex:

  •  We curate. We watch every #realworldsex video submitted and if it’s not real, it doesn’t get published
  • Our submissions process is entirely legal, consensual – you can’t complete it if you’re not over 18, don’t submit two forms of visual ID for every single participant etc.
  • We build personal relationships with each of our MakeLoveNotPornstars – our curators Skype with them, answer all questions, get to know them
  • We encourage them to start Twitter handles and acquire followings
  • You can submit videos anonymously (wearing masks, faces in shadow, out of frame) – about half of our MLNPstars choose to do that
  • Your videos are only viewable on our platform, by our community, by members who’ve paid to rent
  • We operate a ‘rent and stream’ not download model, because the minute anything changes – your relationship, your life, your circumstances, your mind – all you have to do is tell us, we take your videos down, they are gone forever and they are nowhere else on the internet.

As part of this, we are building our community in the real world. We hold drinks gatherings in New York and London so far and invite our MLNPstars to come and meet us and each other:

How big is your team?

Tiny. I work full-time on MLNP, unpaid. MadamCurator Sarah Beall works full-time and part-time members are assistant curator Ariel Martinez and developer Lar van der Jagt.

What do you think will be the catalyst for the site to reach the next level?

The first celebrity who decides to share their #realworldsex on MLNP will inspire a whole bunch of other people to follow. The most powerful dynamic for scaling any movement/platform is the feeling that ‘everybody’s doing it.’

“Everybody’s doing it” certainly applies to sex – and we really hope to see it apply to sextech soon too. If you’d like to hear more from the awesome Cindy Gallop, follow her on Twitter: @CindyGallop.