One-of-a-kind product? Check. Founders with backgrounds at big-name companies? Check. An app? Check. Funding to get the ball rolling? We'll get back to you on that.
U.K.-based MysteryVibe has all the characteristics of a winning start-up, but finding the cash to bring its new product to market has proven a challenge. And it's all to do with the product category itself: adult toys.
Stephanie Alys, the company's co-founder and Chief Pleasure Officer (yes, really), says: "When we speak to many investors, and we've spoken to so many, they say 'Ah, the numbers look good, but we're not really doing sex.' It's disappointing when we're told that people can't invest for moral reasons, especially when you consider the amount invested in things like guns."
MysteryVibe's Crescendo is a weirdly-shaped, bendable, vibrating, programmable pleasure-maker, a first-of-its-kind device that could launch a whole new industry of customizable bedroom accouterments, apps included.
The Crescendo - the brainchild of quartet of chance-takers whose resumes are smattered with names like Deloitte, Bae Systems, Nokia, IBM and Google - has been five years in the research and development stage. But 50,000 euros worth of crowdfunding in May was a big push forward and the $199 gadget has already registered $70,000 in pre-orders.
So MysteryVibe's executives took a gamble and headed to the Rise Hong Kong start-up expo in late July in the hope of securing the more sizable funding crucial to taking an idea and turning it into something tangible. The start-up was one of more than 500 vying for funding at the expo.
It was a gamble that paid off.
At Rise, MysteryVibe execs met their first angel investors from Asia; Hong Kong-based Kiu Kim, co-founder of luxury fashion retailer Luxley.com, and Uruguayan sexologist Alexia Lawrie jumped at the chance of being amongst the first to invest in a new technology that could revolutionize the $20 billion-a-year adult toy market.
Kim says: "It's ridiculous to think that still today sex toy companies use a cookie-cutter approach towards women's sexuality. One thousand women will have 1,000 different wants and needs. An exceptionally customizable and highly precise sex toy, which adapts to their unique wants and needs, like MV's Crescendo, is a great place to start."
Kim was thinking with his head and not his heart, though, when he and Bergengruen wrote a check for 30,000 pounds.
"We're playing the long game here, and conveniently, those also end up being the best value investments," Kim says.
As for the taboo-factor that had scared off other investors, Kim says that Asia is more progressive than other parts of the world, so he was unconcerned. Also, angel investors typically are more progressive than other potential funding sources and have fewer restrictions on the types of investments they can make.
In total, Mysteryvibe secured 220,000 pounds in its angel funding round.
But the big money may still be off limits to companies like MysterVibe, because its product is likely to violate so-called morality clauses that limit where the venture capital funds can invest their cash.
Keeping the dream alive in this touch-and-go environment comes down to faith and patience, says Mysteryvibe co-founder Soumyadip Rakshit; faith from his team, angel investors and well-established corporate partners who will be rewarded by a percentage of MysteryVibe's future revenues, and patience, which he believes is the key to making any start-up a success.
Meanwhile, the angel round provided enough cash to sign off on the manufacturing process and move toward actual production.
"We're very excited to get Crescendo out there!" Alys says.
Other Rise exhibitors that found funding post-conference:
- Trusted - Undisclosed seed capital
- GoGo Fit - $12,500 seed capital
- Floship - $1.2 million seed capital
- Lamplighter Analytics - $1.5 million seed capital
An earlier version of this story said that Kiu Kim and Alexia Lawrie were MysteryVibe's first angel investors. It has been clarified to show they were the first angel investors from Asia.