“You just have to break through the preconceptions. And the way to do that is to create something that is really fucking cool, and secondly, this is the game changer, to create something that really works.”
I’m speaking with Adam Lewis, one of the brilliant minds behind the beautifully designed and, according to our esteemed BaDoink reviewers, incredibly effective Hot Octopuss sex toy brand. We’re nearing the end of our Skype conversation, and Lewis, a jovial and confident Londoner with a keen eye toward innovation, hasn’t missed a beat once in extolling the virtues of the technology behind Hot Octopuss.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the brand, Hot Octopuss is known for the creation of one of the most innovative male toys on the market, the Pulse I – what the company calls “the world’s first Guybrator.” Following the success of this product, Hot Octopuss has come out with the improved Pulse II, available as a Solo toy for males and a Duo toy for couples wishing to have a uniquely technological sexual experience.
What’s remarkable about both generations of devices is how painstakingly well they’re designed, not only in the quality experiences they apparently provide, but in that they look like futuristic technology you’d want to display, rather than hide. Lewis and company have invoked distinctive design and tech elements with this product.
Enjoy an edited account of our conversation below, and be sure to test the device by yourself, with a partner, or at the consensual collective event of your choosing.
Talk to me about the development of the product – what goes into the process of creating a lifestyle and sex technology?
It wasn’t an easy road. I had an idea to use vibrations to stimulate the guy, and it was kind of a brain head idea, I thought to myself if girls like vibrations, guys must as well. So next I went on the net and looked for male vibrators, and at the time, like five or six years ago, nothing existed. Since then, a product called the Cobra Libre, which came before us, came to the market and it used vibrations, but at the time I was looking at all the different web stores, and literally nothing existed, everything was very much phallic, looking to replicate reality, masturbation sleeves, blow up dolls, fake vaginas, all very crude and simplistic products, but nothing that worked on any technological basis or used anything other than the premise that men need that up and down motion. I thought to myself, I can’t be the only guy who likes vibrations, so there must be a gap in the market. That was the beginning. We went out and hired design agencies, and already we encountered some interesting problems. Julia, my business partner, got six or seven design agencies to come to our house, for us to be able to pitch the idea to them. At least three literally ran for their lives. I demonstrated what I was looking for, the concept, and three of these were very proper engineering companies, and the guys turned red and ran.
Can you describe the initial concept?
The concept was this: you’ve seen those vibrating bullets? It’s like an egg at the end of a chord that vibrates when you flip a switch. At this stage we were just taking a strap and strapping it to our bits, and turning it on, and that was the first design, a vibrating egg with a strap. And you can imagine me demonstrating this to these engineers! We were fortunate enough to find a couple of design agencies quite liked the idea. That’s how the initial process started. About four months into the development, very early on, I was researching connections between penises and vibrations, and to my surprise I came across this medical report that talked about this technique used for men with spinal cord injuries who wanted to have children. The report was called Penile Vibratory Stimulation, PVS, and that was a massive lightbulb moment. Turned out my idea had been around over ten years in the medical world, where it was used in theater. This medical vibrator existed, and it had an oscillating pad, where they’d literally place it on these guys’ penises, in theater, and it’d make them involuntarily do their thing, meaning these guys could then have children. For intents and purposes it was a blueprint for us. The next challenge, of course, was that this medical device had its own patents, and if we were going to simply take this technology and adapt it, we would be breaking that patent. We contacted this Danish manufacturer and we were able to license the technology off them.
What then happened is that it took us four and half years to redevelop this medical vibrator, the reason being that this medical vibrator is incredibly loud, incredibly powerful, completely unsuitable for the recreational space. It was a medical device, a tool. When you’re creating for the recreational space, there’s a lot more that comes into doing that. We had noise issues, we had size issues, we had design issues, we had assembly issues; we had every kind of issue you could imagine.
Finally, in October 2013, we had the first product ready, except you can imagine there were teething problems to start with. It’s taken us a year of continuous production to improve the product to the point that now, with the second version, we have the proper product. We made sure our customer service is tip top, so if any issues did arise, great customer service dealt with the issue, and we were able to work through our challenges and make it to the other side with happy customers.
What about the testing of a product that is sexual in nature?
This was the brilliant thing about the product, in that we hadn’t actually invented a new technology. This was proven. We were creating something that already had a ten-year case study. It wasn’t quite as scary going out to test groups. I remember I gave the product to a friend of mine to test, and I was sitting there waiting for his phone call, and he finally got back to me and said it was brilliant. I was ready to enjoy the product, but it’s very counterintuitive for most guys, because we grow up and are hardwired to have this up and down, and what this product does is that you put yourself in flaccid, completely static, and it does the whole thing for you. We have a very progressive group of friends; we weren’t short of volunteers. We made ten prototypes and we sent them out to ten guys, and we had them test the crap out of them. I reckon eight to nine out of ten guys loved it. A couple of guys didn’t enjoy it at all, but when I said to persevere with it, after about a few tries, in the end, they all enjoyed the product. It was interesting because, as I said, there’s a percentage of people that find it so counterintuitive. But it was a great success, against a lot of conventional thought. It doesn’t work for everyone, penises are very unique, but the percentage is up there in terms of who likes our product.
So you had this medical science background, which differentiated the brand as more technological. Also, you’re giving guys the permission to say that if they can’t do it themselves, then they don’t lose their sexual identity. It’s saying that it’s ok to use tools for sex.
For women’s sex toys, that stigma seems to have gone in the 90s, so it was completely acceptable for women to use sex toys and all of that, and guys like the idea. It’s quite a seductive thought. You reverse the role, and you look at men in sex toys, and there’s been a huge taboo around those. If you look at the products that have been available, that’s not so surprising. You look at women’s toys, and they don’t replicate reality. These toys are very beautifully designed, women’s toys, they’ve got science behind them, but you look at men’s toys up until, let’s say three to four years ago, you wouldn’t want to associate yourself with these products. They’re incredibly phallic, incredibly cheap, like these cheap silicon masturbating sleeves. However secure you are with your male sexuality, this isn’t something you want to shout about using. They are replacing a woman, for all intents and purposes, you put your dick inside and pretend it’s a vagina, whereas women’s toys don’t have that, there’s no way that this vibrating thing that moves in 17 different ways is a penis. It is what it is, it’s custom made. Male toys are very much trying to replace a woman, so no wonder there’s a stigma attached to them.
You’re not going to change this perception till you change the products, so certainly what we’ve managed to bring to the market is something that doesn’t look like a sex toy, we certainly didn’t want to replicate what women could do. What we’ve made available to guys is something they want to be associated with, a cool gadget, something they can show to their friends – it looks like Darth Vader’s helmet! Guys like to talk about gadgetry, their cool toys. It’s a lifestyle product. You have women all of a sudden thinking it’s the kind of product they’d buy for their guy. What we were able to do was create something that was able to take male sex toys into the mainstream and make them acceptable. The take-up has been phenomenal in that respect. When we were looking at how to position our brand, we didn’t want to be a sex toy brand, and have all of the stigma, we wanted to create a lifestyle brand, where everything around was really quite cool, and techy, and the imagery behind was something that people would aspire to be part of. And of course we bring the duo out, which actively involves both partners, and you have a home run in that respect, because not only is the woman buying it for the guy, but she’s buying it for herself. It’s the first couple’s toy where the man wears it.
To me, it’s almost combative the way sex toy and media companies brand themselves, at least in their progressiveness. You position yourselves in a way that’s more mainstream, or with the narrative of technology and lifestyle, not just sex or naughtiness.
We’ve been really fortunate in that respect. When I started this, I didn’t know there was a medical device. The medical narrative adds so much credibility to it, the fact that we can say that this is a device that’s been around for ten years and it’s helped people in its medical application. It kind of makes the whole thing much more acceptable to talk about. And it’s a serious product, it’s a tool and not a toy. I think that’s been a big difference. We have this heritage to call upon that makes the whole thing very grown up, and sensible, and open to the conversation. Press would normally not touch this, but they can talk about if from a tool perspective, and that’s definitely opened up huge avenues for us.
What makes the tool narrative more legitimate than the toy? Is your product helping the conversation become open enough to also give more legitimacy to toy style products, and make people talk more about the health and tech benefits to sex tools and toys?
We certainly cannot monopolize the credit for this. If you look at sex toys in the last three to four years, there’s been a paradigm shift in people’s perception, and I think that we’ve been able to drive that. With our toy, we’ve tried to be a turning point in perception of male products, and I hope the rest of the market really jumps on board with this, because it’s really good for everyone. Talking about sex is a good thing. It’s good for relationships – we can make this a normal conversation, that’s good for society, I believe. If you look to the female toys five years ago, you’d walk down these exhibitions and sex shops, and everything was maybe 20, 30, or 40 dollar items, bulk manufactured, not much science or thought had gone behind these. But that changed, and we were lucky enough to be part of this wave. If you now go into sex shops and these exhibitions, you see the price point of the majority of these toys has moved up significantly, they’re now 60, 70, or 80 dollar products, and there’s a lot more design and ergonomic thought behind them. A lot more small manufacturers that spend a lot of time developing one or two products. Now you look at the Lelos, the Jimmy Janes, everyone has followed suit. You go into stores now and the majority of the products are beautifully well-designed products. I do believe we’re the first in the male side. The nature of penises and how they work, we invented a product that wasn’t in anyone’s mind, even the people in the medical field had never even considered that there was a much broader market for it. We help catalyze what’s going on in the male market, but there’s still a long way to go.
In terms of the couple’s toy, how did you develop that?
What happened is, with Pulse I, about two thirds of the way through the design process, one of our designers said that the underside of it could vibrate as well. With Pulse I, we put an off center weight onto the mechanism, which meant that the whole product would vibrate, meaning that we could pitch the toy also to have this couple’s element. It did work, it certainly wasn’t as effective as a couple’s toy as a male toy, because all the technology was behind the male side, and the woman’s side was kind of an add-on. Although some couples absolutely loved it, there were some problems. The underneath had hard plastic, and of course, soft vaginas, hard plastic, some girls were saying it was too hard, there was a complaint that the female vibrations were subject to the guy’s pulse play. The stimulation requirements were different, so we had another problem there. When we were developing the duo, we thought we already have this great concept, so let’s take it to the next level to make it a couple’s toy. It was obvious that we needed to put a second vibration motor in it, so that the woman wasn’t subject to what the guy was doing, and if we’re doing that then we wanted to give her a remote control so that she could control it independently. We would also want to do a soft silicone over-mold onto the underside of the hard plastic but to make it soft and squishy, so that it would conform more to her bits. It was very much a natural evolution to create the Duo, to give it a dual functionality.
What’s the reception been like so far, in terms of functionality?
We’ve absolutely smashed it! This is the great thing. Customer support is hugely important for us, it’s the first communication anyone has with our brand, and it’s the greatest way to fulfill brand loyalty. We solve problems effectively, and give a taste of the brand; it’s very informal, the way we connect to our customers. For me, it’s a sales function, a marketing function, not necessarily a customer support function. I was telling people, this is marketing and sales role. This is where we hear whether or not these products are great, inevitably when someone has a problem. When the product is great and has no issues, you don’t find out about it. But when someone’s had the toy for six months, and they’re like, oh my god, me and my wife think this is the best device, it’s broken, help us out ASAP, that’s when you start getting feedback and really finding out how great this product is. Our complaint letters are our biggest advocates, funnily enough. Everyone at the end of the emails is like, please, I need it back as quickly as possible; we can’t live without it!
To be honest, we’ve been overwhelmed. We knew it was great, it’s a medical device, it’s innovative, and the response we have received was surprising, there are so many people who really enjoy it. What we did is we spent all this time taking a medical product and redesigning it as a recreational product, and now we have as much interest from the medical field as we have from the recreational space. The fact that the product can be used completely flaccid, and the medical devices can’t, suddenly you have these guys who have prostate cancer who can’t get erections, who are orgasming for the first time since their operations because they can do so flaccid with the product. And now just that, they’re now having the closest thing to sex with their partners again, completely flaccid, because they’re in the duo getting all these great sensations, getting orgasms, and their partners are on top of them, in exactly the same position they would, should they be having intercourse, and suddenly they have this intimacy again. From that perspective, the Duo has been amazing, and the Pulse I and the Solo as well. That wasn’t something we were aiming for, we were pure adult, and that’s been the most gratifying part of the whole process for us. Suddenly we can start giving back and working on the medical side, removing the stigma from sex toys and disabled people using sex toys, and all from this technological premise, which is acceptable to people.
What are the next steps for the technology? Are you leaning more towards the medical side, or recreational?
Everything takes forever, so we’re pursuing all different channels, everything from a formal entry into the medical field, where we have the Pulse actually certified as a medical device, and made available through the National Health Service, and we have the military, you know, guys coming back without limbs and so on, and the military really look after their own, so there’s a whole way of getting into that side. Moving forward as a brand, we’re looking to bring out additional male products around our concept of using vibrations, not necessarily Pulse Plate technology, but a simpler technology that still works particularly well but at a lower price point. We’re also looking to use the technology in the female market, testing the product on vaginas, where it also has a lot of appeal. In that respect, we have a few avenues to go down in terms of product development.
What are the limits and other applications of this vibration technology you’re working with?
It’s an incredibly complicated delivery mechanism, meaning you have to have a relatively high price point. It’s not a cheap product to make. We’re thinking to use other technologies as well to make oscillations. We’re looking at simpler, cheaper versions to integrate into our devices, because if we can make a product for 39 bucks, we’re open to a whole different market. We’re trying to find something at a lower price point that still has this oscillation technology, but won’t be Pulse Plate. That’s the great thing about us as a brand. When other sex toy companies create toys, it’s very difficult for them to be truly innovative, because what they’re inevitably doing is they’re recreating something that already exists, whilst with us, nobody’s done this vibration stuff really, so we have a whole road map of ideas. For us it’s a really clear roadmap to innovation, whereas other companies really have to think outside the box. Also, if you can create enough of a bassy amplitude, of these vibrations, it’s better. Tinny, high amplitude vibrations won’t do it, they need to be deep and bassy.
Probably why bass driven music is a leading cause of one night stands!
There’s a whole science behind it that we’re looking into at the moment, using acoustics to create orgasms. It’s been proven that if you have radio waves at a certain frequency reverberating inside you, in principle that can make you orgasm. I’ll believe it when I see it, but apparently it’s scientifically possible. For us, it’s more of a marketing and PR thing, if we can recreate this, because if we can show the correlation between frequencies and Pulse, but I’m not sure we’re ever going to create a mobile sound both for people to orgasm in.
Here’s hoping that Hot Octopuss is, in fact, able to create a mobile pleasure chamber based on acoustics. Either way, the company has succeeded in widening the dialogue about sex toys for the male audience, and giving men permission to admit when a toy is required and even pleasurable in the sexual realm.
Stay tuned for another exclusive interview that goes into detail about the Hot Octopuss brand, featuring a New York based marketing spokesperson from Manifest.