Sex. Even a mere mention of the word in a casual conversation leads to awkward silences and raised eyebrows. One can only imagine the reaction when a woman decides to work towards creating sexual awareness or in a set-up that is a part of the sexual products industry. Disbelief, outrage, and discouragement are some of the most immediate responses that one gets; which is exactly what I got when I first broached the idea of it’spleaZure – an online store for adult products, within my personal circle.
From the onset – discussing the intent to be a part of this industry in a meaningful way to actually start working towards realising that goal, I had to overcome challenges every step of the way.
Some of the major challenges that I faced while setting up and launching it’spleaZure, which in the business parlance can be termed as barriers to entry for women in this industry were:
Explaining your work/venture to family and friends – It was challenging to explain and gain support from immediate family members and close friends without long and tedious discussions. The fact that in India, we do not have much of a conversation about the subject with one’s parents or elders in the family during our growing up years, made this discussion all the more uncomfortable. Of course, their concern was not unfounded. My family and friends found it extremely difficult to understand why I would want to leave a well-set career to enter the mercurial entrepreneurial world and especially in an unorthodox industry.
Making business introductions and networking – I had to put in additional efforts to introduce and discuss my business idea with others in the industry or with professional consultants. There were times when I found it challenging to be taken seriously and to keep the conversation going without any uncomfortable moments or silences, especially from the opposite gender.
Finding investors – Again, given the nature of the industry, I found that there are limited or very few people who are willing to fund a venture led by a woman in this industry. Their concerns arise from the obvious facts – will this person be able to market these products and be comfortable in working in a male dominated sector?
Lack of mentors – Since the industry is in a nascent stage, and because many people assume it to be equivalent to porn, most people prefer not to enter this arena. As a result, there are very few people who have the knowledge and experience to mentor a new person.
Hiring a team – This is by far is the most challenging aspect of the industry. You can convince people to support you and to fund your venture by demonstrating your serious intent and your business acumen. But, hiring a team is a completely different thing. Very few people apply for the jobs in this industry, so getting quality people who understand the concept of sexual wellness and can deal with the daily operations – interacting with customers, media, sales and marketing, and vendors, in a mature manner is a challenge.
I feel that all these challenges, along with many more smaller ones, that women in this industry come across in day-to-day operations can only be overcome with time and with an attitude change in how the society views the industry. A more mature outlook and a healthy discussion will go a long way in getting the industry the attention it deserves.