The last time we talked about Singaporean sex-tech startup Vibease was 4 years ago, when we had a quick chat with co-founder Dema Tio on what the firm’s mission was.
According to Dema, adult toys have always had the stigma of being associated with kink, but with Vibease, he and co-founder Steven Kik are trying to “make mainstream the use of toys to enrich the sex lives of its users”.
It’s now 2019, and adult toys slowly shedding the ‘deviant’ and ‘taboo’ label in Singapore.
Perhaps this can be attributed to the ‘normalisation’ of toys by health and wellness stores like Watsons and Guardian which place them on the same shelves as boxes of condoms and pregnancy test kits.
2019 also marks Vibease’s first retail point in Asia – at House of Condom in Lucky Plaza.
Said the founders in an email interview with us: “We feel very honoured that House of Condom – a veteran in Singapore’s adult toys scene – is supporting local brands!”
With that, they are also looking to expand more in the Asia-Pacific region by “working with [more] strategic partners”.
Vibease has also hit US$2 million in revenue, and sold over one million Vibease-powered products to date.
I was curious, however, to find out more about the founders – two Singaporean men who pivoted from IT and engineering to creating the world’s first ‘smart’ vibrator that vibrates in sync with audiobooks.
It All Started From A Long Term Relationship
The inspiration for Vibease and its products came from the time when Dema and his (then) wife were in a long distance relationship.
Citing that a “lack of physical intimacy is one of the top reasons why couples break up”, Dema harboured the wish to find a way to maintain the physical intimacy they had.
The solution? Modifying a vibrator by adding Bluetooth capabilities to it so that it could be controlled using a smartphone.
“It was more of a fun project!”
While Dema “never intended” to join the sex-tech industry, him and colleague-turned-business partner decided to take this “fun project” to the next level, and they launched the Vibease app (then only available for Android) in 2012.
Family And Friends Were “Surprised” At The Start
Being an entrepreneur in the sex-tech industry is unconventional to say the least, and the founders shared that their family and friends were “surprised” at the start.
But after they knew [about] the problem that we were trying to solve, they all were very supportive. Some even bought our products or [recommended] Vibease to their friends!
Reactions to the startup have also been mostly positive, shared the founders.
“Very few people [know] about the sex-tech industry so it actually serves as a good opportunity for us to educate them and bring more brand awareness for Vibease.”
However, the first-time entrepreneurs still faced a very real problem – turning their prototypes into “mass production quality products”.
“There were many factors beyond our control like delays in production time, sourcing the right materials, getting the certifications,” they shared.
Advertising their products also proved to be a challenge, given the advertising restrictions on social media platforms for adult-related content.
To overcome that, they “reached out to tech and women-focused media platforms” to much success.
“This has proven to be the most effective marketing method for us as we are an ecommerce business. It helped a lot in our organic pagerank in the US!”
Hit US$2M Revenue (And Counting)
With the global adult toy market poised to be worth US$29 billion by the year 2020, it’s no surprise that Vibease’s potential has managed to secure them funding from both Singapore and US VCs, including SOS Ventures and Golden Gate Ventures.
What’s interesting, however, is that Vibease isn’t just a company that creates and sells adult toys – they also license Vibease technology to other vibrator companies.
“These (adult toy) factories will then produce ‘Vibease-powered’ vibrators and distribute them around the world,” they explained in their media kit.
Under this model, they have managed to distribute over 1 million ‘Vibease-powered’ adult toys to date, and count hitting US$2 million revenue as one of their milestones.
Singapore ‘Homecoming’, Future Plans
Albeit being a Singaporean-founded company, Dema and Steven consciously chose to expand from the US as their first and main market “because Americans are already familiar with adult gadgets”.
It is not uncommon for them to shop for vibrators in supermarkets as they value sexual wellness as an important part of their lives.
Currently, a bulk of their customers come from the US (50%), followed by Europe (30%). The remaining 20% come from the rest of the world, though most “come from English-speaking countries as [their] app and audio books are in English”.
After 7 years of being based in the US market, Vibease have made a quiet homecoming of sorts with their first retail point in Singapore at House of Condom, and there are also plans to further expand in the Asia-Pacific region.
The sexual wellness industry in Singapore and many Asian countries are still in their nascent stages, but if Vibease’s success so far is anything to go by, we might soon be seeing their products on the shelves of Watsons and Guardian too.
- Find out more about Vibease and their products here.