Viv Conway and Jo Cummins founded their female-focused sex toy brand to empower women to embrace sexual wellbeing. Conway joined Business is Boring to talk about growing the business and overcoming social stigmas.
Growing a business is difficult in the first place – but when it’s one that falls under strict advertising rules, funding pressures and social stigmas, it’s sure to be even harder. Girls Get Off is a sex toy brand founded by Viv Conway and Jo Cummins in 2020. They wanted to empower other wāhine in their sexual health and realised there was a real lack of sex-toy marketing towards women, in ways that women engage with – so decided to change that.
Their goal was to be fun, relatable, safe, and to normalise buying sex toys. So they designed one, ordered in 1,000 samples and then got to work marketing them. Since then, Girls Get Off has taken off, growing a huge online presence with their social content, including “Sunday confessions”, where they share anonymous sex confessions from their more than 70,000 Instagram followers.
Conway joined Business is Boring last week to talk about sexual wellbeing, advertising and what’s next for Girls Get Off.
Simon Pound: Once you noticed that there was a gap for a brand that actually talked about this taboo topic, was it hard to decide that you would fill that gap? Because we’re all brought up pretty repressed.
Viv Conway: Yeah, and I think particularly in New Zealand that’s true. You have European friends that just don’t care as much – they get naked at the beach. But in New Zealand, we’re all a bit prudish.
We initially set out to say we’re going to be a wellness brand – this is sexual wellness. And then we realised that actually our mission is more around normalising female pleasure. When you start any business you can do as much research as you like, and you can plan it to a stage, but you’re never going to know until people actually pull out the money and pay for it.
So we ordered 1,000 of these vibrators. And thought, you know what, we might just end up with 1,000 vibrators in the garage, but we’re gonna give it a go, we’ll just test the market and see what happens. I’m glad we took the chance, because you can plan and be as confident as you like, but there’s always an era of uncertainty.
This is an industry that’s super hard to advertise and super hard to get talked about and picked up in the media, so how did you begin to get the word out about Girls Get Off?
From the very beginning, we wanted to be really strong on our branding. We’re not going to cut corners with how we want it to look and feel, and then knowing that we couldn’t use any paid advertising, we had to then bring this back to something that’s fun. What we were seeing in the market is a lot of brands going down the “woo-woo” route, like selling glass yoni eggs or whatever, and that’s all cool, they’ve definitely got their audience for it, but we realised that wasn’t always relatable to the masses.
What is relatable is making it fun and humorous. Not a joke brand, but making it so that people can have a little laugh. For example, our Sunday confessions – people write in with what they’ve been up to on the weekend. And that’s an opportunity for people to share that content with others without having to talk about what vibrator they’re using or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
What are the kinds of barriers that are against you that aren’t against a business selling any other product?
Well, we can’t use any paid advertising. I think our ad account got blocked pretty much straight away, as soon as we started to even try those things. Stuff gets declined all the time, so that can be pretty challenging. I work with billboards and that’s been quite a funny experience finding agencies who are open-minded about working with us, because when you’re reaching out cold to people, particularly over email, and asking if you can talk about your vibrator business, the response isn’t always fantastic.
We had a billboard down in Tauranga that we put up when Aucklanders were coming out of the lockdown. And it just so happened that we met someone who does billboards and they said “look, the landowner for this site actually used to sell sex toys, so he says do whatever you want”. So we can get there, but it’s just about figuring it out and it just takes a little bit longer and we’ve got to be really creative. But all our competitors are in the same boat anyway.
What are your plans from this point? Are you going to expand the range?
We might discontinue things and add others, depending on what the market wants. But at the moment we will only ever have a small range, because that’s the thing that we identified as being a huge problem – you don’t necessarily know what you want, particularly if you’ve only ever tried one or two toys before. You don’t want to go on and find 500 different toys, it’s too hard. It’s not like looking for a movie.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.