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Vibease, the Vibrator App, Struggles to Be Taken Seriously

Vibease

When Vibease pitched at a startup competition earlier this year, the audience failed to stifle their giggles – and one of the judges thought it was a joke.

Vibease is an Android app, made in Singapore, that lets your partner control your vibrator from afar (say, on a business trip). He can switch between five levels of power and four vibration patterns. And afterward, he can save the pattern for later, with a name like “soft touch.” The team has designed its own vibrator, which is prototyped and ready for manufacturing.

But for that they’ll need funding, which isn’t easy to come by when people don’t take your product seriously. At that same startup competition, Vibease almost wasn’t given a spot. One of the organizers thought it was a prank, and was going to refund their money. And their fellow students at the Founder Institute thought the idea was crazy.

Once they convince people they are, indeed, making a vibrator in conservative Singapore, they start hearing another excuse: it’s too risque. “Angel investors and VCs say this is going to make a lot of money but too bad we can’t put our company name on this product,” explains cofounder and engineer Dema Tio. Other investors say they should try the porn industry, not the tech industry.

Feeling more at home in the tech industry – and at his wife’s urging – Tio keeps pitching to tech people. But Vibease has yet to be accepted to a startup accelerator, and they couldn’t compete at the Launch Conference in San Francisco, even though they had a booth. Over time, they learned to change their pitch, talking more about helping couples be intimate than women masturbating. Tio noticed that the media in Singapore, where “certain lifestyles” are not encouraged, never talked about masturbation.

And Tio keeps it a secret from his parents, too. “My family – what they know is that I’m just doing mobile apps. I can’t tell my mom I’m doing a vibrator.” He adds, “I was pretty lucky, my wife is very supportive of this product. We are from Asia, and not many people want to be associated with this.”

But Tio is serious about this idea. It came to him four years ago, right after he got married and was apart from his wife. “After you just got married, your so-called ‘energy level tank’ is full. So for men, it’s pretty easy. But I started to think about my wife – how about her? I didn’t want her to be a Desperate Housewife.”

He wanted to help his wife, but the options were slim – mostly porn, and mostly for men. “If I ever suggested it to my wife, I think she’s going to slap me,” he recalls. Tio always enjoyed tinkering with electronics, so he thought about building a vibrator. But first, he did some research to find out if vibrators actually work for women – and the answer was yes.

So he quit his job of 10 years, and bootstrapped the company before raising small angel funding. He talked with female counselors to understand women’s orgasms, learning that hearing and emotions play a role. (The Vibease app incorporates text messages and will be adding video chat.)

“We needed to make sure this is not just another sex toy. Because we are engineers – we need to know why,” explains Tio. “We are trying to build communication, emotional connection.”

And part of Tio’s goal is to educate men that orgasms for women are possible and important. “We believe the world will be a better place when women can have as much orgasm as men do,” he says.

It’s not a message that many people want to endorse publicly, however much they might agree. But, in the tech industry, Vibease just needs to find a few crazy people to believe in their vision.

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About the Author

Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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