"It's not porn" - sex video entrepreneur Cindy Gallop

The ex-advertising big shot is trying to create an entirely new business category, social sex.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 27 Nov 2019
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Innovation

I won’t lie, I’m a little nervous writing this. No, not out of any particular reluctance to discuss a venture in the adult sector - as a business challenge, this is actually very interesting - but because I’m not entirely sure it’ll make it through your spam filters. 

It’s a business problem Cindy Gallop is intimately familiar with. The former chair of advertising giant BBH’s New York office launched her business MakeLoveNotPorn ten years ago with the modest goal of changing society’s reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. The way she intends to achieve such a cultural shift is by creating a platform for couples to share videos of real world sex in much the same way as they’d share snaps from their holiday in Marbella, which Gallop insists, is not the same as operating a porn site (of which more later).

The idea came over a decade ago from Gallop’s experiences dating men in their 20s. She encountered certain "behavioural memes" which led her to the belief that society’s 21st century access to online porn  and 19th century reluctance to talk about private matters had converged to make pornography the default sex education for a whole generation of people, warping their perceptions of intimacy.

Being rather practised at getting attention for her ideas, Gallop took to the TED Talk stage, with an infamous video in 2009, which quickly went viral (TED’s ban on the video has only just been lifted). It got such a response that Gallop decided to change her simple text website into a full-on video sharing platform. 

"We call ourselves the social sex revolution, but the revolutionary part isn’t the sex, it’s the social," explains Gallop. "I knew if we wanted to counter the global impact of porn as sex ed, I was going to have to come up with something with the potential to be one day just as mainstream.

"This is not porn. Our competition isn’t porn, it’s Facebook and YouTube. Or rather it would be if they allowed people to socially sexually self-express, which they don’t. This isn’t about performing for the camera, it’s doing what you already do on any social platform, which is capture what goes on in the real world as it happens spontaneously, in all it’s funny, messy, comical, awkward, glorious, ridiculous, wonderful humanness."

The business of social sex

She anticipated problems, not least around how to stop the platform from becoming an amateur porn site against her wishes, especially as it incentivises participants with a 50 per cent revenue share based on their views.

Gallop’s response was 1) to spend several years ironing out potential unintended consequences before launching (a rarity in the tech world), and 2) to build human curation into the business model - the site’s modest team of curators watches every video from beginning to end.

(MakeLoveNotPorn also requires all participants - including anyone behind the camera - to provide two forms of written ID to ensure all content is consensual, legal and "real"; operates entirely behind a members-only paywall; and offers rental rather than downloads to protect what Gallop calls its ‘MakeLoveNotPornStars’.)

Management Today wonders whether this will create challenges scaling, compared to entirely automated platforms. 

"Human curation is eminently feasible if you want to do it, and Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t. The five-year business plan in our investor pitch has us as a billion dollar company employing thousands of curators," says Gallop.

"The white male founders of the giant tech platforms that dominate our lives are not the primary targets of harassment, abuse, sexual assault, violence or rape, therefore they do not proactively design to prevent them. Both SnapChat and WhatsApp for example refuse to admit that their enormous growth has been driven by sexting, but if you won’t admit that a) it’s a perfectly normal activity and b) a shit tonne of it happens on your platform, you don’t design for it."

Gallop talks about an idea for a sexting app as a possible brand extension called Consensual, designed to be a safe space that will prevent revenge porn - all content would exist on the app only, could be deleted unilaterally be either partner and couldn’t be captured with a screenshot. 

"Imagine that available on the App Store globally at 99c a download, where parents say to their teenagers we know you’re going to do this, we can’t stop you, but this is the platform we want you to do it on," says Gallop. "Can I get it funded? Can I fuck." 

Funding has been just one of the many aspects of support and infrastructure that other tech start-ups take for granted but that Gallop says she has been unable to access, because of a near-universal reluctance to touch adult content. 

"Our biggest operational challenge is payments, but PayPal won’t work with us. Stripe can’t - the founders are friends and supporters, but their bank wouldn’t work with us. It took us four years to get our own bank account. We had to build our entire video sharing platform from scratch because the existing services won’t stream adult content. Even with something as simple as finding an email partner, we were rejected by 60 or 70 services," Gallop explains.

Getting funded

This has dramatically increased both the cost and time required for the business to scale. MakeLoveNotPorn has to date been financed almost entirely by Gallop and a lone, anonymous investor, who initially provided $500,000 in seed money, followed by a similar amount in convertible notes.

"[The investor] told me that whenever he meets somebody he thinks might be open, he will pitch us to them, which is how he found out what I already knew, which is that we are the final frontier of investment. He said the guys I work with will invest in literally anything else - guns, tobacco, gambling, alcohol, drugs, but the moment you mention sex, woah."

Undaunted at her struggles getting the required $2m from investors, Gallop decided to take radical action and create her own $200m fund for other sextech ventures (a term she is rather proud to have popularised), called All The Sky Holdings. 

Its focus is on game-changing, social ventures that are predominantly founded by women. "I want to fund the infrastructure of sextech, because every business obstacle that I face is a huge disruptive opportunity in itself. We will get the enormous market that is women’s needs and desires, which have historically been too taboo to address."

Two years ago, MakeLoveNotPorn’s investor offered out of the blue the $2m the business needed to scale, and Gallop continues to push the concept to anyone who will listen. "The money there is to be made out of socially acceptable sex... once you normalise this, you normalise people feeling okay publicly buying sextech goods, products and services, recommending, sharing and advocating. That’s the trillion dollar future we’re after."

Cindy Gallop is one of ten futurists to have written a chapter of Fast Forward Files: Change of Perspective, to be published in February. For further information visit fastforwardforum.eu.

Image credit: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

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