Unlike female sex toys, adult products for men have seen relatively little change and innovation over the past decades. Moreover, using toys has been perceived less ‘normal’ for men than for women.
“The male sex toys used to be advertised on the back of porn magazines, clearly for those sad guys who couldn’t get a girlfriend,” said Adam Lewis, the founder and CEO of Hot Octopuss, told us in an interview. “That perception is being eroded very quickly these days.”
It’s safe to say that Hot Octopuss has already made a dent on the industry and is arguably one of the more innovative players on the market. Even though its current generation of male and female sex toys are not connected to smartphone apps, the tech itself is quite fascinating.
Lewis, a former managing director of an event company, started thinking about a new way of building male sex toys more than 10 years ago. With no engineering background or experience, he still put together a few DIY models stemming from the idea that the toys don’t need to resemble a vagina and require the back and forth movement you’d normally expect.
“I’ve always been messing around with homemade sex toys,” Lewis said. “I like vibration, so I had some vibrating eggs that I ducted into a male type kind of toy, ever since I was quite young. I always had some kind of interest in my penis. One day I thought — I’ve been making these makeshift toys, so now I go on the internet and see if I can buy myself a real vibrating male toy. But at the time, absolutely nothing existed. Everything was phallic — flashing lights, pocket pussies, all looking to replicate that human interaction, but nothing that worked on technology.”
Lewis wrote first version of Hot Octopuss’s business plan on the back of a sheet of paper at 3am, after a party at his house.
“I was lying in bed, and I thought—you know what, this is my [business] idea,” he said. “I sat down at the table and started writing. Next day, I decided I was going to pursue this, try to prove it, in line with my day job.”
One night, while trawling the internet “for some connection between penises and vibration,” Lewis came across a medical journal where he found what he was looking for —the technology called “penile vibratory stimulation.” It was mostly used to help patients with spinal cord injuries ejaculate, so that they could conceive children.
“It was a procedure they had been doing for ten years,” he said. “They used medical vibrators that they put on these guys’ penises. It was not a nice procedure, but it worked.”
For Lewis, it was a perfect stepping stone, although it took much more time to make the technology consumer-ready. Hot Octopuss purchased a license from the company that manufactures the medical version of the device and got to work on what’d ultimately become the company’s patented PulsePlate technology.
“Despite us having a blueprint for this medical device, the device itself was very much designed for medical application. It was big, it was loud, it wasn’t waterproof. All the things important within the consumer electronics market didn’t matter in the medical space.”
Three years into his work on the Pulse, Hot Octopuss’s first “guybrator,” Lewis left his event agency job.
“I was struggling to juggle both projects, and I saw that my job was suffering,” he said. “I liked it, they were good to me, and I didn’t want to fail them. At that moment we got an investment enough to cover a basic salary for me so I could leave the job and start [working on the Pulse] full time.”
A year later, in September 2013, Hot Octopuss brought the first generation of the Pulse toy to the market with a launch event in Las Vegas. Even after the shipments of the Pulse started, however, it still took them many months to perfect the product. The Pulse I still had glue marks on it, it was loud, and its bespoke motors were not always reliable.
“Dealing with [the manufacturer in] China was very difficult, especially with the Pulse,” Lewis said. “We were creating a product that had never been manufactured before in China, so we kept getting prototypes back that were completely different to the brief. They could not understand what we were trying to do and kept reverting back to what they knew, the traditional vibration.”
Nevertheless, the device was a success and is still the best-selling product series in the company’s range, with the main market being the US. An interesting feature stemming from its medical origins is that you don’t need to have an erection to start using the Pulse, which makes it suitable for people with erectile dysfunctions, including older consumers.
The communication with the Chinese manufacturer went better for the second device — the Atom Plus cock ring with perineum stimulation.
“Cock rings were there for years,” he said. “In the top part you’d have an integrated cock ring motor, but the bottom part was always a rather weak bullet vibe. You couldn’t run wires from the top to the bottom, because the cock ring had to stretch.”
After Hot Octopuss sent the first brief of the Atom Plus to the factory, a reply came informing them that it was a beautiful device, which could not be made.
“We persevered with the factory and our design agency and again created a new way of making these devices with a nylon tube, through which wires run, threaded like a telephone wire. As you pulled it, within the tube it’d go up and down, allowing the ring to stretch. That’s how we could put a very powerful motor in the bottom, which stimulates the perineum—something that has never been done before.”
Hot Octopuss has only nine full-time employees and works with an agency to convert Lewis’s ideas into designs that can then be sent to manufacturing. Over in Hong Kong, the company works with an agent that is responsible for all communication and production. An interesting positive side effect of working this way is that the factory wouldn’t even think about plagiarizing Hot Octopuss’s designs, as it’d mean losing all the projects brought by the agent, which could amount to tens of millions of dollars.
Expanding its product range, Hot Octopuss has also launched a female sex toy based on PulsePlate. Dubbed Queen Bee, it’s doing well on the market, though far from getting close to the success of the Pulse series. Lewis explains this dynamic by the general competitiveness of the female sex toy market compared to its male counterpart.
“The market has become a lot more progressive [over the past few years]. A lot is happening,” he said. “The male market is very young in terms of how it’s perceived and accepted by general public, it’s now at three percent of what it potentially could be.”
“Every great male product expands the market, gets more males interested in sex toys rather than taking away from our sales. We’re on a joint mission to expand this market. Look at Kiiroo, MysteryVibe, CobraLibre — all of these are beautifully curated products that are far distant from rubbery fake vaginas and blob dolls that used to be associated with male products.”
Unlike many other hip and technologically advanced sex toys, none of the products made by Hot Octopuss offers a smartphone app to control it. It’s a conscious decision, Lewis explained, made first of all in order to be able to price the devices competitively.
“I keep wondering — is this something that consumers are asking for, or is it something that the manufacturers create to offer something different,” he said. “Our products are all about the sexual pleasure you get from them— and that does not require an app.”
Nevertheless, Hot Octopuss is planning to bring a connected version of the Pulse to the market in the near future. The feature will be included in a flagship device called Pulse IV Concept. Also in the pipeline are Solo and Duo versions of the new Pulse, as well as three new female products and an entry-level “guybrator.”
The main idea of the company remains the same — bringing technology and materials from outside the industry and applying them to sex toys. For the products in the works, Lewis said he’s adapting materials and processes used in sports, cosmetics, jewellery, automotive, and beauty industries.
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