BUSINESS

The Company Whose New Sex Toy Helps You Hook Up With Strangers

BUSINESS
Jan 20, 2014 at 8:38 AM ET

“Honey, check your Wi-Fi connection—I’m not feeling anything.”

That may be the future of “intimate” conversations, especially if Toon Timmermans’ company takes off.

Timmermans, a Dutch entrepreneur, is launching Kiiroo, a company that sells digital sex toys for the modern age. The Kiiroo is made of plastic and rubber, and conforms to male and female body parts. What makes Kiiroo different from other sex toys—dare I say “innovative”—is that the two devices are tethered together via the web, on the Kiiroo platform. When one partner makes a motion with his Kiiroo device, his partner feels it through her Kiiroo device, no matter how far away she is.

Tweet at us: Would you use this thing?

“Normally, people on the Internet see and hear each other—it’s two-dimensional,” Timmermans says, speaking with me in a recent Skype chat. “But now you can feel each other. That’s the third dimension.”

Timmermans thinks the device will appeal to couples in long-distance relationships, but he is also launching a Chatroulette-esque social network for people to meet online, strap on their Kiiroos and have at it. Imagine Tinder, with the sex toys included.

“If you want to be intimate with each other, it’s very difficult online,” Timmermans says. “I’ve always been fascinated with technology, and what we have done is developed this specific technology that can simulate the intimacy of what you can have in real life.” The price: $219 for the male Kiiroo plus $69 for the woman’s counterpart.

The technology is actually rather straightforward. Both devices are equipped with eight sensors and accelerometers that measure speed and distance. If the woman decides to thrust her Kiiroo quickly, for instance, the man’s Kiiroo recreates the motion, and he feels the impact of that thrusting. Likewise, if the man slows down on his device—well, you get the picture. Depending on your viewpoint, the device is either just another piece of plastic for people to screw, or it’s an adventurous leap forward into a new world digital-cum-physical relationships.

Sex toys have been around for centuries. The wonderfully named tremoussoir, for instance, was a French vibrator dating back to 1734. (It was made of wood and you had to wind it up, like a pervy music box.) Back then, and to a large extent up until recently, sex toys were a niche (creepy) business.

Not anymore. There are nearly 500,000 sex toys for sale on Amazon.com—it’s one of the online retailer’s largest verticals. Sex toys are a $15 billion industry that’s growing at 30 percent a year, largely thanks to the anonymity and accessibility of online retail.

The sex toys of 2014 are hardly tremoussoirs. There’s now the the Oculus Rift virtual reality system, which is headgear that includes a robotic attachment that gives you a blow job. There’s Lovepalz, which, like the Kiiroo, simulates a partner’s movements virtually using Wi-Fi, but without the social network that Kiiroo is trying to create. And in 2012, San Francisco techies launched Viabease—the “world’s first wearable smart vibrator.” (You can control the vibrator from your phone so you don’t have to be touching your partner to get her off.)

So there are lots of sex toys for sale, but do people actually buy them? According to a recent survey, about 40 percent of the U.S. population have purchased a sex toy in their life. Other sources claim that percentage could be twice as high. There are no reliable statistics on how much money people typically spend, specifically, on sex toys, but consider this: Within months of launching, Lovepalz, which retails at $189, the company had sold 10,000 units. 

Timmermans started his career on a fairly traditional entrepreneurial path. After graduating from the Fontys University of Applied Sciences of Amsterdam in 2001, he founded a company that printed sports calendars. In 2007, he founded Flogs.com, a software company that builds custom calendars for sports teams and small companies.

The idea for Kiiroo, he says, came in 2012, after he had broken up with his girlfriend of eight years and was thinking about alternatives to the bar scene. “I’m from Amsterdam, you know,” he says. “It’s pretty normal to go into a sex shop and buy a toy together.”

He started Kiiroo in April 2013, and has been working on the company since. The self-funded company, based in Amsterdam, now has nine employees. I asked Timmermans what his friends and family think of his new endeavor, and he assures me that they think it’s pretty awesome.

“I like physical interaction as well,” he says. “But why do you think Snapchat is so big? Because people are sending pictures over the Internet. People are sending erotic pictures that are gone after a couple of seconds. We can’t ignore the fact that people are searching to be more intimate in a digital way.”

Timmermans is taking Kiiroo to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo starting today to drum up interest from potential customers and begin selling his sex toys. He’s also spending this week in Los Angeles, showing Kiiroo off at Xbiz, the largest adult retailing conference in the world.

Of course, I had to ask him—you know—if he’s tried out Kiiroo himself.

“I always say you have to eat your own dog food,” he says.

And ladies, a short PSA: Toon is single.