Rise’s Radical Renegade is a monthly series featuring interviews with trailblazing career mavens. Kicking off the lineup is Alex Fine, CEO
On a cold March afternoon in Williamsburg, Rise CEO Vivian Chen sat down with fellow entrepreneur Alex Fine. They talked about sex, setbacks, how empowerment in the bedroom can carry over to the boardroom and much more.
Who are you?
I’m Alex, I’m CEO and cofounder of Dame Products. We make tools for sexual wellness. Our whole idea is to make the world a happier place one vulva at a time. I do really believe that sexual pleasure, specifically female sexual pleasure, is a taboo and a conversation that desperately needs to be rewritten. And by rewriting it, we can really start to heal one of our deepest wounds.
What empowers you to talk freely about sex despite the taboo around it?
First of all, I was born with very little shame (as some of my friends have pointed out). I think I am naturally very extroverted. I love people, I love silliness. Actually, dancing really helped me enjoy being silly and being in my body. I loved acting and theatre, and all of those things make it a lot easier to realize that your mistakes can be funny. Everything is about how you wear it. And that’s not to say I’ve never experienced shame–I definitely have. In fact, I think the place that I felt it the most and had the hardest time shaking it was probably around my sexuality. And that’s probably ultimately what drew me to the conversation. I love talking about things you’re not supposed to talk about. I think there’s something similar
I loved acting and theatre, and all of those things make it a lot easier to realize that your mistakes can be funny. Everything is about how you wear it.
How do you approach creating a safe space for your customers?
One of the words that’s used often in the industry that I find really challenging is “discreet.” Because it is an intimate experience. We’re talking something that literally comes from inside of your body so it’s the most intimate and we want to respect that. And maybe that’s also where some of the problems started—because it feels so intimate and private, it is harder to discuss. But we need to be able to find the language, have the conversations and address it in a non-shameful way so everybody is safe and enjoying themselves.
What’s been your biggest setback?
With manufactured product, things just happen and on occasion, there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you figure out two pieces aren’t working and you already put it in 500 products so you have to make the best decisions and just move forward. But honestly, those issues and setbacks don’t feel anything like the setbacks of the taboo. It’s interesting because ultimately we sell a product and I think whenever you sell something, the way you function as a business is to get consumers to value the product that you’re putting out there—that’s happening. The problem is that institutions don’t value that value. They don’t want us to advertise, they don’t want us to work in their buildings or they don’t want to give us a loan. So those are the challenges that are definitely really starting to change and I think we’re helping to meet that change, which is amazing and feels very fulfilling.
What keeps you going?
What’s fundraising for Dame been like?
Most of our investors are men, actually. But I really do feel like there has been a change in the world. When we were looking for investors in 2016, I do feel like there were a few women who didn’t want to champion the women’s stuff out of fear that it would pigeonhole them. I think it’s easier to get behind other femme tech stuff that isn’t centered on sexuality—whether it’s menstruation care or menopause care (all of which, of course, are ultimately tied to sexuality). I do feel like I speak to more and more women investors all the time. #MeToo has had an interesting impact on the way I can talk about sex in the workplace. There are some men who are more afraid of me now, which is also kind of cool. But there’s also a lot of people who are agreeing that we do need to figure out how to have a conversation about sex. It can’t only be that it’s bad. Which is fun too, by the way—I do love that sex is bad but sex is also good.
Does empowerment in your personal life make you more confident in your work life?
Yeah, probably. I don’t know why I’m so confident. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve seen so many people achieve great things who aren’t necessarily perfect, you know? No one’s perfect. So I think it’s very easy for me to hold the ideas that “I can do it” and “I don’t know what I’m doing” at the same time. I do actually think starting a business sometimes has the biggest hit on your confidence. It’s been much harder. It’s much easier to get men to sleep with you than starting your own business.
I don’t know why I’m so confident. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve seen so many people achieve great things who aren’t necessarily perfect.
What helped you get things off the ground and running?
I think what I learned at my first job was how much you can rely on third party. So at Dame, we worked with accountants, marketing agencies, designers, a lots of different consultants. I think when you’re getting started, it’s good to have different people that specialize in different things.