Building a Sex-Positive Social Enterprise

What we’ve discovered about creating sexy online interactions while building and where we’re headed next

One Submissive Act is a site for people to offer to take an erotic photo and show it privately to another person. It’s been running for one year, has had 70,000 registered users, has seen over 200,000 photos exchanged, and averages about 2,000 visitors per day.

Our Minimum Viable Product was very simple and was built in a weekend. The home page asked the user if they consented to perform one submissive act for someone. We didn’t explain much about what this entailed, just provided a big red “I Consent” button. Our first hypothesis to test was that people would click this button. People did - in fact, running paid ads on adult social network showed that about 70% of our traffic clicked the button.

Consenting to perform a submissive act gave you a link to share that would allow whomever used it first to “claim” your offer, and write down what they wanted to photograph. Our second hypothesis was that people would share this link with people they had already flirted with online, perhaps via email. We found they didn’t really do this, instead choosing to share their links publicly via tweets, web forums, and eventually reddit and 4chan, which is when things really took off.

We’ve performed many experiments since, and have consolidated a few key bits of learning.

Lesson 1: There is a space for purely online sexual interaction

Sites like Tinder, Grindr, Adult Friend Finder, etc. provide a venue for real world hookups. Social networks like fetlife provide a way to build lasting friendships and organise special interest groups. However, it seems that many people want to have a moment of feeling sexy (often through exhibitionism) with a stranger online. This desire seems to widespread, and represents a clear opportunity.

Lesson 2: Online sexual interaction needs a private audience

Anyone can put a naked photo on the internet. There are so many out there that it’d barely even be noticed. Many people seem to find the idea of being watched pretty sexy, however, they don’t usually mean being watched by the entire internet. We’ve talked to many many people who find the idea of being watched by a limited audience, of one or several people, to be a very sexy online interaction. In these cases, we think that the exhibitor needs to be aware of the audience and their enjoyment, and that the audience needs to be people who they would potentially be attracted to.

Lesson 3: People want to have these interactions with strangers

It’s not just the fetish of being exposed to a stranger; people see online sexual interactions as a safe way to start something with someone new. Being desired by a stranger makes them feel sexy. People don’t always know how to start online interactions on existing social networks. Other people find they are constantly swamped by men sending them dick pics. People’s online sexual tastes often seem fundamentally compatible, and they want these experiences with new people to be set up for them in a way that doesn’t swamp their inboxes.

We’ve been able to validate much of this learning, and we have a site that’s working, but it’s not growing on its own. Marketing could be the problem, but I suspect that we haven’t quite hit product/market fit with our particular expression of these ideas, or at least haven’t done so for a demographic that is large enough to support a sustainable business. We’re very popular amongst certain demographics, including male “sissification” fetishists, and young “dare” enthusiasts. Our branding specifically targets the kink community, which excludes many people who find the idea of the site sexy when they have it explained, but wouldn’t normally go looking for it.

User interviews show that the three lessons above strongly resonate with women. We realised that there is a category of ideal“earlyvangelist” user who is typically female, middle aged, feeling a desire for sexual experimentation and enjoying feeling desirable to others. We think that facilitating fulfilling and safe online sexual experiences for these people enriches their lives and is likely to be recommended to like-minded friends. Having them as early users of the site creates a compelling reason for people who find them attractive to get involved.

Our Team

The important thing about One Submissive Act is not the product (although it’s quite strong technically, and our users rate it highly when surveyed). More critical to success are our validated learnings, and our team. We’re a team of three, all very experienced in our respective fields of business administration, coding and social media marketing.

The lessons above describe a product that has huge potential for growth, but we’re yet to unlock that potential. Doing so will require continuing to run some fairly major experiments to break into more mainstream demographics, and unlock an engine of growth that works (we’d still like to try for viral).

This project is being run by sex-positive people who genuinely care about improving society by lifting taboos around sex. However, until we start to see product market fit, none of us are able to quit our jobs and give it a real shot. So, it’s an evening project, and is under-resourced (mainly on the non technical side).

We’d like to bring in some new founders to help shape some radical new experiments to help us get there. We know that evening projects aren’t ideal for startups, but we think a team of half a dozen people could do some interesting things. We are open to completely changing the brand, or even throwing away the site entirely, in order to find what really works. However, we have achieved a good deal of exposure with the site that can be used to leverage our next experiment.

If you think that you might be interested in getting involved, we’d like to talk to you. Programming skills are absolutely not a requirement. It’d be handy to have a visual or UX designer, but our most important work is customer development. If you’ve ever read The Lean Startup, or been to a startup weekend, you probably have an inkling of the sort of thing that we need to do.

A New Mission

As part of enlarging our team, we’re keen to restructure with stronger focus on a social mission. The lessons we’ve learned indicate that serving people’s needs for sexual interaction on the web can be a tremendous force for good in society if a sex-positive and inclusive agenda is consciously held by the team.

We’re interested in exploring whether we can build a team made up of people interested in sex-positive activism, and explicitly structure ourselves as a social enterprise with a constitutionally enshrined mission to make the world a better place through a positive and open approach to sex.

This venture already includes members of Enspiral, an international network of social enterprises, and if we can clarify our social mission, we would like to see what it would take to be the first sex related Enspiral venture. This is by no means assured, this is a private side project at present, and Enspiral is a diverse group of people holding a range of different views on what constitutes social enterprise.

If you you have any ideas about this, or would like to discuss getting involved, please contact Craig Ambrose -