Life is in the process, not the outcome — Films often take 7–10 years to get made, so you better enjoy the act of making, not just the “having made.” I love learning, so the process of failing, learning, failing in a new way, learning (rinse and repeat) is one I love. I like to say that the steep part of the learning curve is my happy place. But if learning is not your happy process, maybe startups aren’t for you.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Dell, Founder & CEO of Amorus.
Elizabeth is the founder of Amorus, the intimacy app for partners. Prior to tech, Elizabeth was a longtime film producer, producing multiple indie features, including Destination Wedding, starring Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves. She has a lifetime interest in sexuality and is a certified sex educator with a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am the oldest of four children and have always been a communicator and storyteller. We didn’t have a television in my house until I was a teenager, so I connected with books (I read faster than anyone I know).
I love communication in all its forms, and I’ve always been the one that my family calls when they have a delicate negotiation or are trying to interpret a tricky interaction with a colleague. I love thinking about how people interact and what drives us to engage and share with each other.
I have also always been the one who “knew about sex.” My mother was a professor of reproductive health, which meant I knew the birds and the bees both backwards and forwards. I have multiple memories of being the person at the playground / classroom / bar who said “that’s not how it works!” and proceeded to draw diagrams of body parts and menstrual cycles. So I guess my pandemic pivot was actually inevitable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m a really big believer that the work is always worth it. As an entrepreneur, creative, and freelancer, I’ve spent lots of time developing projects that don’t end up the way I expect — film scripts that never get made, collaborations that fall apart, etc. But I’ve found that good work always finds its purpose. Perhaps it teaches you a skill that you then use in another endeavor, or starts a relationship with a new and powerful co-founder, but there are always unexpected uses for good work.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As a child, one of my favorite books was The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a story of a bored child who learns that the world is full of wonder (and puns!). As Milo travels, he’s told he needs to rescue Rhyme and Reason to save the land, and that there’s one other thing, but no one can tell him what that is. At the end of the book (spoiler!), when Rhyme and Reason and the lands are saved, he asks what was the other thing? He’s told “Oh, saving them was impossible! But if we’d told you that, you never would have done it!”
I do my best to never know that things are impossible.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Prior to the pandemic, I was a film producer, specializing in low-budget independent films. I’ve produced multiple films, commercials, pilots, webseries, etc. including Destination Wedding with Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. The pandemic was devastating for the indie film business on all fronts — the capital that invested in films went away, the costs to make the movies went way up, and the methods of distribution (film festivals and art house theaters) closed. So it was a Grand Pause for my business.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Simultaneous with the Grand Pause, I was sheltered in place, so constantly at home. And specifically, I was at home away from any sexy friends — so I was celibate for the first time in decades! I was trying to find ways to stay intimate and find pleasure with friends remotely, and not having a good time of it. We would try apps or games or websites, and they would be silly and cheezy and sleazy. Nothing helped me feel sexy and empowered and pleasurable! I was complaining about the latest failed experiment to a friend and bemoaning that there was nothing available to make sexiness in a relationship easier / better / bigger, and I realized that this problem might actually be an opportunity!
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
See the above ☺ I started with a big general idea that I needed to “make sexting less hard.” I thought about a sexy Choose Your Own Adventure style game or sexy Mad Libs. I tried to build the first version with no-code programs (I created a working prototype, but too ugly to share with anyone!). And kept researching and learning and talking to people about sexting and sexy communication. All that culminated in the idea for the Amorus app.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Amorus is an app in the world! Since the pandemic, we built a full version that is now available on iOS and Android in most territories. We are currently sharing it for free as we learn from our initial users about what we can improve.
Amorus facilitates communication and pleasure between partners with games and tools for messaging, uncovering shared desires, starting new sexy chats, and more, all on a private, safe, and judgement-free platform. We have a messaging platform and mini-games like Jigsaw (send a pic to your flame as a puzzle and make them solve it before they see your image), Fantasy Swipe (swipe fantasy tiles and matched desires are revealed in your chat stream), and Chat Sparks (flirty conversation starters like “what is the deepest underground you’ve had sex?” or “what was your favorite fantasy at 20?”).
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person I’m most grateful for is my sister. She is a writer/director and my partner in our film company. She was the first person I told when I had the idea for Amorus, and it was her support and encouragement that helped me embark on this new path.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Haha. When you start in sextech, a LOT of interesting things happen to you! When everyone knows that you’re the friend who’s interested in intimacy, you start being told all kinds of stories. But the best is when your parents start telling their friends about their “daughter with the sexting app.” I am sure they’ve never sent a sext in their lives, but they’ve been totally game to learn about it and encourage me to follow my passion!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- You will get it wrong all the time — I have learned so much becoming a startup entrepreneur. From Customer Acquisition to Cap tables to startup jargon, there are always more things you don’t know. I’m constantly trying things that fail, or don’t work how I thought. But the work isn’t wasted and you learn every time.
- You will still need to try and to do — The point is not to be right, but to be moving. Even if I don’t know what the perfect choice is, the secret is to make choices. To quote the great WG “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Better to fail and learn and fail again — eventually it will get you somewhere (even if it’s not where you thought you were heading).
- People want to help — I have found the most amazing mentors by listening and saying yes and putting up my hand. Those mentors have taught me so much — even just simple things, like remembering to A/B test whenever you send an email message to users. Keep learning every step of the way!
- Life is in the process, not the outcome — Films often take 7–10 years to get made, so you better enjoy the act of making, not just the “having made.” I love learning, so the process of failing, learning, failing in a new way, learning (rinse and repeat) is one I love. I like to say that the steep part of the learning curve is my happy place. But if learning is not your happy process, maybe startups aren’t for you.
- Time is the great multiplier — whether its personal relationships, or capital accruing interest, or content finding fans in the world, time helps things grow more than you realize. So anything that you can plant and then let the world (and time) nurture and feed is more powerful than you think. Also, plant early.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I spend more time with family than I ever have before. Prior to the pandemic, we were a “call when you feel like talking” family. Now we have standing zoom calls twice per week (Sundays and Wednesdays) and occasionally we’ll do documentary movie nights after the call (watching together but separately in our various homes). It’s really powerful and balancing to have loved ones close by in my life, even when they aren’t physically co-located.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think Climate Change is THE existential threat to our world and we need to address it with everything we have. So honestly, I just want to join more forces to those begging and pleading and screaming for increased civic and international action to save our world.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Dan Savage. His podcast (Savage Love Podcast) was and is an entertaining and so educational dive into sexuality and pleasure. I love his common sense, sex-positive, and practical advice. @fakedansavage in case you want to tag him!
How can our readers follow you online?
Please download the app and try it with your partner! We’d also love it if you follow and share our socials.
iOS download: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/amorus/id1556508195
Android download: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.amorus.app
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!