Female Founders: Polly Rodriguez wants womxn to get unbound
I had the pleasure of interviewing Polly Rodriguez, CEO and Co-Founder of Unbound. Unbound is the first venture backed sexual wellness company for women.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve always been drawn to turning terrible experiences into great ones for customers. My first job out of college was working for Senator Claire McCaskill in Washington DC, and then I went on to specialize in strategy consulting at Deloitte.
Following three years of working on customer experience and brand building, I joined Grouper, a YCombinator startup that focused on the worst experience of all: dating in New York City (and subsequently globally).
But there was always one shopping experience that I found to be the worst — buying your first vibrator as a woman. Years later, I’m now the CEO of Unbound, the first direct-to-consumer brand name in sexual wellness.
Why did you found your company?
When I was 21 years old, I found myself with a velcro fanny pack full of chemotherapy drugs in a sketchy sex shop next to the airport in St. Louis, Missouri. I had been diagnosed with stage IIIC colon cancer and radiation treatment nuked my ovaries.
My doctors told me I would never have children, but failed to mention I was going through menopause. It wasn’t until I googled my symptoms that I realized that for the rest of my life I’d struggle with arousal and sexual discomfort.
So, I took it upon myself to buy a vibrator and lubricant. And as I awkwardly wandered the rubber penis aisle of that seedy shop on the side of the highway, I couldn’t help but feel mortified that I was there at all.
It was then that I realized, as womxn (cis gendered, femme, and non-binary), our sexuality is a dichotomy of fertility and hyper-sexuality. I felt like there should be something in the middle, in-between the two, where we could define our sexuality for ourselves instead of by others. And 10 years later, Unbound was born with the goal to make sexual health accessible to all.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Oh we’re just trying to break down hundreds of years of social stigma when it comes to women, sex, and pleasure. In all seriousness, our goal is to make sexual health accessible to all people through elevated design and affordable pricing.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
My mother and grandmothers are all career women who took great pride in their professional identity. They are first and foremost my greatest mentors.
My first professional mentor was Senator Claire McCaskill who taught me that women don’t need to apologize for being strong leaders.
Malika Gandhi at Deloitte Consulting taught me it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission and to “play your own game” — don’t worry about what others are doing, just focus on the quality of your own work
Matt Mireles was Unbound’s first advisor and has stuck by me since day 1, pushing me to do the hard things that have allowed Unbound to grow and thrive
How are you going to shake things up next?
We’ve got 12 new products in the pipeline, including some really innovating wearables that I cannot share anything about yet — but be on the lookout for them to go live for pre-sale in the coming month!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
My grandmother Clara Jane used to always say, “laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.” I try to bring this mentality to everything I do, which is to realize that happiness often is just a choice. You can choose to enjoy the ride and bring people along with you, or you can wallow and cry when things go wrong and find yourself all alone.
“Tell me it can’t be done and I will fucking well show you” from Cindy Gallop, who is a force of nature and fellow sex tech founder. She’s taught me that sheer relentlessness is ultimately all that matters and that you can use your detractors to fuel your motivation. If it was easy, someone would have done it already and her confidence in being able to do basically anything is a constant inspiration
“All you can do is your best” from my dad who tells me this probably once a week. It’s so easy to beat yourself up when things don’t go the way you think they will, to work yourself to death, and still feel like you’re coming up short. I’m my harshest critic and it’s important to remember that no one is perfect and all you can do is your best.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
NPR used to have this podcast called From Scratch which was the OG version of How I Built This (and was hosted by a woman, just sayin’) and in the early days of Unbound, when it felt like nothing was working, listening to the struggles of other founders made me feel less alone.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
If I could have lunch with anyone it would be Stevie Nicks, because I think she is an eternal fountain of wisdom and honestly made of pure magic fairy dust
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Unbound’s accounts are far more interesting than mine! @unboundbabes for the former, @polly_claire for the latter