Female Founders: Tanya Dmitrieva of Deep On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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First, you need to learn how to delegate tasks and manage people. I didn’t understand this right away. I really like to handle the organizational details of parties, but if I want to develop and grow then I need to transfer these tasks to other people, learn how to manage them, and work with a team. It was a painful realization because I wanted to do what I love and not be in charge of running a company. But I have adjusted. Having your own business is always about managing people.

As a part of our series about “Female Founders: Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Dmitrieva — sex educator, and founder of wellness platform Deep, Kinky Company, and Sexprosvet 18+ agency. For the last 7 years, Tanya has been actively developing the culture of sex and mindfulness worldwide. During these times she has initiated 573 educational and sensual events in CIS countries aimed at sex education and development. She is a TedX Speaker and community leader: 30,000+ sex-positive people all over the world. Since 2020, Tanya has been developing Deep. It is a digital platform for deep changes regarding mindfulness and sensual experience development.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was born in Moscow and grew up in an atmosphere of creativity and multiculturalism. My parents had their own business — they opened their own music label and released records, and also created a cultural Center and a fund to support new music that appeared after the USSR collapsed. We constantly went to various music concerts and art festivals. American saxophonists, Japanese dancers, and British artists often spent the night at our house. As I was growing up, I was always surrounded by a supportive environment of creativity and cultural exchange. I was inspired by my parents’ initiatives and the influence they had on the creative community in Russia. So even when I was just a child, I was already very excited about the idea of opening my own business which would likewise unite people.

I have launched many different businesses over the course of my life, and the ideas for them came to me from problems I encountered in my everyday life. For example, my very first business was a clothing store from Korea. Then I decided to launch a pet-sitting service. But the idea didn’t turn out to be a successful business because at some point I got tired of doing something that I wasn’t totally into. After this experience, I understood that I had to have a burning passion for my work if I wanted it to really take off, so in all of my following projects my interest in the type of work was a top priority when deciding on an idea for a business.

I have tried many professions in my lifetime: I worked at a school for seven years, then in commercial real estate. I have also worked as a PR manager, an assistant and a translator. I also have experience working on cultural and educational projects.

There have been a lot of business ventures in my life. I always come up with something that aims to improve the world, and I try to create services that can really help people. During the pandemic, it became clear to me that it was time to create something online since almost all offline businesses were severely affected by the crisis, and that’s how the idea to create Deep came about. My knowledge of teaching methods and extensive research of the sex industry helped me in creating a sex education platform. The experience of creating a business, as well as the communication skills that I developed while working at a school and in real estate, the experience of creating cultural and educational projects — all these things led me to what I am doing now.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When my business partner and I decided to organize kinky parties, we honestly thought that at the parties we would just kick back and hang out. But for the first three or four years, we could not mentally relax at any of our parties because there were so many organizational difficulties to deal with. And now it’s still impossible to take it easy even though we have a large team that handles all issues and we have over 100 parties under our belt. The responsibility for how the event goes is still on our shoulders and makes it difficult to take it easy and just have fun. Our previous wishful thinking of just “kicking back and hanging out” now seems ridiculously funny.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. 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?

There have been so many people that have contributed to my business, they are all pieces of a big puzzle. Even if I had a negative experience with someone, without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. All my bosses and colleagues at all my previous works, and later advisors, mentors, employees and guests of Kinky Party are important people who taught me a lot — I am very grateful to them for all the knowledge, advice and support they gave me.

I have been earnestly trying to find myself. I tried out a lot of things and at the time it seemed to me that I was just wasting time, but now I understand that it wasn’t for nothing. I acquired a variety of crucially important skills from all of my different experiences. For instance, PR is the main marketing tool for our business since conventional ways don’t work in our case. We can’t advertise on Facebook and Instagram because social media blocks ads related to sex. And the fact that I have experience in PR is one of the elements contributing to our success.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

In my opinion, the main reason for this is the way our society is structured. And there are few women not only in business, but also in science and other “traditionally” male-dominated fields. This is directly related to stereotypes and myths that women have their own special life path. Although now there already is an understanding in many countries that women are full-fledged members of society, the old stereotypes about gender differences have not gone anywhere. People still say that women are impulsive, hysterical, and that it isn’t interesting to negotiate with them. And this also applies to perceptions of men, although we are gradually transforming our view of masculinity and coming to the conclusion that men can also choose a different image for themselves, and have options for lifestyle choices and self-realization. But the echoes of stereotypes are still firm in people’s minds, and they prevent women from choosing an “unconventional” path, including entrepreneurship.

The system does not yet work in such a way that if any woman or a girl at the age of seven that decides that she wants to be a businesswoman and works towards this goal, will find support all along the way. Women still have to break through the glass ceiling, endure biases and prejudice, and deal with condescending and dismissive attitudes. Not everyone can handle it. And that’s why many believe that they can’t become a successful businesswoman. “Some other women are special, but I’m just ordinary, I can’t do it. This is all too complicated, this is man’s territory”. It will take decades to put an end to this way of thinking while new generations are growing up with a fresh, more open outlook.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

As individuals, we can work on our way of thinking by getting rid of stereotypes and opening our consciousness to see the world on a wider, deeper level. Men can try to help the women around them develop and move up the career ladder, if he has such an opportunity to do so.

As a society we can support feminism and spread its ideas in our public organizations and movements. Here is an important point: feminism is not about someone being worse or better, or that it is necessary to drastically change all principles. It is about the fact that all people are different and the particularities of work and interactions don’t depend on gender. Men and women have the same rights and capabilities to live the kind of life they want.

And the government can pass laws, conduct relevant campaigns, and provide sexual and gender education. And the last one is the most important.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I don’t like the “women should become entrepreneurs” call to action. An ideal picture of the world revolves around freedom. Women should not be called on to do something, the result will just be an inversion of patriarchy where the woman is the breadwinner and the man takes care of the house. We should not assign roles because we cannot know what will be better for this or that person. I felt emotionally strained working as an employee, while someone else will have a hard time in the role of an entrepreneur.

Women should listen to themselves and do the kind of work they want to further develop in, work that brings them pleasure, energy, and happiness. And I would encourage men to do the same. That is what is important, and not for everyone across the board to become an entrepreneur. The only benefit from women becoming the heads of businesses more often is that there will be more examples for children in order to change the stereotype and bring a balance to society. But this can’t be done under compulsion.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

A common myth is that there are two polar views about founders. The first one is that if you are a founder, then you must strictly manage all your employees, reprimand and penalize them. The second is that in startups there are only friendships and a flexible approach, horizontal management, and so on.

But everyone is very different. For some the hierarchical system works better, for others the teal horizontal organization form is more fitting. I believe that the ideal founder is flexible and should know how to choose a management style for each specific person. And I try to be such a founder.

Another myth is that founders simply earn ridiculous amounts of money and do nothing. That’s what employees think sometimes. However it is the founder that is responsible for bringing in investments. And in difficult times, the founder has to invest earned money back into the company, or loses it all together.

Many people also think that all founders are supposed to be endlessly at work from morning to night and sleep with a laptop in their arms. This is partly true: I know some people who go to the beach with a laptop and make calls at night. I would like to be one of these kind people but at some point after a burnout I understood that for me it is very important to maintain a balance. So I don’t work on weekends, I try to relax in the evenings and at night and set aside time to spend with my family and loved ones. This way in the long run I will accomplish more and my work will be better.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I don’t think everyone is cut out to be a founder. Based on my personal observations, to become a successful entrepreneur the person must want to prove to the world that they can do anything, that they are the best. Then they will have the desire to work non-stop. This can be from some innate traits that they have, or from their upbringing — the latter is my story, I always had to prove that I can do something. Now I’m working a lot with a psychologist to get rid of this tendency, and to accept myself as I am. But perhaps without this, I wouldn’t have pursued entrepreneurship.

In addition, I heard that an entrepreneurial mindset is not inherent in everyone. For example, I analyzed many of my closest friends and concluded that startups and running a business would be a huge stress for them. They need a different kind of life. So I don’t think that just anyone can be a founder. And there are certain traits that an entrepreneur needs to have.

First, they must have the ability to take responsibility: for every decision that is made, for every hired employee, and the chosen strategy. Second, they must have a high tolerance for stress to cope with such responsibility, deal with tasks in a calm manner, and find solutions with a cool head. And third, flexibility, the ability to set a goal and work towards it, and a love for decision-making are all needed. As an employee what bothered me was the fact that someone was making universal decisions for me, but I wanted complete freedom. You have it as an entrepreneur. While for other people, on the contrary, it is better when decisions are made by another person in a more senior position.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

I’ve selected five things that people have told me, though it was not quite at the beginning but rather as I progressed as an entrepreneur. If absolutely all advice had been given to me at the start, it’s possible that I would not have gone forward simply out of fear of facing it all.

First, you need to learn how to delegate tasks and manage people. I didn’t understand this right away. I really like to handle the organizational details of parties, but if I want to develop and grow then I need to transfer these tasks to other people, learn how to manage them, and work with a team. It was a painful realization because I wanted to do what I love and not be in charge of running a company. But I have adjusted. Having your own business is always about managing people.

Second, there are no boundaries or ceilings. As I continued to develop as an entrepreneur, I found more and more evidence of this. In 2017 for our first project as I joke I called our administration Kinky Corporation, although at the time we only had two employees. But I like to create intentions. Five years later, I see that we have a small corporation with 30 full-time employees and numerous subcontractors. When you are just starting out, it seems that at most you can dream of a party for 500 people. After two years, you realize that you have already organized a party for 1,000 people. Then after another two years, you see that you are doing several parties every month. Your large team works like a well-oiled machine, and you think about making parties all around the world. Infinite growth potential is hard to see at the very beginning.

Third, it’s difficult to come to agreements with partners, but this is important. I’m the only founder at Deep, and at Kinky there are two of us. And despite the fact that at the start we quickly agreed on everything, we have good relations, we are honest and open, a lot of things came up in the process. We are different in the way we do our work, in management, in goals and objectives, and we have different visions. A lot of money and time was invested in order to ensure cooperation in our partnership. We had mentors, coaches, and courses with psychologists. There were several times when we wanted to part ways. When the project was not even a year old, we had a huge fight. But then it became clear: it is precisely the fact that we are so different that makes us a dream team. The qualities that I lack, my partner has, and vice versa. We just needed to learn how to work together: then each of us uses their strengths, and we effectively complement one another.

Fourth, you should not mix work and relationships. Do not date business partners or colleagues. One will affect the other and not always positively. I knew this before I got into a relationship with a colleague. But we thought we were mindful that everything would turn out well, but it did not: at some point work began to influence our relationship, and our personal relationship affected our work. This led to a lot of unpleasant consequences. An exception to this rule is probably only a family business, in which everything is transparent, clear and to advantage.

Fifth, always set aside money. This basic advice applies to any person, but it is especially important in business. We have faced a pandemic, a war, and other difficulties with sales turnover and the inflow of money. Savings always came to the rescue. I can’t imagine how we could have stayed afloat if we didn’t have any savings.

Another important thing: the trajectory of a business is a series of interesting events and developments, and we do not know how we will reach the final goal. I never would have thought that the pandemic would be a chance to implement a project that had been conceived long before. When the quarantine began, everyone abruptly went into self-isolation and our growing offline party business came to an abrupt halt. We held the first online kinky party. This was a virtual experiment with 360 cameras in some of the rooms, the ability to “walk around” and see what is happening and where. We had a show program, music, a Shibari area, a dark BDSM area, and a dance and chill area. I am proud of this project. It was very labor intensive, but cool. We hosted Zoom parties and launched online lectures. But all of this did not bring us a lot of money, and we steadily went into the red. I suddenly found myself in a situation where I had too much free time.

At that moment, an investment fund approached me. They saw potential in sex tech and wellness projects, took a look at everything that is currently in Russia and it seemed to be not enough, and they asked me if I had any ideas that needed funding. We negotiated the terms over the course of several months, and that’s how Deep was born. It was thanks to a series of events beyond our control that an amazing platform has been launched, and now I’m developing it with great pleasure and I’m very proud of it. If I wasn’t constantly online at that moment I might have missed the message and not have had the strength or desire to invest in a new project, because before the pandemic there was a lot of work developing our offline business.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have always supported my friends with money or with other resources, and as my success grew, I began to help other people: now I make donations to charitable foundations, for example I contribute to a fund that fights against violence. Also, as a company we often launch promotions with different funds and use our resources to help people. One example of this are free stations where anyone can anonymously get tested for STDs because this is not cheap and it’s not covered by compulsory health insurance. Once per season we hold free festivals where experts give lectures on the topic of sex education.

And I believe that our work in general makes the world a better place. We are undertaking an educational function, explaining how sexuality works, how to deal with it, how to take care of yourself and others, and how to maintain your physical and mental health. During the kinky parties we create a safe space of freedom and self-expression where people can try out everything like in a simulator. This is bearing fruit: visitors say that this experience helps them in their real life by opening up boundaries and opportunities, and it empowers them to believe in themselves.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m already doing this. I’m trying to show people another world where there is healthy, eco-friendly sexual interaction. For the past seven years, I have been working with the topic of sexuality, helping people explore it in many ways, build relationships with themselves, find something not experienced before and use it for their own benefit.

Now I am exploring a new idea: sexuality is one of the manifestations of our physicality, and our body can behave in different ways. It can express sexuality and eroticism, and it can be strong and resourceful. And I think it’s important to develop not only sexuality but also the body as a whole, so that it is flexible, mobile, resourceful, and energetic. This is what the Deep platform is aimed at ― on bodily awareness. I want to inspire people to seek a new meaningful relationship with their body, to take care of it, love it, and to be able to find energy and resources within it.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Elon Musk. I think we have a lot in common in our work. He explores space and new opportunities for humanity, while I am working in the inverted direction, though in a likewise unidentified direction, into the body. And I see this as the personal space of each person.

Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s doing amazing work in her Goop lab and we’re moving in a similar direction: she’s also doing sex education, body education, and feminist education. We would have something to talk about.

Wes Anderson. I love everything he does, all his work. It’s my personal dream to meet him, shake his hand, and say “thank you” for everything he creates.

Tom Waits. He is my favorite singer from my childhood. When I was 10 years old, my dad gave me my own music system and 15 Tom Waits albums on CDs. I learned the songs on them by heart, and I adored his voice. Now as an adult, I don’t admire him so much anymore, but I feel that the little ten-year-old Tanya inside of me would be absolutely delighted with him. I always dreamed of going to America or any other country to go to one of his concerts because he categorically declared that he would never go to Russia.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.