Ideas in the Wild: How Andrea Barrica is Helping To Lead a Long Overdue Sexual Wellness Revolution
Sitting between planned parenthood and Pornhub, sexual wellness is the next blue ocean for tech entrepreneurs and investors alike, but nobody is talking about it. This recession-proof industry will be worth an estimated $122 billion by 2026, yet no one is prepared for this wave of innovation. But after years of being ignored due to shame and stigma, the sexual wellness revolution is upon us at last. If you ask Andrea Barrica, it’s embarrassing it took this long.
As an entrepreneur and former venture capital investor, Andrea is uniquely qualified to guide a new generation of business leaders ready to seize the opportunities in sexual wellness. Sextech Revolution: The Future of Sexual Wellness is a firsthand account of how you can build a company and raise money in this space. Andrea shares how she’s tackled the financial and structural challenges sex tech start-ups face and provides insight into how investors and entrepreneurs can navigate and understand the nuances of the sexual wellness industry.
I recently caught up with Andrea to see what inspired her to write the book, her favorite idea that she shares with readers, and how she’s applied that idea in her own business.
What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?
The idea to write the book really came during my college tour last year. I was travelling the country and speaking with incredibly smart, incredibly ambitious activists — people who could change the world as entrepreneurs. I’d want to get them involved, but at university after university, in talk after talk, I realized I didn’t have much to give them in terms of actionable information. So, I decided to create a roadmap.
Sextech is a huge industry, but one that’s really poorly mapped, business-wise. Because of the silence around sex, even those of use who work in this industry are fairly siloed. Because there’s no real establishment, the field attracts the creatives and adventurers — but it also means that each of us is beating our own path. Innovative manufacturers who struggle to figure out retail. Passionate educators who fight to reach a sustainable audience. Massive legacy businesses without a clue as to how to talk with a new generation. Activists pushing at the wrong pressure points. As a serial entrepreneur and startup vet, I’m a stickler for efficiency. It was frustrating to watch so many people struggle to make sense of this diverse, sprawling landscape. This industry will change the world, but won’t unless we understand the terrain.
I think of Sextech Revolution as a handbook for those of us working in this new space, and a call to action to get others involved.
What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?
My favorite piece of advice is to tell those in sexual wellness to go around the gatekeepers. Sextech and sexual wellness have largely been excluded from participating in traditional advertising and retail, and we consequently spend a lot of time fighting to get access and overestimating its value. In the end, I think it’s often wasted energy. In the book, I really try to encourage people to build networks outside the reach of Amazon, Facebook, Google. I want them to understand just how much stronger we are than other industries, because we don’t have an endless list of platforms welcoming us. It’s difficult and frustrating, but it’s going to be the secret to our success and longevity. It makes us stronger and more inventive industry.
A corollary to this is I constantly advise people to hire people who are unlike you — to view diversity of experience a business necessity. Early on, I labelled it Diversity Debt. You start accumulating it with the first hire, and you need to address it before it sinks your company.
So many Silicon Valley companies are homogenous, whether that’s race or gender or class or alma mater. The market is so much bigger than we think, but you need to bring in and value people who are outside the bubble. One of the benefits of having so many different kinds of educators with us in the early days was I got to know the issues they faced, whether they were in San Francisco, Toronto, Atlanta, or some small town in the Midwest. Their concerns weren’t theoretical concerns that I read about in an article, they were real lived experiences that stuck with me. When we make projects only for people who are like us, we really limit what we who we build for.
That diversity also really limits some of the damage that tech companies can inflict, not only on communities, but on themselves. It’s incredibly helpful to have people who are religious, who are non-binary, who are from rural backgrounds, who live with a disability working with us because they can really identify spaces where we’re weak. If you don’t have those fights early on, if you don’t improve your strategy, you risk getting pummelled when you finally get to market. Look at how many tech companies struggle with workplace harassment, or tone-deaf messaging, or niche markets. I tell people that diversity is not about optics or virtue, it’s about long-term success.
What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?
I grew up in a conservative religious immigrant family outside of Sacramento. When I came to Berkeley, I was overwhelmed by the incredibly varied ways of being in the world, of expressing gender and sexuality. But I never forgot that most of the world doesn’t necessarily have endless conversations about consent or social constructions of gender. I spent ten years dealing with the shame and stigma that I’d been raised with, and as I embarked on this journey with O.school, I wanted to make sure that I was building something that would be accessible to my family — and to me as a teen — and not just my Bay Area community. So when I hired, I really looked for people with a diversity of experiences. I really wanted to bring on people who were unlike me. Sometimes that work was tough. As entrepreneurs, we want to be told we’re brilliant and visionary. When you hire people who look like you or talk like you or think like you, you often get that parroted back at you. But when you hire a more diverse team, you hear the issues as soon as you send the first email. It’s humbling, but you learn from it, and you end up stronger.
I do the same thing when I tour colleges and talk with students. I purposely go outside the Ivies and liberal arts colleges to state universities, where I can talk with people who have vastly different reactions when I talk about queer sexuality or reproductive rights. You have to build for the product for them as well, and sexual wellness for them might look different.
For more advice on breaking into the sextech industry, you can find Sextech Revolution: The Future of Sexual Wellness on Amazon.