Brexit: An Uncertain Future for Sex Tech in Britain
Could Brexit be the death knell for Britain's burgeoning sex tech industry?
Brexit has already caused divisions, debate, and unpredictable economic times for Britain and Europe. The historic and unprecedented result of the June 2016 referendum has plunged an entire continent into uncertainty .
Much has been made of the impact that Britain’s planned exit from the European Union will have on big business, banking, the tech sector, and its fledgling startups. Inevitably, little attention has focused on how this unknown future will affect sex tech.
What hope is there for British startups and entrepreneurs from one of the most burgeoning and fragile industries in both the tech and adult sectors? What do some of the British sex tech markets leaders think of current events? How will they traverse the unpredictable waters of a post-European Union Britain?
Europe’s final countdown
“I am shocked and heartbroken,” says Adam Lewis, co-founder of Hot Octopuss, when asked for his opinion on the outcome of the referendum. “I personally can’t see what good can come of this decision from either a business or personal perspective.”
Despite Lewis’s personal and political reservations about the result, Brexit has actually been something of a boon for the Hot Octopuss business model. The majority of the company’s income comes from the United States and the strengthening of the pound has caused the value of Hot Octopuss to climb by more than 25%.
However, the company’s margins in Europe have been squeezed due to the weakening of the Euro to the US dollar.
“This loss is actually recouped when we transfer Euros to Pound Sterling to support our cash flow,” says Lewis. “In essence we are fortunate as the way we trade allows for a natural hedge.”
Darren Smith, founder of couple’s intimacy app Pillow Play, believes that the result of the Brexit referendum, and its subsequent fallout and bad feeling, flies in the face of the sex tech ethos.
While the industry, its people, and products seek to bring people together in fundamental ways, the referendum is having the opposite effect.
“I feel frustration that this is what we call ‘democracy’,” he opined. “…and sadness that as a nation our statement is that we don’t want to work with our neighbours.
“It goes against everything we’re so passionate about at Pillow Play—where we help strengthen relationships, albeit in the bedroom and not the boardroom.”
Soumyadip Rakshit, co-founder of MysteryVibe, fears that Britain’s position as a leader in the European startup scene is in dire straits in the early and confusing days of Brexit, but remains hopeful for his company’s future.
“Our approach will be to continue as planned and build a more outward looking company, more than ever before.”
Shaking the money maker
But for sex tech entrepreneurs and startups, being an outward looking, global company in the time of Brexit can be a double-edged sword. The tangled, complicated web that represents world trade and the global economy has yet to experience something as potentially tumultuous as a member state leaving the European Union.
The effects of Brexit on sex tech companies won’t simply affect those trading in and around the United Kingdom and Europe, but as far afield as the United States, China, and other major trading partners and markets.
The biggest question for the industry at this time in terms of how manufacturing and trade is dealt with is “what does leaving the European Union actually mean?”
For Lewis and Hot Octopuss, the most dramatic effects of Brexit may be felt as a result of Britain being allowed to remain in the single market, or whether they will be forced out.
“If we leave the single market then I believe this will have a negative impact for British sex tech startups.
“We import into the UK from China and then fulfil to Europe and many parts of the world from the UK. At the moment we benefit from the free movement of goods across Europe. If we leave the single market then this will change having a large impact on the way we fulfil orders across the region.”
Winds of change
What can the experiences of established British sex tech entrepreneurs and their perspectives on Brexit teach the current crop of fledgling startups? What advice—if any—can be afforded in these strange, uncertain times?
“My advice would be to simply ignore the outcome and initial fallout of Brexit,” says Lewis. “Top entrepreneurs will know that their own decisions and actions have a much larger impact on the success of their business compared with any outside influences. Consider, adapt, and move forward.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Smith, who delivers a dose of reality when it comes to brand new ventures in an already volatile market.
“Most pre-launch startups will fail so focus on creating a great product, figuring out how to sell it, and so you really don’t need to spend your time worrying about this.”
Brexit’s biggest problem is that the vote will set in motion a number of historically unprecedented events, with no real knowledge if governments, nations, and people are indeed ready or equipped to deal with them.
For all of the conjecture and possible plans, it’s difficult for the British sex tech entrepreneurs to look ahead with any conviction. Everything is up in the air and in typically frustrating fashion, only time will tell.
“We are just waiting to see what happens” remarks Lewis. “We’re yet to see if leaving the European Union is a good or bad thing for us, because there’s no plan for it!”
Perhaps it’s now that we need sex tech most of all; reminding ourselves that practical application of sex and sexuality provides a spark to the present and gives a glimpse of a better, more cohesive future.