Most people would flush with shame were they to be caught popping into an Ann Summers – its shop front stuffed with lurid pink lingerie, feathers and boxes of handcuffs. It’s the reason why most products associated with sex are bought online, in the privacy of your own home.
But inclusive intimacy brand Maude has been challenging this stigma ever since it was launched in 2018 by Éva Goicochea, who believes that sexual pleasure amounts to sexual wellness and therefore self-care. Maude products – which range from vibrators, condoms and lubricants to body creams, oils, supplements and candles – are discreet, unisex and beautifully designed in neutral shades of green, white and charcoal grey. So discreet, in fact, that Dakota Johnson – who became brand ambassador for Maude after reaching out to Goicochea on Instagram having already fallen in love with the brand – keeps a Maude vibrator in her handbag.
Last year, Maude entered American retailers such as Sephora, Saks and Bloomingdale’s, and soon Maude will launch in UK retailer Selfridges, marking a significant breakthrough in destigmatising sexual pleasure. With customers able to buy sex-tech products alongside health and beauty essentials, as well as designer clothes and goods, the shame associated with such purchases is falling away.
It is also a huge milestone for Maude, which last summer announced total funding of over $10 million following its $5.8m Series A, making the start up the first brand selling personal sex-tech products to make it past the seed stage in over five years. Thirty-nine-year-old Goicochea, who is of Mexican, Spanish, and Native American heritage, is one of just 90 Latinx women to have raised over $1 million in VC funding, according to Digitalundivided.
How has this whirlwind founder journey been for Goicochea?
“You know, bunching with Sephora has been crazy for the team. But generally, my work-life balance has been pretty great. I’m just so excited about Maude all the time. I am at my happiest when I am busy. I go to bed thinking about Maude and I wake up thinking about Maude, so this is my life’s purpose.”
It was a circuitous route to find that purpose. Goicochea grew up fascinated by work, having been encouraged to do many part-time jobs in her teens by her mother, an arts educator and playwright who would often take her eager daughter to class. “I then remember watching the TV show Murphy Brown, which starred Candice Bergen as a TV reporter and producer and I thought, I want to be a working woman!”.
Goicochea’s first idea for a career as a working woman was design. “I watched Nineties movies and people were often architects, so I became obsessed with architects. I loved Rem Koolhaas and I wanted to go and see Sears Tower. We went to see it for my seventh birthday.”
A passion for design then evolved into an interest in marketing, as Goicochea became heavily influenced by Nineties brand culture. “I was always so interested in old advertisements and what they meant culturally.” She decided to study marketing in New York just before September 2011. “It was the most prominent industry in the city, so it was really easy to get excited by what was happening,” she says.
But then, another gear shift, and Goicochea moved to Sacramento to become a healthcare legislator, before switching back to marketing five years later after moving to Los Angeles. She worked with a range of brands across digital marketing and social media, before winding up as cultural lead for luxury clothing brand Everlane. “It’s funny but I actually think having these little chapters and detours really helped with shaping Maude later, where I have to wear so many different hats and be curious about so many different things.”
It was after Goicochea left Everlane that she became an entrepreneur, first launching her own digital content marketing and strategy studio under her own name. Was getting her first client daunting? “No, because by happy accident, I was also working at Squarespace helping clients design sites for their brands, and Squarespace stuck me on their specialist page. Through that I got clients for years, which gave me the freedom and flexibility to start Maude.”
What was the lightbulb moment?
“Well, the first idea was called Hush, and it was going to be a curated box of well-designed sexual wellness products. But then we couldn’t find any products to put in the box. Which raised the question, well why don’t we make them?”
To launch Maude, Goicochea sold her house in LA and moved to New York. “That was the biggest risk I have ever taken, because my husband and I gave up any sense of permanence and safety to come and be renters again.”
Moving to a new city as a founder was intimidating. “To build a network in a new city, to start from scratch while raising money, that’s difficult. I’m an older founder, I’m almost 40, and the founders I often network with are in their 20s. And I wasn’t spat out of Harvard Business School.”
Did she feel snobbery from anyone because she hadn’t gone to Harvard? “Yes, of course, there was some snobbery. But I do think there is this delusion that people think they can go to a school and they will therefore be guaranteed a good outcome, that they will be fine. But I’ve seen people come out of Harvard and not be fine. A lot of success is down to timing and luck. You can never guarantee an outcome.”
Timing was part of the secret to Maude’s success, says Goicochea, who was carefully monitoring the cultural landscape. “Of course part of you wants your product to exist that very day, but then another part of you needs to listen and pay attention to the times. So I was seeing the macro trend of wellness happen and I thought that sexual wellness was going to be the next big thing. And so I needed to validate that belief. I was doing huge amounts of reading, I was buying data, I was buying research, because you have to be able to validate your idea beyond just your network.”
Goicochea’s instinct was on the money – the trend of sexual wellness has exploded, with celebrities from Lily Allen to Demi Lovato attaching their names to vibrators, while Google searches for the term “sexual wellness” has spiked by 123 per cent. Sex therapy has become a magazine buzzword and last week the Telegraph newspaper ran an article about how “an orgasm coach” was every woman’s new must-have, pegged to the new Emma Thompson film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, about a midlife woman who hires a man to experience the physical pleasure she had been denied during her loveless marriage. Her sexual journey is far from physical, becoming a life-changing emotional awakening, full of self-love and compassion.
This ballooning trend is what has allowed Maude to grow so quickly, launching across hotels as well as retail within three years of inception. “When Maude was in Nordstrom, Saks and Bloomingdale’s, everyone else followed,” says Goicochea. In fact Selfridges approached Maude, rather than the other way around.
How much impact did Dakota Johnson joining Maude as Co-Creative Director have on the company’s visibility? And is there a concern that start-ups will try and bag themselves a celebrity cosign before they are ready?
“We saw the effects right away with Dakota coming on board. But I don’t think having a celebrity involved is right for everybody. A celebrity isn’t a guaranteed Midas touch. For us, Dakota was never a tool with which to get attention – we don’t ask her to post about Maude on socials all the time. We think instead about bigger asks down the road.”
Case in point, Maude has launched a film partnership with TeaTime Pictures, launching a “Cinemaude” film series with monthly screenings of romantic films throughout the summer co-curated by Johnson. “So with Dakota it was more about, how can we tell the story of Maude in the most thoughtful way?”
Goicochea’s proudest campaign so far has been “this vibe is not a toy” (vibe being slang for vibrator) inspired by the famous Volkswagen “Think Small” campaigns which appeared next to a tongue-in-cheek picture of a very tiny Volskwagen. “The point was that it was making fun of the industry and its obsession with muscle cars. It was saying, ‘Look, this car isn’t going to make you fly, but it is going to get you from A to B’,” says Goicochea. The campaign won a string of awards and has become advertising legend.
“We wanted to be irreverent and subversive, and it worked, the campaign got picked up, and we were able to show how Maude products are important and not just ‘toys’,” says Goicochea. “We were able to make the point that, if 70 per cent of women can’t organsm during vaginal sex, then actually, this vibe is actually pretty essential.”