One of the most intriguing offices I’ve visited recently belongs to Crave, which designs, prototypes and assembles the luxury sex toys it sells online on two floors of a modest building in Soma.
There’s no corporate sign out front.
Inside, there are machines everywhere, including a 3D printer, a laser engraver, a CNC mill, a CNC lathe, and some customized assembly and testing machines.
They also have an “assembly line” where the five-person team assembles and tests the vibes for quality before they are packaged and shipped to customers.
Like TCHO, which makes high-quality chocolates down on the waterfront, Crave is part of a new wave of small manufacturing startups headquartered in San Francisco.
Crave is led by an experienced entrepreneur, Michael Topolovac, and a talented industrial designer, Ti Chang.
For Chang, the route to Crave started several years ago in Boston, where she was living at the time.
“One day I went into a sex shop and saw these hideous products," she recalls. "Such low quality!”
She’d been designing various types of products for women for several years and knew she could do better. With no financing other than her own credit cards, she started a company, Incoqnito, dedicated to creating a line of intimate jewelry and accessories.
“In Boston, at least at that time, it wasn’t like it is here,” Chang said, gesturing at the machines surrounding her. “You couldn’t prototype anything there. So I went to China and set up the company there.”
Over the next year, she designed and produced a line of elegant foreplay jewelry, including leather tassels, droplet necklaces, and leather cuffs.
In 2010, she attended an industry conference where she met Michael Topolovac, who’d been researching and forming the company that would become Crave and was seeking a female partner to help produce the high-end, beautifully designed vibrators his research indicated would find a receptive market.
“I got lucky when I met Ti,” he says. “I had seen her jewelry and they were such high-quality products. We met and talked, and realized there was synergy between what we were doing. We decided to join resources and co-found Crave.”
As part of that merger, Crave absorbed Chang’s Incoqnito product line, and she focused on perfecting the company’s first vibrator, the Duet.
By the fall of 2011, they had a prototype ready and they approached Kickstarter, hoping to crowd-source an initial production run.
But Kickstarter turned them down, so Topolovac and Chang launched a campaign on a lesser-known crowd-sourcing platform, CKIE.
They’d hoped to raise $15,000 in six weeks, but they accomplished that in just two days. Ultimately, they raised over $100,000 from almost 1,000 people. (Half of those buying Crave’s products, BTW, were and are men.)
“It was a great indicator that we were creating a product people were ready for, culturally,” says Chang. “At one point we were getting one Tweet per minute. And we are the first crowd-funded sex toy ever.”
“The unique shape of the Duet enables every woman to find the most exciting combination of edges, surfaces and vibrations for her own delight,” is how the company describes this product on its website.
Three buttons on one end allow users to vary the speed and type of sensations on this waterproof (down to 100 feet underwater!) device, which also comes in versions that plug into any standard USB port, where it can recharge in under two hours.
This also enables the user to store any intimate content in the device’s memory, rather than on her computer.
“We originally added a USB drive because in our research women said 'please get rid of the whole ordeal of batteries’,” says Topolovac.
Crave has recently added the Wink, the Solo and the Droplets to its line of vibrators, all of which are quieter than a Prius and vibrate in much more nuanced and subtle ways than traditional sex toys.
Although I’m hardly the product’s target demographic, Chang gently held a Duet against my hand, demonstrating how it inaudibly delivers its wide variety of sensations and speeds.
I’m pretty sure my hand liked that.