UPDATE: Due to popular demand, my bosses have generously agreed to make our story on adult toy startup JimmyJane free of charge. Enjoy:
JimmyJane, a startup looking to become the Montblanc of vibrating sex toys, late last year raised a $1.1 million Series C financing from a group of investors that includes a limited liability company controlled by Tim Draper, according to a story published in the Jan. 29 issue of Private Equity Week.
Draper isn’t the only VC involved with the San Francisco-based startup, which is trying to raise a total of $2.5 million. Phil Schlein, a venture partner at U.S. Venture Partners, told PE Week that he had made a personal investment for an undisclosed amount in JimmyJane and sits on the company’s board. (USVP itself was not an investor.) Schlein, who focuses on the retail sector for USVP, was president and CEO of Macy’s California for more than a decade. “People are much more open and aware of their sexuality and ways to enhance it,” he says.
Another JimmyJane director is Amy Schoening, who was the chief marketing officer of clothing store Gap, where she helped redirect the Banana Republic brand. She now runs a brand consulting company called True Story in San Francisco and has been working with companies such as the Levi Strauss & Co. to help sell more of its Dockers brand.
JimmyJane sells a premium line of gold and platinum vibrators along with sensual candles, silk and suede blindfolds, body jewelry and fragrances. It began selling its products online in 2005 and added retail store sales midway through the year. Company founder Ethan Imboden says that revenue grew 300% during 2006 and he expects sales in 2007 to grow 900% over last year.
Despite the monster growth, Imboden has had a hard time raising venture money. “I can’t even tell you what a challenge it was to get people to understand what we were doing when I only had a few sketches,” he says. “But we have reached a scale now and a level of dialogue with consumers that investors really understand.”
Imboden, who studied electrical engineering and genetics before exploring an interest in design, says that he has innovated several key engineering elements of vibrators to produce his company’s high-end versions. JimmyJane’s first model, called the “Little Something,” has one utility patent filed. Its latest model, the “Form 6,” has six patents filed, primarily around its ability to be waterproof and rechargeable, Imboden says.
His interest in pursuing the development of sex toys is understandable from a market perspective. Some 46% of U.S. residents have confessed to using sex toys, according to a 2004 study conducted by condom maker Durex. Similarly, in some European countries, the usage ranges from 30% to 50 percent. Yet there are few name brands. Popular vibrator models, such as the Rabbit Vibrator that the character Samantha talks about in the television show “Sex and the City,” are made by various manufacturers.
The regulatory filing for JimmyJane’s Series C lists more that 20 accredited investors, including an LLC that Tim Draper registered with the California Secretary of State. Draper, who co-founded and is a managing director of venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is the kingpin of investing in young companies that become viral successes, such as Hotmail and Skype Technologies. He did not respond to requests for comment. But a source familiar with DFJ said the deal did not involve any DFJ money.
Phil Schlein says more than one DFJ partner invested in JimmyJane, but he declined to say who else was involved. When asked why he thought the DFJ partners had not returned press inquiries, he said: “We have a little bit of a puritanical attitude in Silicon Valley that can be hard to shake.”