— Interview by Emily Santos
Emily is a social producer and brand strategist. Since graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2018 she has been sharpening her craft in the digital space.
Polly Rodriguez, CEO, and Co-Founder of Unbound, a sexual wellness company, is taking the female wellness industry by storm. The 32-year old founder has used her previous medical adversities to disrupt an industry that has been considered a taboo topic. As the first venture-backed sexual wellness company for women, Unbound is a leader in creating change in how feminists explore and enjoy their sex lives.
Polly has set the bar high as a Latinx Founder stepping foot into a male-dominated industry, with not one but two companies geared towards sexual wellness. Lidia Bonilla and Polly founded women of Sex Tech in 2015, to bring together other female founders within the same industry. Hear from Polly as she shares her inspiration for creating Unbound, her struggles in raising capital, and the importance of multi-generational wealth.
ES: What inspired you to start Unbound?
PR: When I was 21, I was diagnosed with stage IIIC colorectal cancer. My treatment plan included radiation, which sent me into premature menopause at 21. I found myself buying a vibrator and lubricant at a sleazy store on the side of the highway, and the shopping experience always stuck with me as a horrific one. I started Unbound with my co-founder Sarah Jayne in 2014 as the online destination we wish we would have had when we bought our first vibrators.
ES: What does the value of multi-generational wealth mean to the Latinx community, and why is it so important?
PR: Social mobility is the bedrock of the American dream, and it's disappearing by the day. An American born to a household in the bottom 20% of earnings, only has a 7.8% chance of reaching the top 20% when they grow up. The distribution of wealth in America is entirely unsustainable. If you were to allocate $100 to 100 people based on the current wealth distribution in this country, you would give ONE person $40, and the remaining 99 would have to split the $60 left over. America is still a country where inheritance dictates your social mobility, and with the increasing cost of attending college, it's crucial that Latinx founders create multi-generational wealth. It's not just important; it's vital to our social mobility.
ES: What are the benefits and challenges of being a Latinx Founder?
PR: I've always taken pride in being the underdog. I think resilience and grit are the two most valuable attributes any founder can have, and if you are a Latinx founder, you are almost guaranteed to have both of those traits right out of the gate. Conversely, it can make raising capital difficult mostly, because it takes longer to build rapport with investors who don't look like you and don't share a similar history. You have to work twice as hard to gain their confidence in a short period – but that doesn't make it impossible.
“America is still a country where inheritance dictates your social mobility, and with the increasing cost of attending college, it's crucial that Latinx founders create multi-generational wealth. It's not just important; it's vital to our social mobility.”
ES: Why does your company have high growth potential?
PR: Unbound has high growth potential because there currently is no dominant brand name that owns the space for sexual health and wellness for womxn. We can name a bunch of brands that focus on the male consumer (e.g., Viagra, Trojan, Hims) but there aren't any that cater to the other 50%+ of the population. Unbound will be the brand name that takes the category of sexual wellness (i.e., vibrators, lubricants, and accessories) mainstream.
“I've always taken pride in being the underdog. I think resilience and grit are the two most valuable attributes any founder can have, and if you are a Latinx founder, you are almost guaranteed to have both of those traits right out of the gate.”
ES: What does the company have on the horizons?
PR: We just launched Palma, a wearable ring vibrator that increases its vibration intensity based on the movements of your hand (i.e., using haptic technology). We won 2nd place at TechCrunch Disrupt for the Palma vibrator, so we're excited to launch it finally! We're also continuing to release ten new products per year, with Dazy, a CBD lubricant which launched on May 9th!
In terms of the long-term horizon, we want to move into brick-and-mortar and create an experience for community, education, and FUN when it comes to sexual wellness (think Studio 54 meets Planned Parenthood).
“Unbound will be the brand name that takes the category of sexual wellness (i.e., vibrators, lubricants, and accessories) mainstream.”
ES: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to take their startup to the next level?
PR: Surround yourself with other founders and people who believe in you. In the early days, starting a company is just a series of asking favors of friends and family, and the rejection is endless. You are not alone in your rejection; everyone is going through it; some hide it better than others. Find people who will be honest with you about their journey and lift you when you don't think you can keep going.
ES: Is your goal in creating fashionable sex toys to make a taboo topic normalize?
PR: That's one part of it, sure. Overall, we wanted to make these products fashion forward because we want them to be approachable, fun and elevated in their design. Across consumer products as a general category, we've seen this methodology applied to almost every vertical; it's time a company used the same logic and rigor to sexual health for women.
“You are not alone in your rejection; everyone is going through it; some hide it better than others. Find people who will be honest with you about their journey and lift you when you don't think you can keep going.”
ES: You are also the founder of Women of Sex Tech, how has that community expanded since starting, and how has it helped you with your personal growth in the tech space?
PR: The Women of Sex Tech originally started because I had coffee with brilliant women who were also starting companies in the space. I was blown away by their intellect, dedication, and how much we were all facing rejection. Working for Senator Claire McCaskill taught me the power of grassroots organizing, and so we figured that if there were 5-6 of us working together to find a credit card payment processor that would work with us, that was better than us all attempting to solve these complex problems on our own. Four years later, The Women of Sex Tech is now over 225 femme /non-binary/trans/ cis womxn all over the world. The other founders have become some of my best friends, and I am eternally grateful for the support network we've built. It served as an incredible resource for women who are new to the industry. We welcome them with open arms as opposed to being a closed-off network.
ES: How do you manage running two businesses? Any tips?
Ha! I don't. I'm horrible at it, and it is entirely unsustainable. I do not recommend it at all. But, I am grateful for what we built with The Women of Sex Tech. For me, it was a community I needed during a time I felt truly alone and isolated. I'm excited to remain an active member of the community but to hand it over (totally for free) to the next leader and generation of founders. Communities like WoST must exist to serve the greater good, which is why we never made it a for-profit organization. It has to be an organization for the people, by the people. I'm excited to see what the next generation does with it!
“Overall, we wanted to make these products fashion forward because we want them to be approachable, fun and elevated in their design. Across consumer products as a general category, we've seen this methodology applied to almost every vertical; it's time a company used the same logic and rigor to sexual health for women.”
ES: Tell us about your experience in raising funding for Unbound?
PR: I've been rejected 309 times from investors, accelerators, incubators, and startup competitions. The rejection never gets easier, but I look at it more objectively now. Only 10% of startups raise outside capital. Of all the capital raised, only 2% goes to women, 0.2% goes to women of color (note: I don't identify as a woman of color, but I think it's important to highlight how abysmal their odds are), when you start to look at the numbers, it puts the rejection into context and allows you to brush it off and just keep going. And on the bright side, when you do find investors who get it, they're some of the most amazing people in the world. Many of my investors are my strongest mentors – like Shan-Lyn Ma at ZOLA, Matt Mireles at Guerilla Capital, Barbara Donoghue at Manzanita Capital and many more. What's the phrase about kissing a lot of frogs before you find a prince? Ya, fundraising is that.