FEMALES-IN-TECH SPOTLIGHT: POLLY RODRIGUEZ
Polly Rodriguez, the Founder and CEO of Unbound, can be described as nothing short of genuine, relentless, and visionary. She’s come a long way from the foothills in Missouri to leading not just a company, but a movement.
It was while at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio when Polly experienced the now infamous story of her unnerving but “ah-ha” moment. She was diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 21. The illness meant radiation rounds that would prevent her from any future pregnancy as well as early-onset menopause. Comforted by a friend working healthcare, she was encouraged to get a vibrator. The options to shop for vibrators almost fifteen years ago were bleak. She felt awkwardly and uncomfortable entering a “sex toy shop” for medical boosters. And doctors hadn’t warned her of any menopausal effects. The humiliating experience was a pivotal moment in her life. And ultimately, the cancer diagnosis and consequential critical shopping experience showed her how much women need a better sexual experience.
This moment awoke Polly to women's relationship with their own sexuality. Women need vibrators that are made for them, biologically and aesthetically. They need to be able to shop online in the privacy of their own homes. That experience wasn’t around in the early 2000s. As Polly states, “Viagra is seen as a health product with a medical need—lubricants and vibrators are too! Women deserve their own brands that are run by women.” She understood the challenge first-hand, but needed some experience before she jumped off on her own.
Graduating in 2010 with a major in Business Economics, Polly began her career at Deloitte, and moved to a well-funded Startup Grouper. It was here she gained the confidence to fundraise. “I saved up $5,000 and thought that would be enough,” she explains on the Established podcast. She continues, “it’s laughable now.” Hardware startups cost a lot of money and if you have lived the challenge, and can envision the solution, that doesn’t mean you accurately quantify R&D, sourcing, logistics, marketing and sales. It was 2014 when Polly and her co-founder Sarah Jayne paired together at a Women in Tech event and began working nights and weekends to create their dream. They wanted to create a brand giving the experience they wish they had.
For two and a half years and through 309 pitches they worked tirelessly to gain traction. Polly explains to Forbes, “For the first years of the business, Sarah [Jayne] and I worked multiple part time jobs while also working on Unbound. It wasn’t until we were three years in that we were able to secure our first VC check.” They were selling subscriptions boxes those first few years, but learned where the hole was and were re-inspired to create their own line of affordable, safe, quality products designed by the users, for the users.
Since then, Unbound has secured $3.5 million in SEED funding, and they have a portfolio of 50+ product lines ranging from vibrators, lubricants, condoms, and accessories. The brand stretches from women, couples, to men as well. But it doesn’t stop there. Unbound also publishes an online magazine with educational and fun articles about sexual health. The company overall has had 150% growth the past year and in 2019 Unbound was profitable. “I’m not sure if we’ll go for funding any time soon,” Polly stated on-air. The team would like to take this category mainstream as they are continuing to innovate and grow their community, product innovation, and education.
Polly Rodriguez also co-founded Women of Sex Tech. It’s a community made of artists, creators, entrepreneurs, journalists, educators, innovators, and engineers in over six cities globally. They want to change the way the world views human sexuality and to create a community that fosters femme-identifying entrepreneurship. Polly, now an Advisor to the organization, continues to advocate for women entrepreneurs. She intentionally hi-lights in interviews the struggle to raise funds, the grotesque numbers associated with minority founders, and reminds the “up-and-comers” to find a community, and destress. It takes a wise woman to start, manage, and exemplify a position in such a tough arena. And no one would have guessed her shocking cancer would lead to this resilient woman excelling so broadly. We’re impressed and look forward to more from Polly and Unbound.