Lastly, have the courage to follow your heart — I don’t know if this advice was given to me in a literal sense, but it was more something that I’ve absorbed from all of the great leaders of the companies I’ve worked for. A majority of Americans spend most of their life working in some capacity.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick and Amy Boyajian.
Partners in life and in business, Nick and Amy Boyajian are the founders and owners of Wild Flower, a leading sexual wellness brand based in Brooklyn, NY that has been providing a revolutionary genderless online retail experience since 2017. In 2019, Wild Flower launched their first in-house-designed product, Enby, a vibrator for all bodies and identities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Nick: We started Wild Flower, also known as Wild Flower Sex, in 2017 after Amy had transitioned out of a career as a professional sex worker and was looking to find a new job. Unfortunately, the stigma of having worked as a sex worker prevented them from being considered for many opportunities. Although Amy had impressive professional qualifications and education prior to doing sex work, it seemed like potential employers were dismissing them because of their background in this field.
I had spent the past decade working for various technology companies in NYC including Apple, Zocdoc, and Google, but was also ready for a change of pace in my career. Having been with these companies through huge stages of growth, and having learned so much about what it takes to make a business succeed throughout that time, I was feeling eager to try out my entrepreneurial skills on a business of my own.
It was at this moment the light bulb went off and we realized how uniquely positioned we were to start a new brand together in the sexual wellness space. Amy’s background as a sex worker and their history in retail management made them the ideal person to create a sexual health retail experience that was unlike any other. Combined with my background in design and technology, and knowledge of e-commerce, we had all of the ingredients to build a scalable business between the two of us. A few months and a few thousand dollars charged to our credit card for inventory later, Wild Flower was born.
Since launching in 2017, Wild Flower has grown to be one of the most innovative brand names in the sexual wellness space and has continued to push the envelope in inclusivity and education. In 2019, we launched our first in-house designed product, Enby — a vibrator for everybody, which has made huge waves throughout the industry with its genderless design and marketing.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Amy: Wild Flower is an entirely genderless store, and has been since its inception. This means that there are no “women’s” or “men’s” sections in our store, and instead, products are simply categorized by their function. We also do not market any products to any specific gender identities. This confused a lot of people inthe industry and at first, they didn’t really understand what we were doing. Sure, the concept of gender being beyond the binary of male and female had started to be introduced to the sex toy industry before Wild Flower, but it was very much a novel idea — maybe a brand had one or two gender-neutral products or a blog post about gender. Not many people, however, were removing gender from all of their products and instead allowing customers to shop based on their anatomy and needs. So much of the marketing that existed within the sex toy industry was heavily gendered and ultimately played on customers’ insecurities about gendered expectations to make the sale. We wanted to rid the pleasure product shopping experience from these expectations — it can already be hard enough for some folks to shop for sex toys!
Nick: We’ve also continued this genderless philosophy into the design of our own sex toys. When designing our first product, Enby, we wanted to create a toy that was true for everybody and that invited people to explore the different ways you could use it. Again, this was unlike anything anyone else was doing in the industry. There are specific categories that most sex toy companies adhere to when designing their products to make them familiar to the customer — this is a dildo, this is a wand, etc. Enby challenges the ideas of the standard sex toy categories and encourages people to really explore the product and themselves. And now with Enby 2, we’ve taken our original concept and made it stronger, softer and more flexible, waterproof, and given it much longer battery life. We’ve also introduced two new products, Ova and Willow, this year — which are also genderless toys that invite exploration and play, no matter your anatomy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Nick: Hah, well we almost spent the company out of existence trying to throw an extravagant party a few years ago, for one. When Wild Flower was turning one year old, we really wanted to give back to the community in New York that had made the brand’s success possible. As a result, we planned a HUGE event in Brooklyn with speakers, musical performances, and workshops that were entirely free for people to attend. It was really successful, and I know that the community appreciated it, but it almost made us go completely bankrupt. It turns out throwing large live events is really hard and when you aren’t charging any money it can get expensive quick! We really just wanted to thank everyone and give them a fun and memorable day, but it almost meant the end of our company! I’m very happy to say that our finances are much better managed these days, but it was quite a learning experience.
Amy: Oh, I make mistakes constantly! Just recently I was putting together press packs for our new toys and thought it would be a great idea to include personalized candy in each box with the names of the new toys. I was so excited by the idea, I rushed through the process and ended up spelling one of the names wrong! I was able to fix it in time but ended up with 300 candy hearts saying “Wllow” and not “Willow.” Experiences like this teach me that I need to slow down and take my time, even if that means not completing everything as quickly as I would like.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Amy: This might sound a little corny, but I think my lack of mentors and supporters in my life has made me my biggest personal cheerleader. My parents are not part of my life and that has completely shaped my independence and self-reliance. Not having that cushion of a place to go to if it all doesn’t work out or someone to comfort you when it feels hard made me strong in ways that I really value now. Also, I have felt like I’ve never had to answer to or possibly disappoint anyone but myself.
Nick: While there are important figures that I have admired throughout my career, my greatest mentors have been my parents. While my dad, who passed away in 2007, was a little rough around the edges, his passion for everything he did in his life regardless of what anyone else thought has inspired me to forge my own path. Leaving a comfortable job at Google to run your own sex toy company is something many people would call crazy, but I know my father would have been proud. My mother has also been a huge inspiration to me in life. She is truly a selfless and caring person, and she has always instilled compassion and acceptance as non-negotiable values. Carrying these values through to Wild Flower is a big part of what sets us apart.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Nick: That’s a very nuanced question, but no, disrupting isn’t always necessarily good. Disrupting can be amazing, but in my opinion, there are far too many businesses that think ‘disrupting’ means growing your business very quickly without actually first testing the product-market fit. As a result, huge amounts of money are spent trying to push products that nobody wants or needs and marketing them in ways that don’t really meet people where they currently are. This can leave consumers feeling confused and dissatisfied and generally untrusting of brands as a whole. I find that businesses that are solely focused on ‘disrupting’ instead of actually meeting their customers’ needs are just shooting themselves in the foot. We have always looked to see where we thought our industry could do better and that’s where we have focused our energy. Whether it’s the genderless design of our products and store or the way we incorporate education into our platform, our goal has always been to create the sexual wellness brand that was missing in the world. If people want to call that disruptive, OK, but it’s never been our goal.
Amy: While disruption isn’t always good, our industry has particularly been begging for some new thinking. Specifically around product safety and materials. The sex toy industry is currently not FDA regulated, meaning that products do not have regulated guidelines including material composition (there is a lot of debate over the need for regulation and how this may hurt or help the industry). This lack of industry standards requires that manufacturers and retailers put special emphasis on products that have the consumer’s real needs as the main focus. We’ve seen many businesses simply package low-quality white-label products in millennial pink, with a focus on profits over quality. There also seems to be a serious disconnect between what many of these companies think their customers want and what they actually want in their sex-tech products.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- The best advice I’ve ever received, and something that my parents have always instilled in me has really shaped my approach to everything in life — you don’t need anyone’s permission to try something. As a self-taught engineer and product designer without a formal degree, I’ve had to tell myself over and over again throughout my career that I am capable. Many people go through life waiting for someone else to tell them that they are ready to take that next step, whatever that may be, but it’s important to remember that this encouragement starts with you.
- Second, a philosophy that I took away from my time in the startup world is that there is always something that can be improved or fixed, and perfection doesn’t exist. If there is one thing that can stifle a company, it is complacency or accepting that things are “OK” the way they are. A drive to continuously assess and improve upon everything you do is the only way to create and sustain a truly great business or company. You have to really hunt for the problems in your business rather than wait for them to bubble up.
- Lastly, have the courage to follow your heart — I don’t know if this advice was given to me in a literal sense, but it was more something that I’ve absorbed from all of the great leaders of the companies I’ve worked for. A majority of Americans spend most of their life working in some capacity. And, for me, the only way that I’m happy is if I’m doing what I believe is great work — and you can only really produce great work if you love what you are doing. Following your heart isn’t easy to do, and it will often lead you down uncomfortable and winding roads, but the payoff is certainly worth the wait.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Nick: Oh, we’re never done pushing the limits! While we love to surprise folks with what’s coming next, let’s just say that we’re planning to carry our genderless philosophy and design ethos to a whole new category of products beyond the world of pleasure, but maybe not beyond the bedroom.
Amy: We always have so many ideas in the works but whatever we do, we make sure to stay dedicated to the ideas of pleasure and inclusivity.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Amy: I am an avid reader and I’m constantly trying to challenge myself and grow my understanding through the books I consume. An anthology named “Beyond Survival” and “We Will Not Cancel Us” by Adrienne Maree Brown has had a large impact on my ideas of transformative justice, especially when it came to thinking about our own troubles with misinformation and harassment online. Things are never black and white and that conflict, while upsetting, is an inevitable part of life. I have always believed that the power of having a clear, personal conversation is the most helpful in these situations. As many of us have seen recently, when conflict is transferred to online spaces like social media, the narratives spiral out of control and justice is rarely reached for anyone involved.
Nick: Ed Catmull’s book, “Creativity, Inc.,” has continued to be a huge inspiration for me and has given me so much to aspire to. Throughout my life, I have always found myself at the intersection between technology and the arts due to my passions and interests, and my role in Wild Flower is no different. It is at that same intersection that so many great businesses and business people have found their success, but that does not mean it is easy or that success is automatic. Learning to manage creativity is one of the hardest disciplines to master and aside from having some really amazing anecdotes about some of Ed’s contemporaries, this book is just about the best guide for managing any sort of creative endeavor that exists.
I’m also a huge fan of and subscriber to the Accidental Tech Podcast. While the show is focused mainly on Apple products, I think that the three hosts have great insights and philosophies around product design and usability in general that I’m able to take back to my product design work at Wild Flower. As a former Apple employee, the company has had a huge impact on me personally, but listening to the analysis on ATP every week has helped me develop my design thinking.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Amy: “You can do anything but you can’t do everything” is a life lesson that I think we both struggle with every day. Despite what it may seem like from the outside, we are just a two-person company, and Nick and I have to wear many hats to make everything run smoothly. Most of the time, I really enjoy the work — it’s my passion so I’m willing to make the sacrifices and put in the effort. However, learning to be vocal and asking for support when I need help has been a large learning curve. Sure, I am capable of doing most things, but after running a company based on pleasure and joy I’ve learned that I have to make time for pleasure and joy in my own life!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Amy: I’m really passionate about everyone having access to comprehensive sexual health education. We’ve made our website into a hub for free sex ed to model what this idea can look like, but it’s tragic that many don’t get the information they need to make informed and safe sexual decisions that suit their wants and needs. Many of us carry sexual shame, embarrassment, and fear that are unnecessary and hinder our pleasure! I would love to see a movement where people feel empowered to be vulnerable about what they don’t know about sex and sexuality and get excited to find the answers for themselves.
Nick: Aside from the new revolution in sexuality that Wild Flower is helping bring forward, I’d also like to see our business inspire other people to start and grow self-funded businesses of their own. I am personally of the belief that as a society we put too much emphasis on fundraising and venture capital as being the end-all-be-all way to grow a reputable large brand. While this might work for some companies, we implore other business owners like ourselves to take the plunge and do it on your own. People need to know that it IS POSSIBLE to start a business with nothing but the money in your pocket and the ideas in your head and that growth can be driven by your customers as opposed to investors just looking to make a profit.
How can our readers follow you online?
Amy: The best place to find us is on our website wildflowersex.com. You can also find us on our Instagram @wildflowersex where we’re constantly sharing new products, advice, educational tools, and sex tips.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for the opportunity to share our stories!