Polly Rodriguez is very busy. She is the founder and CEO of Unbound, a luxury sex toy company aimed at helping femmes reclaim their orgasm with a focus on creating content around sexual health and pleasure, selling their own line of products, and curating other sex toy brands on their site. Rodriguez just secured almost $3 million in her first round of funding—something that’s impressive for any startup founder, yet particularly so for a woman in the sex industry.
She is also the co-founder of the Women of Sex Tech, a community of women changing the narrative and policy around female pleasure. One of her motivators for getting into this space? The stage III cancer that gave her a 25 percent chance of survival. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation, the latter of which would force her into early menopause without her knowledge. She’s been raising hell about women’s health and pleasure ever since.
You've raised capital investment when the odds were against you, you run a successful startup, you're the founder of a community of women, you experienced cancer, and now you're changing how people talk about sex and female pleasure. How do you check in with yourself and recharge?
To be completely honest, I am terrible at this. I'm trying to be better about setting boundaries and saying “no” to things, but it's really tough. I think if you're a woman who has raised capital and you don't feel compelled to help every single other woman get across that line as well—something is wrong with you. At the same time, you have to preserve your sanity and there was a point where I found myself taking back-to-back calls every Saturday and Sunday with female founders who were raising capital. Now, I do a better job of aggregating those asks and having women come meet me on Saturdays at the office or at The Wing.
What was the most common reason investors told you that they wouldn't give you money?
Investors will give you a million different reasons why they don't think your company is viable for investment. But ultimately, I think investors, like all humans, are most excited to solve problems they understand. Unfortunately, because only 9 percent of VC partners are women, most investors I pitched didn't fundamentally relate to the problem Unbound is solving—so it was a bit of an uphill battle. But I learned that I could also pitch to investors who related to me as a founder, as someone who didn't come from a prominent or wealthy background. I started to seek out investors who were also relentless in their pursuit of success, and when I pitched them on who I was and how I got to where I am, I began to resonate and build rapport, which is what gets you to the next meeting. You should never be focused on closing investors, just focus on getting to the next conversation.
What do you think is the biggest barrier to women demanding their pleasure?
I think it's acknowledging that reciprocity is not selfish—nor is self exploration. We have to reframe our sexual experiences through our own lens of pleasure, as something we do for ourselves and for our partner (if we so choose). My good friend and expert sexologist Mal Harrison always says that sexuality and eroticism are not things we do but places we go, and I think as women we need to prioritize setting aside time to go there because we deserve it.
What puts the biggest smile on your face about what you do?
When women write in beaming with pride about giving themselves an orgasm. That NEVER gets old.
Is there a piece of advice that someone gave you that has shifted your outlook or your perspective on something?
Ask for forgiveness, not permission. When I first started in consulting at Deloitte, I was so afraid I would upset someone by taking action, instead waiting on the sidelines for someone to give me direction. I had a Senior Manager and mentor named Malika Gandhi who first told me it's better to act and ask for forgiveness later than to wait for permission. The changemakers of the world are doers, and I can guarantee you that they aren't waiting for someone to give them the green light to go get something done. I think that's what Sheryl Sandberg meant by "lean in"— just go do, and don't worry about consequences until you're faced with them (it sounds reckless, but I assure you it isn't).
You went through menopause at 21 because of radiation treatment. Do you wish you had had more information about the process? What advice do you have for anyone else that may have experienced something similar?
I do wish I had more information about the process. At a minimum, I just wish someone would have told me that I was going to go through it and what to expect. For anyone going through it, I would give them the same advice I give most women when it comes to sexuality: own it, explore it, and don't let anyone else define it for you. Everyone's experience is different but I can tell you that going through menopause does not mean the end of your sex life—far from it.
What does being fertile mean to you?
Well, in the most literal sense I think it means the biological ability to procreate, but metaphorically, I think it's much bigger than that. To me, being fertile also means being a vessel for the future, and that can be through the birth of a child, but it can also be through sisterhood, friendship, and mentorship. I gave up the ability to have a child at 21, but I continue to leave my mark on the world in so many other ways. No matter what your fertility journey is or isn't, it's yours to define and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.