From spotting trends to building an erotic audio startup...
You have probably already experienced an "insight rush" without really knowing how to name it. You know, that little flash of endorphins that flows through you when you discover, while researching and reading, an insight. THE insight. That fragment of an idea that envelops you, resonates and gets you thinking, carried by the confidence of having found or understood something particularly precious.
What happens next? What do you do with this gem? Stay contemplative? Go down the rabbit hole? Write a tweet? Devote an article to it? Or perhaps even believe in it strongly enough to make it the foundation of an entrepreneurial adventure?
Rob used to run a newsletter in which he passionately uncovered under the radar trends. Then one day he stopped. Something snatched him, so strongly that he created a concept, a brand. Because Rob is one of those people who have a rare talent, the kind that can detect subjects and nurture them into projects that you can invest in with your eyes closed. So I continued to follow his journey, quite simply. And today, I wanted to give him the floor to tell you his story and how he went from an "insight rush" to action.
Rob, I’ve already interviewed you a year ago. At that time you ran a newsletter on trends and did some consulting. What are you up to now?
I’m now running a brand called Best Kept Secret, which focuses on erotic audio, read by seductive male voices, for women.
We want to expand this in the future so it can be more inclusive - I know erotic audio has a large LGBTQ+ following but felt it necessary to really build up our audience around a niche first so the focus isn’t too scattered. From mistakes I’ve made in previous ventures I really wanted to hone in on a niche until maybe as much as 50k paying members and beyond and then expand. We’re still a long long way from that but audios beyond just male for female are well on the radar.
In the trends business we had we went too broad trying to do CPG, SaaS, B2B stuff, it was all over the place whereas I think a niche would have helped us succeed more.
We are on Patreon at the moment and have an exclusive Discord server as well for members to talk kinks, sex worries, serious issues, share funny memes, all that good stuff. Essentially a place everyone can feel safe to discuss ‘taboo’ topics without feeling judged. Some people have done fan art and other things in there for us and it has given us really early indicators how powerful a community behind you can be.
We’ve got 3 different tiers, $1.99 for those who want a couple of new audios a month, $5.99 for the basic access and then $10.99 for those who want extra audios as well as priorities for story requests and other perks in the future. Full disclosure, we’re at a very early stage with it!
How did you come up with this idea? What was the process? Did you spot a niche and thought it was THE project?
A couple of years ago I wrote a naughty Valentine’s story for my girlfriend and she enjoyed it. I tried writing short stories on subreddits like r/erotica and r/eroticliterature and they were getting hundreds of upvotes. So I started taking it more seriously and writing little short posts here and there.
We started an Instagram account just writing and it was taking off so we hunted for guys to record something seductive. And I stumbled upon r/gonewildaudio. At first I was bemused at what it was and wondered who on earth was listening to it, but the numbers didn’t lie, the subreddit had 500k members at the time (ed. note: it now has 715K members) and some of the male voice posts would get 2k upvotes and more with hundreds of comments. Some audios were getting 100k listens.
The voice we worked with had the best engagement on our Instagram and myself and my girlfriend decided to jump into it and work on longer pieces. It didn’t escape me that things that often seem weird or unusual at first can make it mainstream if there is enough of a rabid following (one of a16z’s 4 Product-Zeitgeist fit tests!) and this was exhibiting all the signs of that.
The trends letter was going okay but I saw more opportunity in this space after one voice creator in particular blew up on TikTok in a few weeks in early 2021 to earn $25,000 a month (before getting cancelled for some pretty egregious behaviour in his Discord) and found it more fulfilling and interesting to work on day to day. This is a business that will never go away IMO. People are always horny, lonely, needing comfort etc. Erotic literature has existed for thousands of years. Niches that revolve around core human behaviour never really disappear.
I saw the potential for something akin to a 50 Shades of Grey in the space, taking it out of a disorganised subreddit with bad UX/UI/discoverability and making it more mainstream. I think trying to unbundle the r/gonewildaudio (and other smaller tangential ones) is an important element in this journey. We’re at the very first stages of this but a higher quality r/gonewildaudio is kinda the goal.
There are already erotic audio apps out there. What makes your service stand out?
Some of the other apps and tech out there are very focused on masturbation and just being a porn alternative for women, e.g. Vibease. And whilst I think that angle is important given the catering of most mainstream porn to men, I don’t think it is the crucial one. I think that technical and pleasure-led angle is missing a big element.
I think the emotional impact is a much bigger play. People crave more than just getting off, they want entertainment that they can return to over and over again because it speaks to them like a TV series or a good movie. They want romance, seduction, roughness, softness, a whole range of things from hard BDSM to cuddling and IMO we cater more to that. It is the difference between say a PornHub and a Netflix, you go to the former for a bit if you’re horny and stick around much longer in the latter’s ecosystem.
And the advantage of this over say a Netflix or PornHub is the listener can imagine themselves as the one being seduced, they don’t have to fit themselves into the model of a girl with a perfect hourglass or a guy with a six-pack.
The competitive edge in this space also comes from the voice talent and the content, simple as, whoever has the best content/entertainment will win in the end regardless of the bells and whistles attached to the tech. I’d say it is like 85/15 or 90/10 content:tech ratio of importance. So this is another area we are focusing on, hiring the best acting talent, we work with people in Shakespeare productions, people trying to attend Guildhall and Juilliard, just actors with stage experience in general etc. Often great acting talent gets overlooked for physical flaws, a guy doesn’t look like Brad Pitt or Michael B Jordan, but if he’s got an awesome voice, a laptop and a mic, it doesn’t matter to us. We can play ‘Moneyball’ and find some very good actors who are underpriced due to this market inefficiency. I think there's a massive arbitrage opportunity here.
That being said I think this market is big enough for all manner of offerings.
You launched first on Patreon. Can you explain your process?
I’m always keen to see if people will pay for the MVP. And to just get started on something. I’ve been guilty in the past of over-analysing things rather than just jumping in and learning. Patreon was the easiest place to start with the right tools for growing an initial base.
So we set up on Patreon with just one voice actor. I got to work on writing scripts and put little SFW snippets out on YouTube and some NSFW on Reddit and started getting traction immediately. We actually got very lucky in finding an excellent actor who was comfortable with the material and he has actually remained the actor our audience love the most.
We will definitely outgrow Patreon one day and I hope as the 2020s evolve we get more sophisticated tools for creators to monetise, with proper affiliate schemes and not charging people on the 1st of the month regardless of when they sign-up...but I think it is fine to start with.
Mental wellness is becoming a growing concern in our society. Your service tackles this issue, can you tell me more?
Simply from what I’m seeing from feedback I think Best Kept Secret can strengthen sex lives, relationships and marriages, we’ve been told the impact it has for people. I’ll show a couple of screenshots below:
It is clear as societies grow more technologically advanced or as incomes rise that loneliness and depression tends to increase, economists have known this for a while. I think COVID just accelerated this trend forward as it did with e-commerce and remote work.
Whilst I will say I think Best Kept Secret can help, I also don’t want to be somebody piggybacking off mental health issues for clout just because it is a big topic at the moment. A lot of people preach that they have THE answer to tackling mental health but I think, like most things, there are different solutions for different people. Psychedelics, spirituality, self-help courses, I’m not going to judge the paths people take to get the help they need or want, we all have different journeys.
Jumping from consulting/trend detection to building your own startup...would you have any recommendation for people doing the same? More so in a space considered as ‘taboo’?
I’m not sure I have specific advice per se. I think you have to be a creative person and have a desire to do a lot of different things. I jumped from B2B consulting to B2C and some people just aren’t right for that switch. But I found interacting with corporations kinda boring, I like not answering to a boss and it was the right move for myself and my girlfriend.
Biggest advice I would give is to have an MVP as quickly as possible and prove people will pay for it. And cater to an existing demand, I knew there was demand for erotic audio from r/gonewildaudio (500k subreddit members doesn’t lie) AND people would pay for it because there were existing creators with good-sized Patreon memberships.
For taboo stuff you have to be comfortable living with some judgement, it is inevitable, some people will never approve of it or understand it, even family, and that’s fine. If you’re good at it, it is your mission, you’re not doing anything illegal, then pursue it. Too many people lead lives they don’t want to and that is more tragic IMO.
Last thing I’ll say is, I think it is sensible to remain anonymous as much as you can because if something takes off, you become a billion dollar company or something, you will be in the spotlight and in a space like this it can involve stalkers, overzealous fans, people who want personal relationships with you, death threats and more. I know someone like Tim Stokely at OnlyFans is not anonymous but he keeps himself fairly private. The CEO of PornHub is not that well known bar a few news articles. Unless you want fame of course but I don’t.
What’s your roadmap?
I’m not going to give away too many secrets at this point but our long term goal is to grow from just an entertainment company essentially to a commercial empire and to ingrain Web 3.0 dynamics into the business - social tokens, NFTs, digital goods etc. I’m keenly aware of how these are likely to develop in the 2020s and want to reward our initial supporters and make sure our actors get the full benefit with us too and we get as many forces of decentralisation and community-first working in our favour (that’s why we set up the Discord too).
But in the short term there’s a few important things we need to resolve like:
Getting our own app (to reduce churn, improve CLTVs, search functions, organising the catalogue of work). We are growing the Patreon to get to this point.
Finding an ambassador or face - I’ve had interesting discussions about potential celebrity collaborations but we’re in very early stages of figuring that out. But yeah I want to find a charismatic public face or voice for this brand. Because I’m terrible at that! The idea of an anonymous sexy voice behind the brand interests me, a faceless ambassador almost who can be imagined as different digital avatars in the metaverse and becomes a myth.
Getting more embedded into relevant communities/forums who will respond to this beyond different subreddits. Literotica is a channel we have our eyes on.
Making sure we have 1-2 more very solid actors and keeping writing quality high. We took on a few actors who weren’t quite up to the standard we needed and letting people go is never easy so I want to avoid more of those scenarios.
As the business grows I will likely have to step away from some of the writing side too so I’m scouring Amazon, Reddit, Wattpad and other places to find good NSFW writers.
The focus is on those things first really before beginning to dream about the long-term. I’m a good strategist but execution is all that really matters at the end of the day!
The Patreon for anyone interested to check it out is patreon.com/bestkeptsecret and there are snippets (18+ and NSFW) on YouTube. We can’t post explicit stuff on YouTube so technically it is just the SFW audio snippets but labelled NSFW so don’t access from an office. :)
Cover illustration by Fakurian Design.
The anti-attention social network. Minus is an experimental social network launched as part of the solo exhibition "Software for Less" with a special twist: you can only publish 100 messages during the lifetime of your account. I'm still thinking this one through but i just love how more and more digital services are bringing friction to the game.
I love this Declaration of Enchantment. “We can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water, and a few hours without shelter in an inhospitable clime, but we cannot live for even a moment without some movement of imagination in mind and body. To restrict its enlivening flow is to cripple the wellsprings of health, vitality, and sanity. Enchantment is a self-evident basic right. An assault on enchantment is an assault on the human spirit.”
A book worth reading. AI 2041: Ten visions for our future.