Sex and relationship startups mine some of the biggest markets

John Shinal · February 7, 2008 · Short URL:

Gary Kremen, the straight-talking founder of mega-successful sites like and, had an insightful piece of advice the last time we spoke with him

In discussing what markets have the most potential, he said he favors those that cater to basic needs shared by all human beings.

"The closer you are to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the better you do," says Kremen, whose latest venture, Clean Power Finance, is trying to bring solar power to the masses.

That's addressing what's known as a physiological need -- meaning food, warmth and shelter.

Two notches above that on Maslow's pyramid is the need for love and companionship, needs that many of the startups with pitches on are targeting.

While most of them are dating and relationship sites, like Our Couple Space and WooMe, we've found one that is working an even more interesting intersection -- the one where sex and technology come together.

The Sense of Smell Labs, based in Nova Scotia, Canada, has developed several trans-dermal patches that release chemicals designed to alter mood and behavior.

"Our products are like aromatherapy on steroids," says the company's co-founder, Luke Vorstermans.

The company's best-known product, the Scentuelle patch, gives off scent hormones that mimic the effect of dopamine -- the brain's feel-good hormone -- and is designed to increase a woman's sexual libido. 

More than 250,000 units have been sold, mostly in the U.K., where the technology was developed, according to Vorstermans. 

Because the product's active ingredients enter the body through the nose, rather than through the skin, they do not need FDA approval, Vorstermans told me via email. 

The product was recently featured on The Rachael Ray Show. When I asked Vorstermans if they had any success stories, he said this:  

"Not sure if we saved any relationships but we're primarily trying to keeps boomers happy in the sack!"

It's hard to not to root for a company with that kind of mission. Vorsterman's company has other products in development and is looking for funding to bring them to market.


Vorsterman goes on to say that "the issue of low libido is huge with women... some say over 40% suffer from it. Unlike Viagra, and similar pills and lotions for women (mostly herbal) that focus on the mechanics of sex, Scentuelle works on the mood of sex."

No word yet on whether the patch can be part of a viable pick-up strategy for men. If so, perhaps there is a follow-on opportunity here for someone to develop a carrying case for men to keep both their sex patch and their nicotine patch, thus making it easier to indulge in two habits common to the gender.

All kidding aside, this looks like it has the possibility of success. The market, as we told you, is huge, and the earnest, reassuring delivery of Vorsterman's founder, Linda Ryan, is as good as you'll see on any paid cable programming.

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