Sex toy startup has some big backers

SAN FRANCISCO (Private Equity Week) - JimmyJane, a startup that makes vibrating sex toys, raised $2 million from investors, according to a recent regulatory filing.

The "Form 6" vibrator manufactured by San Francisco, California sex toy startup JimmyJane is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/handout/

The names of the San Francisco-based company’s most recent investors were not included in the documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but it had previously raised early-stage funds from some distinguished Silicon Valley tech investors.

Among JimmyJane’s backers are technology hedge fund Palo Alto Investors and a limited liability company controlled by well-known venture capitalist Tim Draper, documents showed. The investors have helped the company raise $8.3 million to date as it takes its product from idea to commercialization.

“I can’t even tell you what a challenge it was to get people to understand what we were doing when I only had a few sketches (during our startup phase),” JimmyJane founder Ethan Imboden previously said when he raised some initial financing in 2007. “But we have reached a scale now and a level of dialogue with consumers that investors really understand.”

Before founding JimmyJane, Imboden studied electrical engineering and genetics, which he said led to an interest in design. Imboden said he has developed several key engineering elements for vibrators to produce his company’s high-end versions. JimmyJane’s first model, called the “Little Something,” has one utility patent filed. Its latest model, the “Form 6,” has six patents filed, primarily around its ability to be waterproof and rechargeable, Imboden said.

Imboden’s interest in pursuing the development of sex toys is understandable from a market perspective; some 46 percent of U.S. residents have confessed to using sex toys, according to a 2004 study conducted by condom maker Durex. But there are few high-end name brands. Popular vibrator models, such as the Rabbit Vibrator that was featured on “Sex and the City,” are made by various manufacturers.

“There is a big brand vacuum and nowhere is brand more relevant than here,” Imboden said when he first launched the company. “This is a multi-billion dollar market.”

One of the early adopters of JimmyJane’s technology was actress Teri Hatcher, who penned a gushing note to the company’s spokeswoman. “You have great forward-thinking products. Any time you want to send anything, I would love it,” she wrote. JimmyJane subsequently used the note as part of its marketing presentation to investors.

It seems to have impressed several in Silicon Valley. For example, Draper - managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson - is the kingpin of investing in young companies that have become viral successes, such as Hotmail and Skype Technologies. A source familiar with the firm said the LLC controlled by Draper, which has invested in JimmyJane, does not involve any DFJ money.

Draper isn’t the only venture capitalist involved with JimmyJane. Phil Schlein, a partner at U.S. Venture Partners, is listed as one of the company’s directors. Schlein was previously president and CEO of Macy’s California for more than a decade and has focused on the retail sector while at USVP. Schlein invested his personal money in JimmyJane and did not commit any of the firm’s money.

Palo Alto Investors, a $1.5 billion technology-focused hedge fund has also invested. The fund describes its strategy as “Focused exclusively on overlooked, misunderstood and undervalued segments of the equity market that have significant potential for positive returns.” It invested in JimmyJane out of its Micro Cap fund.

Still, the investors are a little reticent to discuss their involvement with the company. “We have a little bit of a puritanical attitude in Silicon Valley that can be hard to shake,” Schlein said.

Since its initial institutional financing round, the company has launched several new products. Its original line of toys started at $175 and included a $3,250 diamond-studded platinum vibrator.