In this piece, we talk to Emma Sayle, founder of women’s sex club brand Killing Kittens, about the growth of the business to date.
When was the company founded and why?
Killing Kittens is the ultimate female empowerment brand, promoting positivity for women of all ages, shapes, race and sizes. It was founded in 2005 in order to create a female-led future both online and offline. It was the first mover in the millennial females in control movement, which has since been followed by an onslaught of similar movements across social media and popular culture and the sector now also includes female-led dating apps like Bumble, and the #MeToo hashtag.
My background is PR; I began in financial PR and then followed up with entertainment PR. While in the financial PR sector, I made several complaints against my male boss in the city for harrassment and then after being told I would be seen as a troublemaker if I continued, I decided aged 23 to move into entertainment PR, during which I witnessed a very male-dominated adult industry offering nowhere for women to go to explore their sexuality and feel in control within a safe environment.
My goal is to provide the world’s biggest female empowerment brand both on and offline that brings the sexual liberation of women to the mainstream…the modernisation of womanhood.
How much initial investment did the company start with?
There was absolutely no investment required for the launch of Killing Kittens. I held monthly brand events while remaining working in PR. The events funded themselves at first via ticket sales. A friend helped with delivery of a data capture website as a favour, at no cost, helping build an initial database of interested contacts. The monthly events, held in London, just grew organically from just 40 people to 300. After seven years, Killing Kittens launched events in cities outside of London and an online community was created via sweat equity. The business continues to grow today.
What marketing methods did the company employ to maximise exposure?
It’s always been media driven, specifically PR-driven with no costs to the business as Emma’s experience came in to play. The nature of the business has made it a good tabloid headline grabber and housewife outrage Daily Mail news story! At the same time its been at the forefront of society’s shift with women and sex so has been very topical in lifestyle features across various glossy magazines, broadsheet supplements and on TV.
So telling is the desire that women own their own sexuality today, that when a broadcast debate between Emma Sayle and a BBC Radio Belfast host (timed to coincide with Killing Kittens launching in Ireland) during which Emma was told ‘she was going to hell and the devil was with her’ actually resulted in over 1,000 new Irish members signing up to the site.
Talk about the company’s growth trajectory.
The growth has been gradual, with costs being covered for the first three years by the owned events themselves. At that time I took on the management of the business as a full-time role, being the businesses only official member of staff. Two years later the team became two people. The last five years has seen the largest jump. The business has seen turnover double every year and the number of full-time staff has risen to eight with freelance event partners based in 36 cities around the world.
The business has always covered its costs and staff and expansion has come from cash flow. The business however has received a cash injection of investment, approximately £150,000 during the last four years, enabling the online digital side of the business to expand thus resulting in online revenue now accounting for 40 per cent of the company’s income
How important is an inspirational figurehead to a scale-up company?
An inspirational figurehead is crucial. A figurehead is key to any business looking to scale and move forward, similar to a captain of a sports team, without a captain the team is rudderless and directionless. I try to lead with passion and ambition, particularly as the industry is attempting to break windows…doors…ceilings…perceptions…opinions…judgments so it’s crucial that I lay out a clear vision for the brand, a common ethos in what we are trying to achieve, a sense of achievement and pride in what we have achieved already and an excitement and sense of defiance that we can go push forward.
I became a lot more self aware in my 30s, realising my strengths and more importantly my weaknesses, so when I began building the Killing Kittens team I was sure to find people who are better than me at the work that needed doing and that I consciously stand back and trust them get on with it. One of my team recently informed a new member of staff that if they don’t hear from me, they should take comfort in the knowledge that they are doing a good job.
I admit freely that I’m not the best communicator. I hold too much in, letting it swirl around my own head sometimes – keeping things crystal clear for me but confusing the team in the meantime, at times. I am direct with all those I work with, including my investors and advisers. I may come across as hard sometimes but it is merely that I don’t mince my words – I don’t have time for emotions when it’s about the business but for me the most important thing in my business is that we work together as a team and utilise everyone’s strengths, ensuring the best is brought out in all.
What specific advice would you give to scale-up companies looking to build their business to exit?
Don’t lose sight of why you started the business in the first place, the mission and ethos is what its all about and ensure that is kept simple. If you suddenly start seeing pound signs and focusing on the money then its easy to lose real direction and focus.
No matter who is pushing or pulling you in different directions, or advising you on what you should be doing, just don’t lose sight of you and your mission. Do not be afraid to disagree and own your conviction, your business is yours.