An interview with Cindy Gallop
Cindy Gallop was founder and former chair of the US office of advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. She then founded IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn. Gallop's Talk "Make Love Not Porn" is still one of the "most talked about TED presentations". She is a pioneer of sextech and describes herself as the Michael Bay of business.
Cindy's favourite quote of all time is Alan Kay's "In order to predict the future, you have to invent it". That is the very first thing she says to me when we chat as she returns from India after another inspirational speaking engagement.
"Too many people think the future is something that happens without us...but I'm all about decide what you want the future to be and make it happen"
Now most strategic foresight or futures professionals won't consider her a futurist. Her background is advertising and she now runs a portfolio of her own start ups. However, I do consider her an important female futurist. She has engaged and enrolled an entire generation of women in marketing to change their destiny in advertising and the creative industries, firstly by pressurising the industry to hire more female creative directors (which at the time she and Kat Gordon started the initiative, stood at 3% and is now 12%) and latterly, by encouraging women to expose harassment and discriminatory behaviour in the industries in the wake of #metoo.
Say whatever you like about Gallop (and Kevin Roberts had a few misogynistic words) she enrols women in an alternative future where they are not only equal but are powerful too. And the very fact that she translates that vision into action for herself is an inspiration to others to follow her lead. For me, she has the best grasp of 'personal futuring' - of having the foresight to design one's own path and lead others to believe that they can design their own path forward too.
She tells me that it was on her 45th birthday on 1st February 2005 that she took a pause to reflect and review where she was in life and where she was going. "I'm not going to work in advertising forever. I'm not going to work at BBH forever. But advertising is a very good industry to come across what you want to do next. Because you come into contact with so many different brands, sectors, people, fascinating areas. And I guess I've always thought that one day my next big thing would bubble up from the ether. Somehow. And there I was at the age of 45 and it happened. Vast amounts of thought and angsting ensued. And eventually I went, "If I want to review every possible option open to me, for what is effectively the second half of my life, I think the best thing to do is to put myself on the market, very publicly, and go, "Okay guys. Here I am. What do you got?" I took a massive leap into the unknown, I resigned from BBH New York as the chairman in the Summer of 2005, without a job to go to, and it was the best bloody thing I ever did in my life".
This freed up Cindy to take massive ideas that are ahead of their time and make them a reality.
'You will never own the future if you care what other people think' is a famous mantra of hers.
As she explains: "When people decide to strike out on their own, it matters enormously to them, what the industry thinks of what they're doing. If you want to start a venture that you believe is going to be the future of say advertising, then it matters enormously to you what Campaign, Ad Week, The Drum, and other advertising agencies say about it - it is not to be the future. You will heal to the conventional because you're so worried about what other people will think. That's why I say that the fear of what other people will think is the most paralysing dynamic in business and in life"
Cindy was an early observer of the effects of social value in business and set up If We Ran The World crystallising the belief system, and the ethos of that start up with the equation of 'shared values + shared actions = shared profit'. And that social element of doing business lead her to start Make Love Not Porn. Following on from a Ted talk, now a decade old, she took the opportunity to do good and make money with the concept of a social sex video sharing platform, and embarked on a 'social sex revolution'.
"I didn't invent the term sextech but I'm responsible for propagating the hashtag as widely as it is today " she says. "And I began getting emails from sextech founders all around the world. Literally not a day goes by when a sextech founder somewhere in the world reaches out to me. Because they all face the same challenges. Can't get funding, can't put infrastructure in place. They write to me asking for help, advice and for feedback. And I realized that I have the unique access to extraordinary global sextech deal flow. At the same time, I was still failing to raise $2 million to scale up Make Love Not Porn and so I realized that in order to get my own startup funded, I was gonna have to get the entire category funded. And so I decided, therefore, to do two things simultaneously: still working to raise $2 million for Make Love Not Porn, and now raising $200 million to start the world's first and only sextech fund. Because if nobody else is gonna do this, then I will!"
She gave her fund a name and bought the URL. The name derives from a quote by Chairman Mao who famously said that 'Women hold up half the sky'.
"I think that's relatively unambitious. My sextech fund is called All The Sky Holdings and the derivation is deliberate because my investment thesis for All The Sky is that when I can raise the money I want to invest in two areas":
"The first is radically innovative sextech ventures founded by women because we are finally finding our own sexuality, and because we get the enormous market that is women's needs, wants and desires that are historically deemed too embarrassing, shameful and taboo to address in business. And the second thing is to take every area of exponential growth in tech, and I want to incubate and fund sextech in those areas. To explain this, there's huge growth of gaming. I know many brilliant female game designers and game developers who years ago said to me they would love to make a Make Love Not Porn game. I'm not talking about sex in games, I'm talking about the opportunity - which is socialisation and normalisation of sex"
She moves quickly from talking about the potential of gaming - that lets people interact with other people with the right sexual values and behaviour - to dating. She says that Tinder goes out of its way to convey it's a dating app but it's about hook-up culture, it's about having sex. Then she addresses messaging. Messaging platforms flatly refuse to acknowledge that the single dynamic responsible for their explosive growth is sexting, she says.
"You know, the first payment processor that operates a new definition of adult content to embrace legal, ethical transparent honest sex will clean up. The first hosting provider, the first encoder, the first encryptor, the first bank, the first ecommerce platform...So I want to invest in and build out the eco system of sextech. To create a self-sustaining portfolio of All The Sky and to be a fucking huge revenue generator because every single sextech venture around the world needs this. And I want to blow this up into the next trillion dollar tech. So that's how I'm inventing the future of sex tech."
Since we spoke, Gallop has indeed managed to secure $2m funding from a mystery investor.
But here's the killer, and in my view the kind of attitude and foresight that makes her an important female futurist in 2018:
"My vision of what I want to make happen with All the Sky, is far wider and far, far more innovative, far more disruptive. But here's the problem, Tracey, because the tech world as we all know, is male dominated, as is the world of tech media or tech blogs. So, that is why you will find that coverage of sex tech in media defaults to the side that male tech writers feel a lot more comfortable geeking out about, which is the hardware. Teledildonics! Sex robots!... It's a lot less comfortable to talk about the side I operate on, which is the software.
Which is about people actually having sex with each other... Oh my God.
So what that means is that all the coverage, all the awareness, all the promotion, all the sharpening and all the funding goes to that side of sextech designed to drive us further and further apart from each other, in our own little virtual worlds".
"So I have nothing against sex robots, as long as they are counterbalanced by the female lens, and the female-centric perspective.
And what people are spectacularly failing to see is how very fundamentally this impacts the whole of humanity. So, the example I use is going back to Tinder. All-male founding team, all-male development team, all-male VCs, therefore an all-male advisory board. What you get, therefore, is an app that operates at enormous scale with a male-centric worldview. And when you operate at that kind of scale, the concept of swiping - which is instant dismissiveness - has now actively embedded itself in the popular culture spheres.
I mean, this is why there's a very simple solution. Fund women. Fund female founders at the same rate as you do male. Get to a gender-equal industry, and you manage sexual harassment out instantly. Because sexual harassment stops in a gender-equal environment".
Cindy has a Vision. And sees the world through that lens. Which means she see the opportunities to turn her vision into a reality everywhere - literally everywhere - she goes. And that is one of the capabilities of a futurist. But she's also female, so she's come to her vision because of her experience, then turned that experience into a better vision, then that vision into a reality - not just for her, but for all.
I am reminded of a quote from Monica Byrne in the Atlantic article about female futurists, where she says: "What I see is a bid for control over what the future will look like. And it is a future that to me doesn't look much different from Asimov science fiction covers...which is not a future I'm interested in. I feel so much of what I identify as futurism is very glossy, chrome painted science fiction covers they're sterile. Who cares about your jetpack? How does technology enable us to keep loving each other?"
Cindy Gallop thinks she has the answer. And she is not going to stop until she has put a massive female-shaped dent in the universe to make sure we all do use technology to keep loving each other, in this century...and the next.