Emma Sayle is one of the UK’s leading female entrepreneurs. She made her name launching the global female empowerment brand, Killing Kittens, in 2005. It‘s now incorporated into The KK Group with over 150,000 members, having launched events across the US, Australia and Europe.
The KK Group has since grown online into an online community network, with empowering women at its core.
We had a Q&A session with Emma, where she talked about her entrepreneurial journey and the work The KK Group has done to empower women and give them sexual freedom.
Hello Emma. Thank you for participating in this Q&A session. We would like to start by exploring your origin story. Please give us an overview of your background, career milestones, and your entrepreneurial journey to date?
Emma: I set up Killing Kittens in 2005, before then, I worked in PR, both in the City of London and also at the Erotica event held in Earl's Court. Both of these disparate job experiences showed me how poor the woman's experience was, both in the workplace (where I was personally subjected to boardroom sexism and harassment) and in the bedroom.
At the Erotica show, I quickly realised that most of the companies were run by men, even those that pertained to be for the benefit of women. The industry needed more women running companies that knew the female experience from first hand, and how to make it better.
At the time, fifteen years ago, women were really starting to level the playing field with men, both personally and professionally (but we still have a LONG way to go). I decided that women needed a safe space, run by a woman, in order to explore their sexuality. I set up Killing Kittens (named after the slang for female masturbation) to fulfil that need. Immediately our events, which were strictly run so that women were in control at all times, offered a new place in the market. Indeed we create an entirely new space which did not exist, one where normal everyday single women and couples could explore their sexuality in a glamorous setting - run on the same lines as any standard high end nightclub or party - but at ours people were allowed to have sex. Many of our members had never been to an adult event and so we attracted an entirely new customer who was attracted to our approach.
We vetted our members to ensure everyone attending was like-minded and we never allowed in single men. We still don't allow in single men. The events gained momentum, global press interest and have always done so ever since.
Personally I suffered, as friends and some family members didn't think I should be pushing the conversation about sex into the mainstream. I knew that it was a conversation that needed to happen and I was detemined to normalise it, even if it came at some cost to me personally.
The KK events grew from word of mouth parties in London to worldwide recognition. We now have over 140K members globally and operate throughout Europe, the US and Australia. We have always had an online community with the online revenue beginning to equal the IRL revenue in 2017, so In the past few years we have focused our expansion into the digital world. It was something we began to invest in almost five years ago and through several funding rounds with Seedrs we gained over £1.5m investment in order to fully develop our digital capability. We wanted KK to be more than just the events, we wanted to connect our members and to educate them about sex, so the digital capability has enabled us to create a fully rounded experience.
In 2020, despite the pandemic, we launched our social media platform, dating and chat app. We also used digital platforms like Zoom to keep our members engaged. This digital boost has allowed us to fully drive the business internationally. With our new digital capability we are able to offer white label digital services to other businesses operating within the adult, kink and LGBTQ+ sectors.
We see the future of KK as 360 - with digital at its core, our merchandise and our world-famous events both operating as highly efficient marketing opportunities. We have just launched our first Series A for £3m, which we are well on the way to securing. This will allow us to expand the brand into the US and other markets.
What are the key challenges you have faced in your entrepreneurial journey and how have you navigate these?
Emma: Normalising the conversation around sex is always going to be challenging. Sex is still not talked about as it should be - a bodily function, like eating and sleeping and exercising. This is why people have such huge issues around sex. As a generation we would be much better placed to deal with porn and abuse if we only talked more openly about sex - educating our children about it and making sure that sex is seen as part of every adult's health and wellness.
So, working within a business that has sex at its core was always going to be difficult. It was difficult to find funding, but we overcame that thanks to our amazing investors, and to funding platforms like Seedrs. It was difficult to work with Sillicion Valley platforms like Google who tend to lump all sex related business in one group, from lingerie and erotica to hard core porn. We overcame that by building our own social media platform that enables us to operate. Through this, we could now offer white label services to help other brands who have also been unfairly penalised.
Generally speaking, I have had to endure a lot of negativity to create Killing Kittens. I now have a husband and family who fully support what I do, some even work for me! I have a team and a COO, Hadleigh Bolt, who get my vision 100%.
I also have three amazing kids, and I was always worried how I would navigate motherhood doing what I do as a job, but my fellow parents have only ever been hugely supportive. We live in a very different world from 15 years ago when I started KK, and people realise that sex is not something that should be hidden away, its something that should be celebrated. If you can ask for what you want in the bedroom, then as women we should also be able to ask for exactly what we want in the boardroom.
Has your entrepreneurial journey been influenced by any past or present business leaders?
Emma: Jacqueline Gold, for sure. She was the first female trailblazer who began this journey of taking the bedroom into the mainstream. She managed to get kink into the high street which was no mean feat! There are men, of course, who I am influenced by, but for me, it's the women CEO's that really inspire me, as they have to work twice as hard as the men, and often with the concurrent job of raising children.
The role of women in the workplace is why I set up Sistr in 2019. It's a free platform, IRL and digital, to help women support each other in business. Pre Covid we were running talks and events, but during 2020-21, we created a digital space for the community, with interviews and advice about how to deal with the huge impact this has on us as women professionally. As women had to take on the lionshare of home schooling, women were more likely to lose their jobs during the Pandemic, and women were more likely to be in front line jobs as key workers.
You are a strong advocate for women empowerment, what's the origin of this passion?
Emma: I grew up in the Middle East and saw gender inequality first hand. It made me so upset and so annoyed, to see how women were and are still treated.
Today, as we witness the horrific collapse of the Afghanistan government, my heart is breaking for all those women and girls who have finally been allowed over the past generation, to have an education, to develop, to have peace, but are now looking at going back to the dark ages.
Girls all over the world are being denied an education and the chance to thrive, and often, this is all tied up within archaic sexual rites such as child marriage and FGM.
I will not rest until women are treated as equals all over the world. I will not rest until women are allowed to experience life as a man does, have the same opportunities as a man does, and be allowed to triumph as a man does.
On Linkedin your company Killing Kittens (KK) is described as being founded to create a female-led future. It goes further to describe how The KK Group has enabled the total fulfilment, freedom, expression and safety of thousands of women globally. Please expand on this?
Emma: The fulfilment, freedom and safety of women, operate hand in hand with sexual freedom. The events and workshops I run, allow women to explore their sexuality and also support women in all areas of their lives
If you are not in control of your sex life, if other people have taken that away from you, then you are never going to find freedom.
We run adult events that allow our members to explore their sexuality whilst simultaneously offering access to education and a safe community that will always support and empower women.
Please give us an overview of what your app SafeDate does and it’s value proposition to end users?
Emma: When I found from my members that they often felt scared going on online dates, then I decided to do something about it. Women should be allowed to go online dating and feel safe. This is why I set up Safe Date. It’s an app that allows women (and men) to put in their close contacts who can be alerted if they do not check in after a date. It can track where you went on the date, and some details of the person you were meeting, so it's all centralised.
We all know too well, how unsafe it is for women to even walk down the street at night, so I think its incredibly important that safe spaces like KK, and apps like Safe Date, allow some level of safety net for women . Women must be allowed to have sex without being judged or harmed in any way.
Safe Date works in conjunction with all major dating sites, but its purpose is to act as a safety net for online daters. It’s there to support women and men, to make them feel a little less vulnerable. You have a check in time, you can leave a trail in case things go wrong.
No app will ever stop someone, if they are determined to hurt someone, but at least the app can enable you and your loved ones to feel there is some help out there when things don't go to plan.
Your most recent startup "Sistr" was launched in 2019. Please tell us why "Sistr" was established and what value proposition it offers?
Emma: In 2006, I started a group called The Sisterhood, a group of women doing adventure sports races around the world, in aid of various womens and childrens charities. That community grew, and in 2018 I decided that the ethos of The Sisterhood, combined with my business partner’s (also Co-founder of Sistr) online mentoring platform, would create the perfect set up for professional women to be inspired, find mentors and find community support within their professional lives. To us, the KK group as a whole is about empowering women from the bedroom to the boardroom.