Richard Pessall, 20, lives and works as bartender in Shropshire, England. He spent nine years living in the United States, but when he ran out of money to pay for college in North Carolina, he was unable to renew his visa and was forced to return to the U.K. He’s decided to make his fortune before attempting to return stateside. His big idea? Reboot the condom.
Forplay, the condom company he's been bootstrapping with his barman’s earnings, has grown to a staff of four by focusing on the student-rich towns like Oxford, Bristol, and Liverpool. Pessall, who hopes to expand to London and Edinburgh by June, recently spoke with Fast Company.
FAST COMPANY: So this all began with a series of bad dates...
RICHARD PESSALL: I went out with a couple of friends and I met these two twins, who were absolutely gorgeous. One of them really hit it off with me, and the next week we went out to a club. I used to breakdance with my friends back in high school. So I go down on the floor, I go to a handstand, and my heel connects to her face, and I knock her onto the floor. I’ve never felt so bad in my life. Her twin comes over and takes her to the bathroom, and while she’s in the bathroom I go to the bar, and this girl says, "I saw that, are you alright?" I end up getting her number as well. We ended up going on a date, and things were going really well. But then she got a phone call. She said, "Richard, I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to go." This girl was 19, and she’d already had a child. She had to go back and pay the babysitter. I thought, "This is a joke, this can’t be happening."
That set you on a mission.
I went home and started researching teen pregnancy rates in England, and they’re just atrocious. This related to work I did when I lived in New York back in 2010. I sold "Obama Condoms." They had his face on the front of the condom, and they’d say, "Use Your Good Judgment" or "The Ultimate Stimulus Package." I’d sell them in Central Park, Times Square, and Columbus Circle, wearing a backpack with a sign that said "Obama Condoms, three for ten dollars."
So what’s innovative about Forplay, your condom startup?
When I’ve gone into a pharmaceutical store to buy condoms, I’ve always gotten heckled by someone in line. "Look at this guy, buying three packs of them." I want to change the way they’re bought. I spoke with my father about it, and we were thinking about different ways we could make condoms unrelated to sex, and bring them into different markets. We came up with the idea of selling them in relation to drinking. In a couple of bars, our condoms are sold in the bathrooms—but also at the actual bar itself.
So I’d order a pint of Guinness and a condom?
If you order a Screaming Orgasm, the price of the drink is incorporated with the condom itself. Every couple of weeks we try to come up with new names and new cocktails. The last one I made was the Cherry Turnover, a shot that incorporates amaretto, cherry brandy, and lemon juice. It was originally called Pop My Cherry, but some people didn’t agree with it.
What are some other condom-bundling drinks you’ve made up?
I’ve got a whole list... I made one called The Icebreaker. There’s one I’m making now, that we’ll see how it goes, called The Queen’s Legs. In the bottom right, it says "Always Open" in neon lighting.
So the main idea is to bring condom sales out of the pharmacy and into new channels.
There are so many different ways to sell anything, but condoms in particular, people want generally to get them out there but don’t know how to do it. You can buy off our website, which is fully integrated with PayPal. We’ve also made novelty ranges. I’ve designed condoms that are quite fashionable, with nice patterns on them, that are sold in clothing stores. This month I’m releasing what I call condom cards, which are greeting cards that have a quote on the front, and inside, instead of "Happy birthday," there’s a condom. For cards that are congratulatory for a pregnancy, it’ll say, "Here’s for next time."
You’re not the first to want to reboot condoms. How can you compete with, say, TheyFit, which basically offers custom-tailored condoms?
Obviously size does matter and all that, but for—excuse my language—but for penis sizes, there’s a general bell curve that most people fit in. In the European market, and the American market as well, everyone seems to use the same size condom. Only about 5% use Magnum condoms; the other 55% who buy them use them to impress girls. Creating and manufacturing a condom for the general need of a country or continent is not difficult to do. Custom-made condoms are completely unneeded.
You’ve really read up on your penises.
Unfortunately, I know quite a lot about penises.
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