VIEW: If you’re getting backlash, you’re doing something right – Cindy Gallop

Warning: The following article contains explicit language.

Ever since performing one of the most talked about TED talks in 2009 to launch MakeLoveNotPorn, Cindy Gallop has been on a mission to change sexual behaviour.

Building on her extensive advertising career, which included launching the US office of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York in 1998, and in 2003 being named Advertising Woman of the Year, Cindy is now both a consultant and entrepreneur.

In this interview, Cindy is frank and honest about the lack of diversity in leadership, the actions every individual can take to generate change, and why she perseveres with MakeLoveNotPorn despite extensive challenges.

  • Looking at the lack of women in VCs, finance and tech, where the spotlight has been shone on them multiple times and it’s still an issue, what’s it going to take for this to change?

It’s very simple. It’s going to take women proving they can make an absolute goddamn fucking shit-tonne of money. That’s it. That’s all. Unfortunately, we have to do that without VC funding because we’re not getting it.

  • Is it going to take thousands of women doing that? There are success stories out there – when will it be enough?

We have to reach a critical mass. A handful of success stories isn’t enough. The reason is because we are now talking about something that is emotional. This is why facts and figures do fuck all. Rational arguments do fuck all. There are millions of facts and figures out there about how diversity drives innovation, better business, and better returns. White, male VCs don’t give a fuck.

They’re going to carry right on, and the only way we’re going to change that is making them feel personally they will make more money out of women. The only way we do that is by demonstrating that ventures founded by us making an absolute goddamn fucking shit-tonne of money. And we only do that by demonstrating at critical mass. That’s what needs to happen.

  • What drove you to create MakeLoveNotPorn and how have those drivers changed over time throughout your various experiences?

In the first instance, 11 years ago, when I had launched MakeLoveNotPorn in its original iteration as a little side venture – we had a public service announcement; had a tiny, clunky website; made which was purely copy; launched the TED – the entire world responded. I realised I had uncovered a huge global social issue.

That was when I felt I had a personal responsibility now to take MakeLoveNotPorn forwards in a way that would be much more far reaching, helpful and effective. I also saw an opportunity to do what I believe in very strongly, which is the future of business – doing good and making money simultaneously.

So I saw the opportunity for a big business solution to this huge untapped global social need. And I use the word ‘big’ advisedly because even then 11 years ago when I was concepting this, I knew that if I wanted to counter the global impact of porn as default sex ed, I would have to come up with something that at least had the potential one day to be just as mass, just as mainstream, and just as all-pervasive in our society as porn currently is.

So when I concepted the world’s only user-generated, human-curated, revenue-share, social sex video-sharing platform, I knew that it would only achieve what I wanted it to at scale. And so I have to keep going until it does.

Secondly, the moment I put MakeLoveNotPorn out there in its original iteration let alone subsequently, every single day we’ve received emails from our members telling us how we’ve changed their lives.

My startup was an accident, but we are literally the startup the world is crying out for. And we are extraordinarily effective. MakeLoveNotPorn has the power and ability to do something utterly unique which is to change people’s sexual attitudes and behaviour. I see that every single day, in our tiny, struggling, hanging-on-for-sheer-business-survival existence. Imagine that at global scale. Imagine that when we’re as big as Facebook. That keeps me going.

The third thing is that the dynamic that keeps me going is “I’m going to fucking well show you.” You tell me it can’t be done, I’m going to fucking well show you. You put an ox in my path, I’m going to fucking well show you.

Those are the three things that keep me going.

  • So, giving up never crosses your mind?

It absolutely has, but those three reasons are why I don’t give up.

  • What’s your advice to women out there getting backlash, when it can be a challenge to deal with ignorance, let along misogyny and everything else?

First of all, if you’re getting backlash, you’re doing something right. If you’re being completely ignored, you know you’re doing something wrong. If nobody had a reaction, why the fuck would you want to add that to the world? Nobody’s interested.

Secondly, it depends on you. I am very simply living and working my values. I know what I value, I know what I believe in. And I am bringing that to life. Everything starts with you and your values. If you’re doing something that flows out of those values, then that is absolutely the right thing to do and you have to carry on doing it, because you know you’re right.

  • What about your advice to women who have not yet started? They have an idea, have a value, have an intention, but might be scared to take the leap – what’s your advice to them?

I recommend they watch my 3% conference talk from 2016, called “Women and People of Color in Advertising, Here’s What You Do Next”. It’s the ten simple steps to starting your own business. Watch that, not least because part of that presentation explains that you can totally start whenever you want to start, alongside the job you’re currently in.

  • Are the challenges and environment still very similar for women, five years on?


  • In your view, when is the right time to pivot and when is the right time to persevere?

Firstly, it depends on what you mean by ‘pivot’, which is a massively overused word. If you’re going to start a venture, it should absolutely involve seeing how people respond to it, knowing what to ignore and what to take on board, and often your audiences and your consumers will show you how to use whatever it is you’re giving them in ways you’d never envisage.

I’m blown away every day by how effectively MakeLoveNotPorn has done what I’ve designed it to do, and how effectively it does thing I’ve never designed it to do.

For example, some years back, a couple wrote to us telling us they’d had a very happy marriage and thriving sex life. Then the husband got prostate cancer and had surgery. Unfortunately post-surgery while he was cancer free, erectile dysfunction resulted, which made them unhappy because they’d had great sex lives. So they went to see a sex therapist, who recommended MakeLoveNotPorn. They wrote to us saying they couldn’t thank us enough because their sex lives were even better than it was before the surgery.

We had no idea that sex therapists were recommending us. So that gave us the idea of targeting sex therapists as an audience with the ability to really help us scale. So last year we sponsored the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists’ annual conference and we’re doing that again this year.

That’s an example of how being attuned to what happens with your stock, when it’s out there in the world and people are using it in ways you’d never anticipated, can then be leveraged.

  • Are there enough role models out there for women and people of minority backgrounds? What can we do about course-correcting what the face of a role model has become in our society?

No, there obviously aren’t because we aren’t in leadership. There are 50 million white men everywhere.

The white man, as the centre of every narrative, is in every single aspect of popular culture, whether it’s news, television, music or literature, etc. Of course there aren’t enough role models. There are nowhere near remotely enough role models.

The only way we change that is by every single one of us being determined to get out there and live our life the way we want to and be a role model in daily life to everybody around us, until we get into the position where we convince more people.

  • How realistic do you think this is for us to see this change in the next five years?

You’ve made the mistake many people do when interviewing me in the way you’ve asked this question, because you’ve asked the question in the passive tense.

All of this changes when you and I and everybody else make the change. I don’t wait for things to change, I make them change. Everyone one of us every single day taking microactions, tiny actions, to make what we want to see change change, accumulatively adds up at scale to enormous impact.

This is only feasible if you and I and everybody else make it so. It doesn’t happen otherwise.

About the expert

Cindy Gallop is a graduate of Somerville College, Oxford, whose background is over 30 years in brand-building, marketing and advertising – she started up the US office of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York in 1998 and in 2003 was named Advertising Woman of the Year.  She is the founder and CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld, co-action software  launched in beta at TED 2010  and subsequently written up and taught as a Harvard Business School case study, which enables brands to implement the business model of the future – Shared Values + Shared Action = Shared Profit (financial and social). She is also the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn – ‘Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference’ – a social sextech platform designed to promote good sexual behavior and good sexual values, which she launched at TED 2009, and for which she has raised $2million to build out as ‘the Social Sex Revolution’.  As a result of the funding challenges she has encountered, she is raising the world’s first and only sextech fund, AllTheSky Holdings. She acts as board advisor to a number of tech ventures and works as a personal brand/life/executive coach and a consultant on brand and business innovation for companies around the world, describing her consultancy approach as ‘I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business.’ BusinessInsider named her one of 15 Most Important Marketing Strategy Thinkers Today, alongside Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin, and cited her as number 33 on their list of 100 Most Influential Tech Women On Twitter, and number one on their list of Top 30 People In Advertising To Follow On Twitter.  Campaign named her number one on their list of Top 10 Trailblazers for both 2016 and 2017 and number two in 2018. She has a reputation as a highly compelling and inspirational speaker at conferences and events around the world on a variety of topics: her talks  on the future of advertising and marketing have been tweeted as: ‘The most brilliant speech on the future of advertising ever – not the usual buzzword-laden bullshit’; ‘Watching @cindygallop slice and dice the ad industry status quo like a ginsu knife. #purewin’; and ‘There must be a DeLorean parked outside, because Cindy Gallop is from the FUTURE!’ InfluencerCon NYC introduced her as ‘Cindy Gallop is the truth Jack Nicholson told Tom Cruise he couldn’t handle.’ Together with Susan Credle of FCB and Margaret Johnson of Goodby, Cindy is one of three Campaign Review Committee chairs for the AdCouncil in the US, helping to make the work great. Cindy is an outspoken advocate of diversity and inclusion in advertising, tech and business – she was Jury President at CannesLions 2015 for the inaugural Glass Lion awards, proposed by Sheryl Sandberg to celebrate advertising that shatters gender stereotypes in advertising, and in 2017 was turned by digital agency R/GA into a chatbot for Equal Pay Day that helps women ask for a raise – search AskCindyGallop on Facebook and chat to CindyBot on Facebook Messenger. Cindy recently partnered with AARP on their DisruptAging initiative to challenge and change ageism. Cindy has published ‘Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior’ as one of TED’s line of TEDBooks. You can follow her on Twitter @cindygallop.