In 2003, Bruce Murison, was laid off from his high-tech job at the now-bankrupt telecommunications company Nortel.
Instead of looking for a new job, he focused his energy on something he had been quietly tinkering with in his basement in suburban Ottawa.
He was working on a vibrator couples can use together. The concept was born one day when he and wife Melody, also a former Nortel employee, were brainstorming possible inventions.
They joked about creating a sex toy and the idea somehow stuck. Melody says they then asked themselves the question, "Is there anything that [a couple] can share?"
Believing they found an untapped market, the Murisons did their research. That included visiting adult novelty stores.
"I remember the first sex toy store I dragged Melody into. We had never been to one before we started this endeavour, so there was definitely a learning curve," explained Bruce.
He also handed out surveys in downtown Ottawa to find out what women — besides Melody — wanted.
"I did whatever it took," says Bruce. That included "getting nicely dressed government ladies' opinions."
Bruce adds that "Melody at the time was afraid that one of the neighbours would see me and recognize me."
What will the neighbours think?
Not knowing how their neighbours would react, the Murisons kept quiet about what Bruce was doing in the basement. Only their two daughters knew; their six-year-old son was too young to understand.
It took years for Bruce to get it right: scrapping numerous prototypes, miniaturizing motors, fine-tuning the electronics and "finding a shape that would conform to people and not interfere with normal lovemaking."
His final product: a small, C-shaped vibrator that couples can enjoy simultaneously. The Murisons named it the We-Vibe.
With no money coming in, the couple had mortgaged their home and took out three lines of credit. Bruce said when they were finally ready to take the device to market, "there was one grandiose moment where we said, 'OK, after this point, we either have to sell 10,000 We-Vibes between now and March or we're going to go bankrupt.'"
The couple actually doubled their goal, selling 20,000 units in just three months in 2008.
It's a hit
Endorsements by celebrity sex experts — from Canada’s Sue Johanson to Dr. Laura Berman on The Dr. Oz Show — were huge boosts for business. So was a mention on Oprah.com in a segment titled Beginner's Guide to Erotica.
The toy was even added to Oscars gift bags in 2009.
The Murisons' neighbours eventually discovered their secret, but the couple had no reason to worry. Some asked for free samples and one sent flowers. "There was definitely a lot of hometown pride," Melody says.
The couple began their business at home with just one paid employee. Now their company, Standard Innovation, has 43 full-time staff. Millions of We-Vibes have sold across the globe and there's now more than eight variations of the product.
The gadget has also garnered more than 20 international awards. The most recent: best couples sex toy for the We-Vibe 4 Plus at the Sexual Health Expo in Los Angeles last month.
The 4 Plus – the latest We-Vibe model – can be controlled using a phone app that allows one partner to operate the toy from miles away.
Bruce attributes the toy's success to the fact that it's a small, non-intimidating device that "doesn't alienate or replace the man. It makes sex better for both. So I don't think men are threatened the way they are by a phallic device."
Tina McKeown, who first tried the We-Vibe with a boyfriend, agrees.
"It was his first toy ever. Men are a little shy when it comes to that," she says, adding her boyfriend was enthusiastic about the We-Vibe 3 that includes a remote control.
"You know men love remotes," she says. "It definitely enhances the sexual experience."
Although they can't divulge details yet, the Murisons' company is working on more We-Vibe variations. "It's sort of a never-ending process of improvement," Bruce says.
The couple has no shame, just pride in what they've been able to achieve.
"A lot of women want to shake his hand [to] thank him," Melody says.Suggest a correction