Q&A with Mathilde Mackowski, Chief Visionary Officer at Sinful
Why did you opt for the private equity route, rather than selling to a strategic buyer?
It wasn’t until the process was underway that we decided to proceed with the sale. We hadn’t tried it before, but we knew we had to find the perfect match, otherwise, we wouldn’t sell at all. We received enough indications of interest at a point where we were ready to take the next step – to put ourselves out there and acquire a partner who would challenge us and have our back, so we weren’t left out there on our own if we failed. We’ve always been very thorough and analytical, so that part of the journey wasn’t new to us. But we’re both entrepreneurs and don’t have qualifications from university or business school. We’ve learned as we’ve gone along and were ready to build a new “training course” and start a new personal journey.
We chose the people with whom we had the strongest synergies and mutual respect
We didn’t choose an equity firm, we chose Polaris. We chose the people with whom we had the strongest synergies and mutual respect, and who were awesome to work with. I’m very quick to make up my mind. After ten minutes, I could tell whether it was a go or a no go and wrote my opinion on a piece of paper for someone from the Clearwater International team. After all, equity firms are eager to find successful, owner-led companies. They could see our ideas and really wanted to build on what we are and what we’ve worked hard for.
Is there a difference between how you viewed private equity firms before the process started, and how you view them now that you are partnered with one?
We clearly underestimated the differences that exist between equity firms and had the idea that “all-equity firms are the same” and “what can you give us apart from money?”. We’re not turned on by the money; we’re excited about getting to roll out our mission even further. It’s about the people – who do I want to play with? Polaris saw us for what we are, and that played a decisive role in our choice.
Are the day-to-day operations any different today, than before selling to the private equity firm?
We have a voice at Polaris – they know we’re an organisation that’s running with the task at hand and it feels good to know we’re part of a larger community. With Polaris behind us, we’re suddenly much more able to muster the courage to, for example, recruit very capable people to the board, who are insanely invested in us. And, of course, it means there’s always an “adult” we can call!
Strategy has become something we take a much more structured approach to
Has the partnership with a private equity firm led to any changes in your strategy or objectives?
Strategy has become something we take a much more structured approach to – and it takes time! Drawing up a five-year plan is like pulling teeth, but it pays to plan so far ahead – and it makes it easier for the whole organisation when we have a clear common direction.
Private equity funds are known to be highly data-driven. Have they had stringent reporting requirements?
we’re in full agreement with Polaris on what we need to keep track of
We always said we’re not going to be those corporate types that have to write reports all the time on things that don’t add value. Fortunately, we’re in full agreement with Polaris on what we need to keep track of. At first, we had regular meetings, but now it’s split across the different departments. So if there’s some specific issue with a new warehouse, for instance, the person dealing with it at our end will discuss it with the equity firm. That’s how far we’ve come in the organisation, and it’s really nice.
Now that you have been working with a private equity fund for a while, what do you think are the greatest strengths of the private equity fund model?
Well, of course, it’s the feeling of there being more of us, of being stronger and of someone having our back. And then getting a board that’s so dedicated.
What is the best advice you would give to someone considering selling a majority stake to a private equity fund?
For me personally, it was crucial to feel that it was the perfect match
It’s hard to give specific advice because it varies so much, depending on what kind of person you are. The right thing for us was to follow our gut feeling. For me personally, it was crucial to feel that it was the perfect match. It is important to realise that this is an unbelievably demanding, very adult step to take. Ask yourself if you are ready for this crazy “in-service training”. If you would rather stay free and enjoy the stability and a smaller team, you might want to stay as you are. But if you have untapped potential and you really want to do something about it, then you should go for it. There isn’t any one piece of advice that is “right”. We weren’t in the right headspace the first time we started talking to Clearwater International, and I’m really pleased that we waited until it was the right time.
Many e-commerce businesses experienced extraordinary activity during the pandemic. How are things now that the market has normalised?
Things have now returned to the usual good level that we saw before the pandemic. And that does reflect the fact that we’re no longer in lockdown. We’re wearing our existential glasses and have a great feeling about the world around us. And with the best will in the world, we really do not want things to go back to what they were like during the pandemic. The same is true of the current war in Ukraine. All of a sudden, people have prioritised spending their money on a new passport and a petrol car. It is entirely natural that things like good wine and indulgence take a back seat to bigger things.
Sinful is an online seller of adult toys, founded by Mathilde Mackowski and Tonny Corydon Andersen in 2008, who at that time were a couple. Today, although no longer together as a couple, are still an active part of Sinful, both as co-owners and part of the management team.
Sinful sells both its own and third-party brands via its online store, across Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France and the UK, with a mission to destigmatise sex.
In 2021, Mathilde and Tonny sold just under 60% of the business to the private equity firm Polaris.