ZaZaZu – Your Sexuality Informs Your Identity
When Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, wrote in an editorial on October 30th, 2014, that he was “proud to be gay,” the world could not talk about anything else. Since then, hardly anybody talks about it anymore. Instead, people have focused on the fact that Apple is a trillion-dollar company and that the stock has risen more than 300% in these six years. It almost seems like coming out helped Cook build the confidence that allowed him to lead the company to where it is.
If you ask Jingjin Liu, CEO and co-founder of new sexual wellness startup, ZaZaZu whether that is the case, she will probably say yes. For her, sexuality informs identity. She concedes that she did not come up with the concept herself.
In 2010, when she started at a large automotive firm in Germany, her mentor was an openly gay Vice-President. This man had overcome the conventions and biases of the conservative German corporate environment and carried himself with the greatest confidence. During one of their chats, she asked how he was able to be so secure when he had to face daily judgmental comments. He told her that he had never been insecure, because sexuality informs identity.
From the tender age of eight, he knew he liked men and he had no doubt about who he was. He never lost himself even if he had to hide his sexuality along the way to conform with society’s idea of normal and climb the corporate ladder. “If you are secure in your identity, that builds confidence, and if you are confident, there is nothing in your way” were his words of wisdom to Jingjin.
She tells me that him coming out of the closet after he attained Vice-President status made a “big bang” in the industry at the time, but little did she know that their conversation would also leave an impact on her. It later became her cue to start ZaZaZu.
ZaZaZu Play Date set. Image credit: ZaZaZu
What is ZaZaZu
The word ZaZaZu comes from an episode of Sex and the City, in which Carrie described her feeling about falling in love with a guy who she did not find was marriage material, but gave her that irresistable “zsa zsa zsu” feeling. It describes an irrational, intangible, butterflies in the stomach feeling; that, Jingjin thinks, is what sex should always feel like.
But it does not really, especially for women. Jingjin tells me that the sexual journey is very different for women and men. The first time for a man is a sign of triumph, a conquest for himself, something worth celebrating. The first time for a woman is sadly, dismal. “In your circle of friends, I’m sure none of them would ever describe their first time as great,” she says to me. I laugh and nod my head in agreement, perhaps slightly too fervently. “You start your sexual journey as a woman pretty crappily,” Jingjin adds.
And that follows us, one crappy sexual experience after another. It carries on from that disappointing start to your first boyfriend, where he felt great while you felt that a pizza would give you more satisfaction. It continues from post-partum sex, when your body changes and his remains the same, to menopause, when hormonal changes lead to vaginal dryness.
It’s almost as if we have conditioned ourselves to live with sexual expectations and enjoyment tailored for men. We’d much rather fake it, than speak up to let our partner know what would truly satisfy us. Indeed, in a survey, ZaZaZu found that 75% of women had already faked an orgasm at least once, whereas 99% of men believed that their partner had never faked it with them.
We are still insecure
That could be part of the reason why so many studies involving female managers indicate that they have less confidence than men (though that sometimes is good for the company, as it avoids the bravado-driven mistakes that guys make).
Jingjin saw that close by when she herself was an executive and had the privilege of the mentorship of a circle of female leaders, most of them at least a decade older than she was. Yes, they were confident, but there were a lot of “fake it till you make it” moments. Despite their work accomplishments, even at C-suite levels, she found that, deep down, these aspirational women were still insecure.
Jingjin has found that even women who have reached the top of the career mountain are still shy about voicing their likes and dislikes in the bedroom. Women often juggle multiple roles in life and perform sex as a quick in-and-out act, without taking the time to fully enjoy the moment. That is particularly true in the Asian context, Jingjin says, as she recalls conversations with ZaZaZu’s customers .
ZaZaZu co-founders. L-R: Jingjin Liu, Cassandra Poon. Image credit: ZaZaZu
If she dared to say that, she dared to say anything
Jingjin herself was not above that. Despite being a citizen of the world and conquering huge professional milestones, she also feels suffocated by a kind of shame embedded in Asian culture to talk to her husband about what pleasures her. When she finally did, she found that it was “not even that much of a deal” for her and her husband.
If she dared to say that, she dared to say anything. If we are able to ask for what we need in the bedroom, in such an intimate space to fulfil the most intrinsic of needs, then we are able to ask for anything outside, including that raise that’s years too late.
ZaZaZu wants to empower women to own our pleasure and be unbashful about our desires. Jingjin wants people to use ZaZaZu as a safe space to learn and explore all about our sexuality and intimacy.
Clearly, she was on to something. In August 2020, just two months after going live, ZaZaZu closed a six-digit pre-seed funding from a venture capital firm and angel investors to build a discreet e-commerce ecosystem that guides women on enhancing our sexual and intimacy journey, and on building confidence from within.
To do so, the platform leans on three content pillars: sex education, consultation and curation of personalised products. Customers can choose from ready-made occasion boxes or take a sexual inclination test Jingjin and her co-founder Cassandra Poon developed. Those who take it can then receive a curated mystery box of sexual wellness accessories and products based on their sex persona.
Of course, I had to take the test (for research purposes), after going through the test, I was awarded with my ideal product – the finger vibe. Ok, pretty good. I’d use that.
Jingjin Liu. Image credit: ZaZaZu
Average no more
I think that ZaZaZu is also the story of Jingjin’s personal transformation. If you ever meet her, you will have a hard time believing she suffered from low self-esteem as a child. At least I had. Jingjin is almost scaringly confident, strikingly self-assured. In fact, her presence commands the room, even from a screen.
But Jingjin was not always so confident.
Born in Beijing, China, where she lived until the age of 16, Jingjin was raised by her grandparents, because her parents were away from the country. Her skin was naturally darker, and that became a target for bullies.
Being fair – or not so much, in Jingjin’s case – is a big thing in China. According to a 2015 study by the Arizona State University, the societal preference for fair skin in China ties back to ancient times, when it indicated elite status. That is how ingrained in the Chinese society it is, and I can only imagine how ostracized she felt, not looking like the other girls.
The teenage bullying undermined her confidence and self-esteem so much that she buried her sexuality during the very time when girls discover womanhood. Jingjin said she cut her hair and was the biggest tomboy ever. Looking more like the boys, it seems, she felt accepted.
When she was 16, in a bid to escape her ugly duckling life, Jingjin went to Germany to pursue her engineering studies. There, she finally felt alive. She tells me that in the west she felt like people valued her qualities more than her looks.
In Germany, Jingjin’s femininity finally blossomed. She was still haunted by the feeling of being inadequate, but the average girl from China was becoming average no more.
From industrial engineer to consumer products wiz
Jingjin does not have a background in consumer products, much less the sexual wellness industry. Her background is in industrial engineering, in the automotive industry. In 2019, she exited one of her entrepreneurial hustles for €10 million. With this newly minted treasure chest, Jingjin wondered what she could do to make a change. She knew she wanted to help women to find their strength and confidence, but the market is saturated with the likes of career advice platforms and meditation workshops to teach women how to get what they want.
Her mind then went to that fateful conversation – sexuality informs identity. She thought, if there was a way to allow women to be comfortable with their sexuality, and build their confidence from within, then there is little need to practice power poses in presentation pitches, mindfulness to harness the power of attraction to tell the universe what you want. Because when you are comfortable with your sexuality, and your identity, you are confident. And when you are confident, you stop to think twice about when to ask for something, you stop to ponder when the right time is to say what is on your mind. You stop to doubt yourself.
And that’s the ZaZaZu.
She talks, and she walks
As I’m finishing up this article, I go on Jingjin’s LinkedIn profile to see if there’s anything I missed out on her professional history. What I saw made me smile. In her latest post, she talks about how she just went for it and acted upon a random suggestion from one of ZaZaZu’s advisors during a recent PR strategy meeting that led her to successfully make contact with Gwyneth Paltrow of Goop.
If that’s not talking the talk and walking the walk, I don’t know what is.
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