Most people who end up in the adult industry don’t dream about it since they were little kids, and Dave Levine was no different. Growing up in Boston, his father had his own business, and Levine grew up with similar aspirations. When the web came around, Levine knew it was the right platform, if he found a way to harness it.
“Everyone said I was stupid,” he recalls. “In their defense, my original idea to use the internet to sell high-end art wasn’t that great. But I was willing to try a bunch of stuff and see which one worked.”
In 1995, he had a site where people could order just about anything — a sort of proto-Amazon, composed of various little online stores. The sex toy store, to his surprise, consistently showed the best traffic and profit margins, so Levine did what any businessman would have done: he focused on that niche, opening up SexToy.com.
“When I did that, my mother was worried,” he says. “‘What am I going to tell my friends?’ she asked me. Of course, now she’s famous down in the community in Florida. They’re all asking her for vibrators! I ship her some products and she gives them out to all her friends. But when it started I got a lot of dirty looks. People thought I was creepy, or evil. Nowadays Trojan is giving out sex toys in the streets of Boston and getting swamped. It wasn’t like that back then.”
It was hard work. Levine woke up at six in the morning and often worked until midnight nonstop, seven days a week, making sure the business was running.
“My fetish is profit, not sex toys,” he admits. “I was adding things to the site back then wondering, ‘what is that?’ I remember seeing a cock ring for the first time and looking at it — it was a round thing and had a vibrating knob, and I thought, ‘what is that for?’ Somebody e-mailed me asking, ‘do you have penis pumps?’ I was like, ‘what the hell is a penis pump?’ I e-mailed my distributor and asked, ‘do you have penis pumps?’ and they said, ‘yeah,’ so I added it to the site and started selling penis pumps. I still had no idea what they were.”
And that’s how Dave Levine went from being your average guy to being a key player in the web’s early retail space. If he’d stayed in Boston, the story probably could have ended there, but one day, while skiing in Jackson Hole, he had an epiphany: “Why do I ski on small mountains when I could be skiing on big ones out west?” There was nothing tying him to the east coast. His business was online. He had no warehouses or inventory. He was single. He could go wherever he wanted. So Levine went to Los Angeles.
“Before I moved to L.A., I thought I had social problems,” he says. “I would go out in Boston, I never had any fun. I couldn’t meet people. I always thought, ‘I could be home or working, why am I out?’ When I got to L.A., I went out to the cool Hollywood clubs — I was just this single guy with a friend who had come with me from Boston, and we’d stand there and they wouldn’t let us in and we would go home and come back the next week and try again. Finally, I think it was the fourth week, I went and they let me in. I thought, ‘I’m in!’ I was in the same room with these girls who were like the girls on the TV that I used to look at. To me that was very exciting. I’d get phone numbers! Everyone was so friendly.”
Levine loved it. He decided to settle in. He got a house in the Hills, and soon, he was having parties every Saturday at his place after the clubs closed at two in the morning.
“My first one, two people came,” he remembers. “They did coke off my counter and left. The following week, there were five people. And then it just grew and grew. I mean, there was a hot tub in the back yard, a stripper pole in the living room, a party every week — it wasn’t that it was crazy, but people would meet people. And that’s how it spread. To me, it was a selfish endeavor — get people to come to the house and they’ll bring girls and I’ll meet everybody. I didn’t think I was doing anything that exciting. I didn’t even have anything at the house. I’d get maybe two bottles of Skyy Vodka. That’s it.”
But people noticed. Levine’s parties became a sort of Hollywood legend. Tales of antics in the hot tub and stripper pole abounded. In a few months, the clubs that had once kept this nerdy kid from Boston out started rolling out the VIP treatment.
“Club owners would come up to me, ‘hey! Sex Toy Dave! I love your parties, man, glad you could make it,'” Levine says, still a little surprised. “I didn’t come up with that name. People just started calling me that. It was weird. I had no idea who anyone was, but they all seemed to know me because of these parties.”
In typical L.A. fashion, someone who was always at Levine’s was having a conversation with a casting director who told her he was looking for millionaires to fix up on a new show. Her immediate response was, “oh, you have to call Sex Toy Dave!” The studio was into it — most other men in the show had made their money in real estate and here was this crazy guy who had a stripper pole in his living room and sold sex toys on the internet.
And that’s how Dave Levine, the nerdy kid from Boston who’d become a sex toy mogul despite not having a clue about sex toys, ended up on Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker. Twice. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t meet the woman he’d eventually marry on the show. All along, he’d been right about parties being the way to meet all the girls. That’s where he met his wife — at his own house.
Two years ago, the couple welcomed a baby girl into the world. Though still every bit the workaholic, Levine handles the business with his daughter on a baby sling. That’s the magic of working from home — you really can have it all, if you’re willing to put in the work.