20th Anniversary Series #2: Twisted Monk’s Momentum Multiplies

October 05, 2023

As told to Rose DeYott and Ryn Pfeuffer

The path of entrepreneurship is both rewarding and challenging. While many individuals dream of starting their own small businesses and achieving great success, the reality is that a significant number of small businesses never make it past their early stages.

Twisted Monk's success story didn't follow the typical path. As an adult business, they faced many unforeseen obstacles to get rope into customers' hands. Despite the challenges, Monk and his fearless partner, Tambo, were determined. They adapted, surrounded themselves with the best people, persevered, and had a helluva lot of fun along the way. 

Here, we continue with the second installment of our series on the 20th anniversary of this iconic bondage rope brand. 

Twisted Monk takes off

Folsom Street Fair, the annual event held in San Francisco, was a pivotal point in the Twisted Monk Story. It is one of the world's largest leather and fetish events, celebrating BDSM and kink culture. "Oh my God, that was huge," says Monk. "People kept buying, so we kept going."

Monk's next issue was figuring out how to convince an audience beyond the specialized market of kink-friendly festival goers to pay for artisan bondage rope. Because until he started making it, premium rope wasn’t exactly a thing you found on retail shelves or sex toy sites. 

Monk also had to innovate when it came to payments. "There was a lot of creativity because the shit we take for granted now—Stripe, Square, and Shopify—didn't exist yet," he says. His partner, Tambo, wrote a program to capture the credit card numbers, then they'd run to the hotel to dial in to authorize credit cards—Wi-Fi didn't exist yet. They had to work with some less-than-reputable credit card processors as an adult business. 

From there, Twisted Monk kept growing. "I always mark that August in 2003, when I dyed my first batch, as the beginning," he says. "We didn't officially register the company until early 2004, but I mark our anniversary of how it all started in 2003."  

Shit gets real

Now in his early 30s, Monk had sunk all his savings into launching the rope bondage business. 

"You have this belief that you have your fuck around years. So, like, you can do crazy stuff in your 20s and have lots of time to recover from it," he says. "You know, unless it takes a lawyer, doctor, or a priest to fix, you should be pretty good."

Monk knew starting the company was a gamble, but thought he’d give it a run. Worst case scenario? He'd have a good story. At minimum, he might meet some cool people. If things went sideways, he could always return to the corporate hustle, so he wouldn't retire living in a box eating cat food. 

They say, “fortune favors the brave,” as Monk would later learn.   

Building a fun and safe brand

Monk made a point to build the business so it didn't feel sketchy or skeevy. Around this time, in the early 2000s, he started to see more queer and women-friendly sex shops—the kind of places where you could talk about things like bondage in a nice clean, sunlit store. Toys in Babeland (now Babeland) opened in Seattle in 1993. They were revolutionary in creating a sex-positive, women-friendly, especially queer women, experience and community. Monk took a page from their book and was like, "We're not going to make this sketchy. We want to make this safe." So, they built an engaging site with no nudity. 

At the time, his main model on the site was his partner. "She's always smiling, and we're laughing, so our whole schtick was like, this is cool, safe, and fun," says Monk. "It's funny because, by the time we started playing with our kink and our rope, we'd been married 10 years." 

"Like most of our customer base, this gave us this whole new lease on intimacy and communication," Monk shares. "So, part of the Twisted Monk brand was the joy we were experiencing, discovering this new kink." Monk and his partner tried to convey to customers: This isn't scary; this is fun and a whole new way to communicate with your partner.

"People would always joke, who are your customers? Like, your parents?" he recalls. "Because yeah, rope is a great gateway drug for kink. It is safe, and we made it safe and accessible and fun and relatable."

Banks don’t like adult businesses

In 2005 Monk found an online credit card processor that allowed Twisted Monk to take credit cards. This opened up a huge new market. After proving that Twisted Monk was not a porn site, they started with basic service. As the company grew, so did the service upgrades until they reached the flagship level of service. 

Then things went sideways. They were like, "Wait, what do you do? Wait, exactly, who are you? I'm sorry. You're a porn site. You have 30 days to find a new credit card processor," Monk recalls. Frustrated, Monk took a bundle of rope and went to every merchant bank in the City of Seattle. "I sat down in front of every bank officer who would give me the time of day, and I put a bundle of rope in his hands," he says. He told them, "This is what I make. Tell me I'm a porn site." They finally found one who would take a chance. Still, Monk and Tambo had to leverage many things and make many promises to make basic things like payroll happen. 

Supporting community

It was a real don't-fuck-it-up moment for Monk when one of his employees bought a house. "What blows my freaking mind is their job is built around something I invented. I invented the process. I invented the product. I invented the tools they use to make this stuff," he recalls. "And now a bank, and not like, you know, Guido's Savings and Loan, but like a real like brick and mortar, legitimate bank gave them a 30-year freaking mortgage. Based on their W2, they have from me." It was a big ah-hah moment for Monk that people were counting on him. 

Leaving a legacy

Monk has now been making bondage rope for 20 years. "Truth be told, I have an amazing partner who has carried my ass through a lot of stuff. God bless Tambo," he says. 

At such a major milestone, some people may wonder, "Well, you've done this for 20 years. What do you want to do next?" 

Monk would like to have a legacy and legs beyond his life—to where it is not the Monk show. "That is one of the reasons why, about 10 years ago, I realized there was a point that it can't be about 'Twisted Monk the individual' and the rope I make. It has to be about 'Twisted Monk,' the brand," he says. There's this person named Monk who is the engine, the creative mind, or whatever you want to call it, behind it. But it is more than that now." 

When Monk first started Twisted Monk, he was the entire brand. "We were all just this big, messy tangle of wonderful creativity," he recalls. Over the last decade, though, the product has become more than something made by Monk. It is now a collaboration of a lot of creative people and a lot of creative forces. "Now, at 20 years, I look at my own mortality and legacy."

Smart advice

There's one critical piece of advice that Monk likes to give: Find the smartest women. "If you're going to work in the sex industry or the business of pleasure, find the smartest women you can," he shares. "Pay them as much as you humanly possibly can. Make it part of their job description to tell you no. And thank them for it." 

Because it’s the sex industry, women will without doubt become your customer. So, when it came to marketing rope, it was imperative for Twisted Monk to have input from women. “We wanted to create a culture around rope that felt safe, where all genders were comfortable,” says Monk. 

Looking ahead

Now, at 20 years, Twisted Monk is looking at its legacy going forward; it feels very real. "It is a question of, will this brand outlive me, and what will it look like without me at the helm?" he asks. "Did I build something strong enough to hand it off so it could live for another 20 years?"

Stay tuned for the third installment of our 20th-anniversary blog series. Whether you're new or have been here for the whole wild ride, we appreciate your love and support.