Supporting Sex Workers: Poppy Firestarter Launch

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This is part six in a series detailing updates to our research which is grounded in the goal of supporting the safety and agency of sex workers. 

Design Team: Brittany SgaliardichLeah DiVito


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Poppy is a digital platform for sex workers to connect with each other, ask questions, and share stories, without censorship or stigma. The goal of this product is to create a communal space where women can share knowledge and build community on their terms.

For this phase of our project, we attempted to validate that a platform like Poppy is something that women in the industry are interested in using. While we plan to build something entirely new, our initial testing uses the private messaging platform, Slack. Access to our Slack channel is invite-only.

Summary – what we did

    • Service blueprint. We drafted a service blueprint of the Poppy platform that focuses on our initial pilot experience. This blueprint examines the touchpoints a user will have with Poppy and the interactions, both physical and digital, that support them. As part of this effort, we also created a content calendar to identify a schedule around discussion topics and facilitation strategies. 
    • Initial prototype. Using Slack, we finalized our initial prototype. We walked users through the steps required to create accounts, join channels, and respond to initial discussion prompts. We also create a poll to determine what discussion topics users were most interested in.
    • Landing page. We redesigned our landing page to more strongly correlate to the brand identity we are trying to create. This page will serve as an initial touchpoint in joining our Slack channel.
  • Firestarter. The Poppy firestarter served as a kickoff event for getting a core group of users onto the Slack platform. For this to happen, we created an agenda, sent informational emails, and implemented the launch. We ultimately accomplished the following:
    • Six invites, six sign-ups, two Firestarter attendees and began co-creating community guidelines
    • Discussed most valuable future channels
    • Provided next steps for users
  • Legal counsel. This project requires a close relationship with legal counsel. As part of this effort, we met with a lawyer who shared valuable insights but could not offer advice in writing. We also followed up with additional leads:
    • Through a friend, we contacted the Walters Law Group, a law firm that addresses issues related to the adult industry and sex workers.
    • Our studio instructor, Jonathan Lewis, connected us to Dr. Henderson, the Professor and Chair Department of Communication at Trinity University. We plan to chat with her on Tuesday.
    • We attended a networking event for national legal resources and received guidance for moving forward.
  • New users. We continued sourcing potential users. 
    • Strip clubs in Austin. We discussed our project goals with strip club management for entry into the club. While there, we approached women one-on-one to pitch Poppy and collect emails and invite to Poppy. 
    • Existing relationships. We also continued to tap into our existing relationships by encouraging women we have previously spoken with to invite friends and peers onto the platform.
    • Candy Girl podcast. We met with the creators of Candy Girl podcast, a show that explores the sex industry through interviews with sex workers in college. We plan to share our research and connect with women in the industry who are interested in co-creating with us. 

The challenge.

This week, our most important task was to launch the Poppy prototype through a firestarter or kickoff event. The challenge continues to lie in the legal constraints of our topic space and the acquisition of legal counsel necessary to responsibly launch the prototype and manage user experience.

The insights.

What new knowledge did we create this week?

  • We need to get legal advice in writing.

In order to create terms of service for Poppy, we will need consistent legal counsel to ensure that we are responsible creators of this platform. We must retain legal advice in writing in order to sufficiently protect both ourselves and our users.

  • How can we begin to promote active engagement outside of planned events?

While our kickoff event was successful, our team must continue to drive engagement onto Poppy. This effort will hopefully lead to self-sustaining growth and organic engagement. While we will continue to expand the platform and seek new users, we must simultaneously figure out how to facilitate discussion among users in a way that feels both natural and delightful. 

  • We must learn to vet users as quickly as we gain them.

As we continue to identify legal obstacles, we also realize the need to establish a reliable way for vetting new users that parallels the pace with which we acquire them. This will enable Poppy to grow with control, safety, and an informed strategy.

  • How can we screen users at scale?

We realize the need to address platform scale even now, in its infancy. We must be asking what it looks like to vet new users as our existing user ecosystem grows. The risk of a user-screening process, especially at scale, could be significant if not done in the right way. We want to make sure we focus on the safety and exclusivity of our users while creating a delightful experience with the platform – and these goals can feel at odds.

  • Flexible blueprint

As soon as we began building our blueprint, we realized that the future of our social platform requires a degree of flexibility that is difficult to predict. Given that this tool should evolve organically, we want to iterate on the blueprint as we work through new versions of the prototype and receive feedback from users.

Next steps.

  • Continue to seek new user base.
  • Continue to facilitate user events to continue co-creating the platform.
  • Continue pursuing existing and potential connections with legal help.
  • Develop and test vetting techniques for new users.
  • Create higher fidelity wireframes of “blue sky” platform to vet with current users.