Nardone did not set out to become a sex-toy tycoon. Born and mostly raised in Boston, he studied mechanical engineering in both college and grad school, and got a job as an automotive engineer at Ford's Detroit firm, writing business plans and developing new product ideas. But he largely abandoned engineering when he opened PriveCo. The company struggled initially; in the late '90s, Money magazine called it a "net loser" for not using a mailing list and predicted its swift downfall. But PriveCo held on and went on to launch several new websites, including Vibrators.com and Bachelorette.com, throughout the next decade.
Then the recession hit--and PriveCo's profits went through the roof. Sales of sex toys, particularly those purchased online, skyrocketed during the downturn. PriveCo, once disdained as the Pets.com of the discreet-purchases market, made a significant profit throughout the slump. "The only thing that affects our business," Nardone says, "is if Google puts us first when you type in vibrators."