“The best thing companies can do is listen to women”: Interview with Clue’s founder Ida (Women’s Day special)

This Sunday 8 March, it’s Women’s Day. Throughout the whole of this week we will be spotlighting the stories of inspirational female founders and investors, to both open up a space to discuss shared challenges and possible shared solutions, as well as give more visibility to female startup players to smash the “you can’t be what you can’t see” hypothesis.

Founded in 2012, femtech startup Clue is the most kickass app to help women understand their cycle – basically, how their body works – in order to live a full and healthy life. Using 30+ tracking options (like cramps, skin, hair and sleep), users can view in-depth data about their unique physiology, and get predictions on period, fertility and PMS window.

As a lifelong entrepreneur and a femtech pioneer, founder and CEO Ida Tin is convinced that technology will profoundly change the future of family planning. Clue is certainly growing fast, now with +10 million active users, being one of the most popular apps in the “Health & Fitness” category in the US, Germany, the UK, Brazil, France, Mexico and many others, as well as being featured in media like Bloomberg and Buzzfeed, showing that the demand for this type of femtech is not slowing down.

In this interview, Ida shares her learnings from building Clue into the leading female health app, her thoughts on the femtech of the future, what companies can do to develop female entrepreneurship, and her advice for female tech founders.

You studied entrepreneurship, social business and innovation. Have you always known what kind of startup you wanted to work create?

I actually wanted to become an artist, but literally got lost in the hallways of a University in London and ended up doing an entrepreneurship course for people in the creative arts. That was in 1999, and I have been self-employed since then. I have never actually held a job anywhere other than in companies I have started myself.

I started Clue because I was puzzled that there had been so little innovation in family planning, and why it still wasn’t possible for me to really know what was going on in my body related to my reproductive health – I had questions like, can I become pregnant today? Have I gotten pregnant? What side effects will I have from different types of birth control – and even a simple thing like, when will my next period come? So I started to build Clue. It is a free period tracking app, designed to help women and people who menstruate around the world track their cycles and unlock the power of their bodies. To date, Clue has over 12 million active users across more than 190 countries.

What’s unique about Clue?

Clue is deeply rooted in science.  In the last few years, Clue has established partnerships with academic organisations such as Oxford University in Europe, and Stanford University and the Kinsey Institute in the US, enabling us to carry out more in-depth research into menstrual cycle health. Everything we do is with our users in mind; our ongoing goal is to better educate them and carry out research into things they want to know the answers to—for example, we were continuously being asked whether menstrual cycles sync when women spend time together, which is why we carried out our cycle syncing study.

We want to better understand both big scientific questions – such as how to better understand symptoms of endometriosis, for example – and gain a greater insight into what makes us, as humans, tick. Just last month we conducted a study of 68,000 women, across 180 countries, to find out what they looked for in an ‘ideal’ long-term partner, ranging from personality traits through to physical characteristics – this was done in partnership with the University of Gottingen.

Clue is now the world’s fastest-growing period tracking and fertility app. What is your vision for the future?

For us at Clue, the ongoing goal is to continue advancing research into female health, and to make basic information about reproductive health more accessible. Currently, we are focused on adding more educational content to our website, HelloClue.com – a source of unbiased, up-to-date and accurate scientific research, exploring all areas of the menstrual cycle, from the first period, through to sex, pregnancy and eventually, menopause.

We are dedicated to continually enhancing our offering and throughout the year will be announcing new developments to the Clue app that will empower users with deeper insights into their bodies.

We now have a fantastic community, a trusted brand and voice spear-heading femtech, and a very unique dataset that we are making available for research. Now we need to become a self reliant company that can thrive from the value we bring users. It is not an easy journey but I trust that users will support us and value what we are providing them.

What’s your daily motivation?

I think that one of the main factors for Clue being as successful as it is, is the fact that when we started, I was surrounded by dedicated and passionate co-founders who believed in Clue as much as I do. Since then, we have grown an incredibly strong and supporting team, including our investors, all of whom share the same vision – we want to give people greater awareness and agency of their own bodies, and enable them with knowledge about this fundamental aspect of their lives.

What’s your opinion on the state of the femtech sector now? 

One issue with femtech and female health in general is that, despite significant advancements, menstrual health is still made invisible in culture even though it is a really central part of women’s lives. Sadly, this means that female health and reproductive health are vastly under-served and under-researched.

However, femtech could also hold the key to improving this situation. The more reproductive health data that universities have access to, the more opportunities they have to to conduct targeted research that might someday lead to significant improvements in female health on a global scale.

Clue is trying to be a part of the solution. We are working with researchers from top universities, such as the University of Oxford and Stanford University, to help further reproductive research and knowledge – particularly around the menstrual cycle across women’s lifespans.

How do you see the femtech industry changing in the next 5-10 years?

I think it would be safe to predict that tracking apps and gadgets will become increasingly intuitive as time goes on. We will likely see more integration and better discovery of services and products in femtech for the user in terms of molecular monitoring of the body (home diagnostics for example), where users will be able to monitor everything from heart rate and blood pressure, to stress levels and the amount of quality movement, but at this moment in time, I feel that we are still seeing some fragmentation within the industry.

Capturing data like this will allow us to understand both our emotional and physical wellbeing, however, in order to centralise and accurately monitor this information, we will need to see advancements in technology, and not just in external sensors that sit on the surface of the skin. The data we will produce (and hopefully share, transparently, and with consent) can only be a good thing when it comes to advancing women’s health. This is because it will offer doctors instant access to more detailed and accurate medical histories than in previous years.

This is still a very new space, but I hope that with time, apps like Clue can help democratise bodily knowledge for women and help them to understand their cycles and overall health.

What do you think can be done to develop female entrepreneurship, and whose job is it?

The best thing companies can do is listen to women – to their ideas and their concerns – and support them in achieving their aims. We should be supporting them through all areas of life, from the start of their career, through to maternity leave and their return to work. Providing adequate support and encouragement maintains talent retention and is good business sense.

Funders need to make bets on founders, ideas, and companies that might be outside their comfort zone.

As a female entrepreneur, what has been your biggest challenge up until now?

Getting funding was never easy – our initial funding round was small, and hard to secure, but we deeply believed in the impact that Clue could have on the world, and this inspired us to push forward. It doesn’t get easier, and my advice, not just to women, but to everyone, is that if you believe something will work, you must never stop believing that it will. It is easy to feel restricted, especially when you are doing something new or culturally challenging, but in pushing this innovation forward, you are moving the world forward –  and that is really valuable.

What is your advice for female entrepreneurs Europe-wide?

I would advise any female entrepreneur who is keen to pursue a career, to never hesitate in seeking advice. Entrepreneurship, even though it is hugely rewarding when you succeed, can be tough, so advice and a sympathetic ear can go a long way in helping. I would especially recommend all budding CEOs to reach out to existing female entrepreneurs for support, advice and mentorship. By supporting one another in our pursuits, tech entrepreneurs will continue to develop and grow in whichever industry they choose.

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