Developing tools to improve women’s health
For millennia, women have followed their menstrual cycles. Either for a Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) of contraception, for higher chances of getting pregnant or simply to better understand regularity and idiosyncrasies on their cycle, many women keep track of their cycles all over the world.
If this topic grosses you out, you probably already stopped reading. That is ok: today we want to talk to all of those interested in the importance of understanding a woman’s body and health.
Clue is a digital female health company, with the coolest app for tracking the menstrual cycle, anticipating Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and fertile days. And guess what? It is not pink.
Lisa Kennelly is the company’s Director of Marketing. She received us in their spacious office in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Kreuzberg with her fluffy Shiba Inu, which happily walked around and explored the area. During our interview, Hans Raffauf, one of the founders of Clue, passed by to say ‘hi’: he had just arrived from a month in India with no connection whatsoever to phones or computers.
With this environment, Clue is breaking the myth that technology is only a man’s world.
IS: Hello, Lisa. Thank you for receiving us today. Could you please give a brief overview of Clue?
Lisa: Of course! Clue is an app for women to track and understand their menstrual cycles. It is not only for women trying to get pregnant: it is also for women who don’t want to get pregnant, or who want to know when they are getting PMS, or, in general, who want to understand what is happening with themselves.
We describe ourselves as part of the quantified-self movement, which is a way of describing the running apps, or other fitness apps, or any kind of methods of tracking your health. It’s about putting numbers to your own self. These apps are becoming very popular right now.
Women have been tracking their menstrual cycles since… since there were people, right? They happen to 50% of the population for forty years of their lives. However, there has not been much innovation in this area.
IS: Why do you think so?
Lisa: There are many reasons for that. I think one is that for a long time, the majority of app creators have been men. People tend to build apps for problems they are solving for themselves: it affects you, so you develop a way to solve it. Now that there are more women getting involved in technology, there have been more initiatives and products responding to things that are affecting them.
It is not like we are not the first company to build an app like this. If you ask me why we are so successful thus far, I would say that, among other things, our CEO is a woman, although our team is 50/50 split gender-wise, which is another strength of our company.
If you look into other products that are women-focused on the market, they tend to be very stereotypical. Very pink, covered in flowers and butterflies and all this Barbie stuff. Women don’t like that, we really don’t. One feedback we constantly receive is: “Thank you so much for making a product I’m not embarrassed to use, which is made for grown-ups, discreet but also professional-looking.”
This came directly from our CEO. She said: “I don’t want something that is pink. I want something that looks like my calendar app or my to-do app. I want very nice, clean design.” It shouldn’t be like a Barbie doll just because it is women-focused.
IS: I believe this clean look is also very contemporary. It has also reminded me of the comment Ellen Degeneres made about “Bic for her” [check video].
IS: What has been the feedback from your users?
Lisa: We have been getting a very good response from users. One of our Key Performance Indicators is actually how many emails we receive on a weekly basis with the word “love” in them. It is so significant, we actually track it.
We are currently near 700,000 monthly active users, but we are growing constantly. We have apps both for iOS and for Android. We have a wide geographic distribution as well, and we have the app in six different languages.
Sexual education is not very comprehensive in some parts of the globe. You might get some when you are around 13, but it doesn’t go further, and when you are around 20, you don’t really know much about your body. Many people don’t know that there are only 6 days out of your cycle when you can get pregnant. And people don’t know when that is.
Another important topic is that we give a lot of scientific information in the app. You may read about what is happening, and this information is reviewed by doctors and scientists. It is made so you can learn about yourself, even though this is a taboo in a lot of cultures.
IS: You have mentioned how important it is to have a woman CEO for Clue, and that you have a very mixed team, which is also very important. Why do you believe this equality is so important?
Lisa: Fertility is a topic that affects both men and women. If you are in a relationship with a girl, or even your sister, or your mother, there are always people in your immediate group and family that will experience this on a regular basis. If you think this is not important for your life, you are being oblivious.
A good number of our users are men. They are tracking the cycles of their girlfriends or their wives, which they do both to know when PMS is coming, of course, but also to be supportive and share their duties. If the couple is trying to get pregnant, he also wants to know when is the best time to try and conceive.
Beyond that, everyone in Clue is interested in working for something that is improving people’s lives. There are so many tech companies where you will be dealing with other aspects, which also have their relevance, but we all feel like we want to use our powers for good. We all have skills that we want to put towards improving people’s lives. And we hear that all the time.
IS: What would you say are the most common characteristics on Clue’s team?
Lisa: Definitely, the commitment to doing something that helps people. Being on the forefront of a tech movement that hopes to one day provide alternatives to hormonal birth control is really inspiring.
We also have a very flat structure here. Everyone is ready to step up and take charge as needed, or to be part of a team. Every single person in the company can lead a project or be led in a project.
IS: Looking into the future, 3-5 years from now, where would you like to see Clue?
Lisa: Certainly we would like to have many million users by then. We are also working on some new aspects that cannot be shared now, but maybe in the next interview… We want to contribute with scientists and researchers in the field of female health as well, using data we have from the app. We also want the app to be relevant to women during pregnancy, so we might have more information and expansions in that direction, always focusing on our specialty field.
IS: You have moved to Berlin to work here. How has your experience been?
Lisa: I love living in Berlin. I lived in Boston, Seattle, Vancouver, New York, and Berlin is one of the most amazing places. It is so livable here. It is really affordable, the public transportation is great, you don’t need a car. You don’t feel you need more money to do things: most things are within reach. The tech community, the start-up community is also very exciting. You see many people coming to Berlin for that.
IS: What is your final message to our readers?
Lisa: The thing that really drives us – at the end of the day and all the time – is not just money; it is not about making a profit out of this and that’s it. It is how we are creating value for the user. If it doesn’t bring value to the user, why would we be doing this?
Keeping this in mind is very important to have a sense of direction. If you are interested in working for a company that always has that in mind, you would probably enjoy being here.