Femtech

Episode 4 00:30:28

Femtech pioneer Ida Tin on how data and technology can empower women.

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The femtech (female technology) market is expected to be worth nearly $50 billion by 2025. In 2012, Ida Tin, who coined the word “femtech,” saw the opportunity to help women take control of their health, and founded Clue, now one of the most popular period-tracking apps in the world. In today’s episode, Ida discusses how data and technology can empower women and the future of femtech.

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Credits

The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther

Featured In This Episode

Ida Tin is the co-founder and CEO of the female health app, Clue, which helps users learn about all aspects of female reproductive health. She is also credited with coining the term “femtech” at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2016.

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Ida developed the idea for Clue after realizing that there had been very little innovation in family planning since the pill came out. She couldn’t fathom how it could be that we managed to walk on the moon but that most women still didn’t know which days they could or couldn’t get pregnant. She felt that she personally needed such a tool to manage that very important aspect of her own life — and was convinced that many other women would find an app like Clue, which could clue people in with personalized health data, useful and empowering.

Transcript

Adriana Gascoigne (00:00):

I’m Adriana Gascoigne founder of Girls in Tech and this is the Girls in Tech podcast where we’re discussing the ways tech is always evolving and helping the world evolve too. Listen in, get inspired, and learn how you can use your skills to create the change you want to see in the world. Here’s your host, Zuzy Martin-Aly.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (00:20):

There’s a company that will value you for you. There’s a tech job where your skillset and unique perspectives are appreciated. By inviting you to share the real you, the Girls in Tech jobs board helps you find that job, so that you can take the next step in your career with confidence. go to jobs.girlsintech.org today. That’s jobs.girlsintech.org.

Ida Tin (00:45):

And one of my big hopes for Clue is that I can expand culture so that women can have more space to express what they really experience and express their needs, because we have specific needs because of what our bodies are doing. And we need to live in a world where we don’t have to pretend that we are working on a straight line. We are working on curves.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (01:08):

When Apple introduced its health kit in 2014, the company boasted that it would track several major health factors, how many steps we take, sodium intake, weight, heart rate, and much more, but they forgot one of the most important things to roughly half of the people on the planet. They didn’t include a way for women to track their menstrual cycles, which is very important to us and a critical part of understanding our health. For millions of women around the world. A period tracking app is a must-have tool. It helps us understand our bodies, but without women advocating for the importance of women’s health and other issues in tech, our concerns and needs are being overlooked. Ida Tin is a Danish entrepreneur working to make sure women are seen and empowered to use technology as a way to make the world a better place from the female perspective.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (02:01):

In 2012, she co-founded Clue. Now one of the most popular period tracking apps in the world with more than 14 million users. She’s also credited with coining the term FemTech — that means female technology. Ida sees a future where women can better understand their bodies and take control of their health beyond periods. She shares that to do that we need technology and data working together as well as more women in tech and at the boardroom table, to build tools and products made to include and address the female perspective. Here’s my conversation with Ida.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (02:38):

I would love to know what was going through your head when you decided to co-found Clue. And you’re the CEO now, and let’s start it there. I have so many questions.

Ida Tin (02:48):

Yeah. Well, thank you so much for having me on the show. So, I had the idea for Clue almost a decade ago — well, actually over a decade ago — and it really started with this question of why has there been so little innovation in family planning methods since the pill came out? Because I thought, well, now we have sensors, and we have supercomputers in our pockets. What if we could just know really accurately which days we can actually get pregnant and where we are in the cycle. Then maybe we could take out the phone and it would be like, “Hey, today you cannot get pregnant, don’t worry” or “Today, use a condom.”

Ida Tin (03:23):

And I thought that would be really helpful for me, but also maybe meeting a global need for contraceptives. That was the spark, and then long story, but decided to sort of start in period tracking because half of the world’s population had periods for many years. And that seemed like a good starting point to start a conversation about female health and start understanding the space. And then as we’ve been building that, we understood that there are so many more things you can do with that data beyond contraception and period tracking. But that was the first initial spark. And I have to say it really was a provocation. I was like, Really? We put people on the moon, but we still don’t know which day we are ovulating. Like, how is this even possible?

Zuzy Martin-Aly (04:06):

You started with periods and sort of on this contraception/fertility role, but there’s so much more to women’s health, and so much more you’re trying to do. What makes Clue different from other period trackers, and what’s out there in the marketplace on a holistic level?

Ida Tin (04:25):

I should just clarify that Clue as it is today, is not a contraceptive. That’s really important to say. We are not regulated to be a contraceptive, and we don’t recommend that people use it as such. As a founder and somebody building tech, you make a lot of ethical choices on how you build the product, and how you build the team, but also sort of what cultural norms do you really pass on. And I think one of the things that makes Clue quite different, instead of our value set around female health, we saw that a lot of the products already in the market were very sort of gender stereotypical and a little bit sort of secretive and very girly, very flowery, pink. And so we wanted to make something that was very science-based, very no-nonsense and very transparent, and really trying to educate and explain to our users: What happens to your data? How do we make money? Why are we doing this? Where are we coming from? And I still feel that this is one of the things that make Clue different from what’s in the market.

Ida Tin (05:31):

I feel that I have been very privileged to be able to do this work. A hundred years ago, women were put into prison for talking about reproductive health. So, in that way, I feel I’ve been born at a very lucky time where technology has become available, and there is just enough space culturally to have these conversations. And one of my big hopes for Clue is that I can expand culture, so that women can have more space to express what they really experience, and express their needs because we have specific needs because of what our bodies are doing. And we need to live in a world where we don’t have to pretend that we are working on a straight line; we are working on curves. And that means we have different needs at different days. And I would love the world to make space for that.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (06:25):

Can you talk a little bit about how you make data helpful to women?

Ida Tin (06:30):

Yeah, so when we started collecting data, we really soon realized that it’s not enough to mirror the data back to you. You really have to be able to make it meaningful and helpful, which means you need to provide context for the data. What does it mean if my app tells me I have a 40-day cycle? I mean, should I be worried, or is it fine? And so one of the things with data is that people can start understanding what their baseline is, what’s natural for them, what’s healthy for them. And with that, we can also understand when something starts going a little off, and we can go to our healthcare providers and say, “Hey, look, here’s the data. Look at it.” And that’s important because we have so many stories where women say like, “My doctor didn’t believe me, or they didn’t take me seriously” or “I was told that, yeah, it hurts to be a woman” or…

But now with data in our hands, we are much more empowered to actually get the care that we need. And also to think about how we stay healthy. How do we do preventive care? And I think that’s one of the really big promises for bringing technology to female health is that women can start understanding their bodies better and take more ownership over what’s happening to them. Especially in female health, where we have a pretty gruesome history of women being very disempowered and having things done to them that weren’t at all great. And we still have some of these issues, so it’s something that hopefully people can take and create the lives that they really want to have with.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (08:03):

Can you share some examples of how women are taking this information, this data, and changing their lives because as women, I think when it comes to our reproductive health especially, we start searching for answers a little bit too late, perhaps, or we’re just really scared to discover what might be there for some strange reason. Can you share some empowering stories of how this information is changing women’s lives?

Ida Tin (08:33):

Hmm, so one of the really inspiring thing that I’ve learned doing this work for a long time now is to understand that our cycles really are in a cycle, where something’s happening every day, it’s not just about our periods. We have this extraordinary complex system kicking in and changing our physiology every day. And it affects our sexuality, it affects our mood, it affects our skin, it affects so many things. And I feel that when people understand better the signals that are coming from their bodies and what they see in the app, they can be less afraid. That day where you just feel miserable, maybe it’s just because of hormones. And actually what you need is to take care of yourself or have somebody be extra-kind that day. But also, we have people who said they recognize that they had a pregnancy outside the womb early; it saved their life, or we have people who will recognize they have cancer early.

Ida Tin (09:27):

We have people who have improved the relationship to the partners because they understand better some of these mood swings. We have people who understand that they had a chronic disease that they needed to get treated for. Everything that makes you feel, I guess, more in control to some level … You will never have control over your body, and maybe that’s a good thing actually, because I think our body teaches us a lot. But to some extent that we don’t feel that we are just sort of helplessly being pulled around by these changes in our bodies, but that we can sort of have enough extra sort of perspective maybe on them to understand that they’re also beneficial because I think our bodies are very clever. I think when the body tells us to slow down, maybe that’s not a bad thing, then we have other kinds of ideas and understand other ideas, I think we become wiser.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (10:27):

Oh, and that reminds me of the name. Just going back to the name for a second, is that why you called it Clue so that we could catch a clue …

Ida Tin (10:36):

Yes.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (10:36):

Little clue about what’s going on with our bodies?

Ida Tin (10:39):

Yes. My idea was that you would have a piece of technology that would give you a clue, right? It would sort of help you understand something and then you can go figure out the full picture, but like a helping hand. Yeah.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (10:51):

It’s perfect. That’s perfect. You’ve said before that you’re not necessarily trying to make profits. You’ve said you’re playing the long game. What does that mean? What’s the long game for you?

Ida Tin (11:02):

We definitely want to make money, because that’s how we get to do this work sustainably for our users for a long time. But as I mentioned in the beginning, when we build technology, we make many choices of how aggressive do we try to upsell people or do we sell the data? Do we put advertisement in? And like, there are many choices we make where we make a trade-off of making money or doing something that we think are good for users. And my belief has always been that you do what’s good for users. And by doing that, you build a product that provides a lot of real value for users. And in the end, people will be willing to pay for that value. And so that’s been our principle on how to think about monetization, but of course, it is also… We are competing with people who may be willing to be much more aggressive.

Ida Tin (11:57):

And so it’s always a balance of how do we keep having the privilege to do this work and how do we make sure that we do the best we can for users? And we have been very fortunate to have a very supportive user base who are willing to pay for Clue. We have Clue Plus, which is like a premium subscription, and we’ve been experimenting with different things. And in the beginning, it really was just a donation subscription that you wouldn’t get anything extra, but it was purely for people who felt that they could afford it and wanted to support the work we do. And specifically our science work. Now we are adding more things behind the paywall, hoping that more people will be compelled and many more people are. We’re very grateful for it. And I want to say that we aren’t just sort of making Clue a sustainable business, I feel is very important that we kind of educate people that we need to pay for software, because if we don’t pay for software, people pay for their data or they’re paying with their attention.

Ida Tin (12:59):

And I don’t think that’s the world… That’s not the world I would like to be part of creating. I’d rather create a world where it’s very transparent, you know exactly what you get and what you give, rather than the business model being sort of hidden and if users really understood what the business model where for a specific product, they might not actually want to use the product. I think that’s quite dangerous because then we take some freedom away from people, we get manipulated or we get influenced by a lot of advertisement we might not be so interested in. And so I think it’s good for people to know that when they pay for a product, they had sort of a more pure contract, they get a more clean product. I think it’s better.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (13:40):

You’re talking about the exchange of… I mean, I don’t think people realize that overtly, especially when you’re talking about the most personal thing that could possibly affect you — your personal health, your fertility, your reproductive system, your entire holistic self. And you’re talking about giving your data away for free in cases where you’re getting a product for free sometimes versus paying for the product and protecting your personal data. I mean, I think it’s scary right now at this moment in time, because there’s a big lack of trust when it comes to data, so how do you protect data?

Ida Tin (14:24):

No, but I think as a consumer, I think it’s a very challenging time because it is extraordinarily complex to understand how data and money is being exchanged. And actually, I would say as an average consumer, you really have no fair chance to understand that, you can read the small print in the terms of service, which, of course, nobody does. And it’s most cases written to not be understood. And most times it will say, as a company, we can do anything with your data, and that’s concerning. And my wish would be that we had maybe some sort of certification. Like we have on bioproducts that would say, this is a good data practice company. Some very easy navigation for consumers where we established some set of standards of what is good data privacy practice. I mean, we have at Clue made a choice for ourselves because that’s where we are coming from.

Ida Tin (15:18):

That’s what I think is the right thing to do is to not sell data. That’s the DNA of our company. And we try to explain to users that is the case, but I would say generally I’m really excited to see that this has become much more of a conversation the last four years. And more people are being more concerned about data privacy, because there was also this point in the conversation where instead of when people will say, well, it’s a lost game. Like there is no privacy anymore. And I don’t think it’s true. And I think not many people want to accept that as a truth. And so that’s how we create the world is that we say, No, tech companies, you actually have to treat my data with respect and honor the trust that it is to share this very intimate data.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (16:04):

How do you see femtech on a grander scale? I’d love to know how you think it’s changing the way we talk, and what inspires you to keep going in the direction of empowering women’s health?

Ida Tin (16:18):

I think there’s still a piece around convenience that we haven’t really solved. We have our data fractured on many different apps and in the doctor’s office, et cetera. And I feel like we need to still do a better job of making people’s data come together and be really helpful for them, actually enabling them to do something with the data or do more with the data. I think that’s a development we’re going to see. I also think we’ll start being able to look into the body on a more molecular level. I know there are already people working on analyzing period blood and saliva testing and other things that will help us really get real-time data on what’s happening in the body. I think that’s exciting. And again, all of this is really only helpful if what we do with the data is helpful.

Ida Tin (17:00):

If it’s done in a way that’s human and empathic and actually makes people feel good because we create culture when we build technology. And especially for female health, we have to be very mindful that we don’t make people feel that they’re not normal or not right. I think that’s one place where it’s extraordinarily important to have diversity on the teams building technology, because that’s how you get those pieces right. That’s how you actually meet people where they are. And also people who have a vision and a desire to shape the world in their image. Whether you are a woman, or of color, or anything else, that you can do your thing and be taken serious and not being considered some outlier.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (17:46):

I love that vision of the future of femtech. You said we have to do more in the area of convenience. What other areas, what new ways do you think technology can help women understand their own health? Like, what’s the vision for the future?

Ida Tin (18:03):

I always have this picture in my mind that what if we could paint this sort of landscape for people, so they understand sort of where were they coming from and where are they heading? And over here, there’s like a cliff we don’t want to fall down. This is my risk for breast cancer because of my mother’s history. Or if I go on birth control, I’ll be over in this part of the landscape. Instead of waiting for people to navigate, because we make so many choices: When am I going to have children, if at all? Am I going to freeze my eggs or not? Do I do hormonal birth control or something else? And I would love to somehow take all this data and create that landscape so people can navigate. And with that, I think we can start, as I mentioned to really do preventative care, because what you also said, right?

Ida Tin (18:43):

Often we’re sort of taking a little bit by surprise, like oh, suddenly I realized that this thing I’ve been suffering with the last five years, like if only I had known, I could have taken better care, I could have avoided these follow-down effects, et cetera. I don’t know for me right in my life, I’m 41. I think it would be great to know when I’m going to go into menopause. When do we build an algorithm that can predict that with some level of certainty? What’s the input that I need to figure out to get that algorithm so that I can get that result out? I think that would be fantastic. I think that huge space around contraceptives and you know, whether they’re hormonal or non-hormonal. Right now, the way that people get prescribed hormonal birth control is like Middle Age.

Ida Tin (19:24):

It’s like take this pill package and see if you have side effects. Why is it not standard that we get our hormone levels screened and get something that’s custom-built that actually fits our bodies? It might be simple things like, is there a trusted place where I can ask a gynecologist about advice, or a therapist, or a forum where… Like just bringing things out of the dark. Maybe that’s sort of the common theme. We need to bring things out of the dark.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (19:50):

I love that. I love everything you just said. I feel like it’s so possible. And when it happens, it’s going to be one of those things that we say, why the heck did this — why the hell? Because I’ll just be blunt — why the hell didn’t we do this sooner? Like why, why?

Ida Tin (20:10):

I ask myself that too, and I think sometimes the answer is very simple it’s because women don’t talk enough about it. It’s like, how do we raise our voice and say, no, this is a valid problem of trying to solve. Let’s look at this. I do want to know why I get cysts all the time, I do want to know why black women die more having babies in the U.S. than white women, I do want to know why are women not being included enough in medical clinical trials? Well, it’s inconvenient because they have cycles, but yes, but that’s the point. Really, it’s about how do we start asking these questions and how do we bring awareness? Because a lot of time the decision making some of the people building product and the people who give investment dollars —they just simply don’t have it top of mind. We need to create the space and culture where we can just make it visible.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (20:59):

That leads me to my next question. Why do you think, and you’re sort of answering it already. Why is it important for women to get involved in creating new technologies?

Ida Tin (21:08):

It’s important because it has something to do with which products are being built at all. Like what problems are we actually trying to solve? Then it’s important because we need to build products for everybody in a way that’s inclusive. And if we don’t have enough diversity, we have too many blind spots, and we end up building something that a lot of people can’t relate to and they don’t feel invited to be part of. And I also think that when we have diversity, we will question each other’s value sets and ethics, and not just sort of agree on some things that maybe we wouldn’t quite be willing to stand up for if we really had to be really open about it because somebody confronted us. And so I think it just creates a sort of health guarantee a little bit in our organization that you don’t have a group of people that can just agree on something even though it might be a little off.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (22:08):

For people who want to help advance the cause of femtech, where can they start? What advice do you have for them? What skills should they be focusing on?

Ida Tin (22:19):

What I would say is take seriously what you think is important. We live in a world where some of the things that men found important became important in the world. And some of the things that women have found important has not yet become important in the world. And I feel that women need to have the courage to say, “No, this is an important thing for me and I do want technology to play a role here.” Rather than maybe talking about skills, because women are very smart and they are well educated and they always think they’re not educated enough, or smart enough, or have enough experience, but really, it’s the courage to say, “No, I decide that I think this is important, and I’m going to do something with this. And I will find people who are also excited about this.” And then actually I would say, how do we promote femtech and how do we move it forward?

Ida Tin (23:08):

I don’t think we will ever have real change unless we have men be part of that journey. I think the more men are aware of what women actually experience and how crazy this journey is sometimes, and actually get excited about building products there and building it together with women. And I built this company with my partner Hans, who is a man, and I would never have been able to build Clue without him, and I think he’s getting way too little credit, actually. And I guess I’m proud that he as a man have been with me on this journey.

Ida Tin (23:47):

And that also makes me very hopeful. I have a team with amazing men; it’s entirely possible for men to be part of this. Yeah. I just want to say like, he needs to be mentioned as well. I know I should’ve done this way earlier.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (24:03):

One quick question on that. How do you think it’s changed the men at Clue to work and develop Clue?

Ida Tin (24:13):

I think they are fascinated just like everybody keeps being fascinated. Because we learn new things about female health every day. I also think it makes them pissed sometimes, and I think it makes them feminists. And I think it makes them very excited about having a positive impact on the world. It’s a huge driver for both men and women in the company, people work at Clue because they want to do something that’s meaningful and helpful. And that is totally true for the men as well. Yeah. And also our male investors. We have all male investors pretty much except one female angel or a couple of female angels, but all institutional investors are men. And I think they have been very brave to do something that was socially, maybe a bit awkward. The men have been a very important part of Clue’s history and still is.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (25:07):

You sound so passionate and motivated in this space, and I’d love to know what keeps you there? Like, what keeps you going?

Ida Tin (25:18):

It’s deeply meaningful for me. I feel that we will only really have equality in the world when women on the most fundamental level feel good about their bodies. I think it’s very hard to have a voice in the world if you kind of doubt or feel shame around your most intimate part. And so, I believe that this is a starting point to have women’s voices being more heard in the world. And I think that’s good for both men and women. And, by the way, I should say that I think men need a lot of liberation as well, but I think you will only really have strong women if you have strong men also that doesn’t have to comply with some gender stereotype.

Ida Tin (26:06):

I think for me, that’s a very deep, meaningful sort of driver that I believe this is part of a road towards equality, but then I’m also excited about the potential. I think we can do great things. And I’m also motivated by users, of course, who say that we are building something of value, and that it’s helpful. I mean, in the end, we would not be here if it wasn’t because of the users, it all starts and ends wit them.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (26:36):

What about women that want to follow in your footsteps? They want to get on the same path, they want to expand from what you’ve started. What have you learned about how to succeed as a startup in the space? And what advice do you have for women that want to forge on this path?

Ida Tin (26:55):

Just start. Just simply start. I have spoken to so many women who think about starting companies and they always list this list of things, why they’re not ready. And it always has something to do with themselves. They don’t have the right skills, or they’re not financially independent, or they don’t have the right co-founder, or they don’t know enough about the market, or something else. And I’m just like, you will never be ready, and you don’t even know what you need to know. Who knows? Your company might pivot six months after you’re started, and all the things you prepared doesn’t matter anymore. Just start, and then also quickly, I want to say that we need to really not glorify being an entrepreneur. For some people it’s wonderful. I’m very grateful that I get to do this work, but it’s also tough in many ways and might not be fun for everybody.

Ida Tin (27:52):

I just want to make sure we don’t create a culture where being an entrepreneur is like the coolest thing on earth. It’s very unglamorous to be an entrepreneur. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of challenges. Having said all of it, if I were to give a very concrete advice, I would say spend a lot of time on your self-development because… learn to tackle those fears and in the end, the company will sort of grow together with your self-development. And take it seriously that you need to nurture yourself, you need to grow yourself, you need to get supported, you need to stay healthy. And it can be very difficult because we always feel like we need to do more. And we feel a bit guilty if we spend that money on that coach maybe, or we take that half-day off or … But I would say allow yourself to really be on a growth journey in a healthy way.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (28:57):

That’s beautiful advice, and it’s so true. Thank you. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Ida Tin (29:05):

I will maybe just say that I have a big hope that this technology that we create in the more primitive part of the world can sort of leap-frog to places where people have phones, but maybe don’t have access to a gynecologist or something else that we can sort of bring the forefront of technology to people who are not necessarily in our surroundings here, for me in Europe. And I think that’s a real possibility. I’m pretty excited about how to maybe work more on that in the future. Let’s not forget that there’s a whole planet that needs to stay healthy, and have education, and access, and cultural evolution, whatever that means wherever people are.

Zuzy Martin-Aly (29:49):

Thank you. That was lovely.

Ida Tin (29:51):

Thank you.

Adriana Gascoigne (29:54):

Thank you for listening to today’s episode. The Girls In Tech podcast is a production of Tote + Pears. Were you inspired by what you heard today? Head over to girlsintech.org to find more resources for starting and advancing a career in tech, including our jobs board, and personal and professional development programs designed to help you excel. And be sure to tune in every other Tuesday for new episodes. See you next time.

Credits

The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther

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