The next big thing in tech will be female health
Recently, I had a phone call with an editor here in Berlin about why he should write about my company’s cycle-tracking app, Clue. Yes, I’m a little biased, but I thought we had a strong pitch: we were the No. 1 app in Germany in the Health & Fitness category, have been covered in major publications and have just raised a half-million euro round from prominent investors in both Europe and the US.
His response was, “Why should I cover a niche app?”
That’s right: an app targeted at women – 51 percent of the world’s population – is still considered “niche” by the tech world and the media.
I didn’t think it would be nice to mention that one of our Chinese competitors, Dayima, has had over 65 million downloads. But sure, it’s “niche.”
Fortunately, that perspective is quickly becoming outdated in the face of overwhelming evidence that female health is going to be the next big thing in tech. When I look at the momentum from a variety of sources, it almost makes me wish I were an investor so I could go around throwing money at every smart female health-focused startup.
First, the science and medical fields are beginning to realize that female health as an area of study shouldn’t be considered niche either. While in the past women were considered to be smaller versions of men, the medical community is now recognizing that the different metabolism, hormones and overall physiology between the sexes mean that women’s health will benefit from being studied independent of men’s health.
Another factor is that we finally have smart people tackling old problems and established “solutions” in women’s health. If Nest is challenging the smoke detector industry and Uber is shaking up car service, it’s not surprising that we see a flood of startups and entrepreneurs trying to disrupt the old-school, pharma-driven world of female health.
In particular, family planning is incredibly ripe for upheaval (not to mention an extremely lucrative space). There hasn’t been a major non-hormonal advancement in family planning since the invention of the Pill in the 1970s. This why you see companies like those in our field taking on contraception, fertility and pregnancy from a variety of angles. Max Levchin at Glow is bringing his knowhow of big data to identify the percentage chance of conception on any given day. Ovuline is informing their cycle data with integration of Withings and Fitbit connected devices such as scales and activity trackers. And at Clue, we are data-fying everything a woman can collect about her cycle, while also building a hardware component to add the additional accuracy of a biometric.
But what I see as the most telling indicator of a female health tech boom is the rise of quantified self and tracking apps. There’s a perception that the quantified self community skews heavily male, and I think that’s true in the sense of the formal “Quantified Self” movement and who tends to communicate publicly about self-tracking. Some polls, like this one from November, have indicated that men show greater interest in wearable tech than women.
Still, it’s my belief that a woman’s body is THE perfect application for the quantified self.
One simple reason why quantified self makes sense for tracking female fertility is you can avoid the retention problems that many trackers go up against – simply put, women have at minimum a built-in physical monthly reminder that, “oh yes, I should use my cycle-tracking app.” Beat that, push notifications.
The other is that fertility tracking is not a new habit, but one that goes back literally thousands of years. Women have always tracked their cycles – with pen and paper, with calendars, and now with technological tools.
The difference is that so far there has been no way to make sense of – or do anything with – all that collected data. That’s what the technology of today empowers us to do. Apps like Clue are gathering enough data about women’s health to move science forward in a major way. We don’t have to rely on scientific studies and pharmaceutical companies to advance female health when we can collect vast quantities of valuable data on our own.
What kind of data points? Those that show how your cycle affects your life, from sex drive to mood to endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) pains. These and many other correlations only become apparent through tracking over time, and they made all the more valuable to an individual when supported by data collected from many people.
This is incredibly personal data that we collect. We know that. Yet when we tell women that the reason we would like to collect their anonymous data is to move the study of women’s health forward, they wholeheartedly agree. In fact, it makes them more likely to use our app when they know that they’re contributing to the improvement of global female health.
The future potential of female health is just beginning to be tapped by startups and entrepreneurs, who understand that it’s not even close to being a “niche” area.