Femtech entrepreneur Ida Tin is the CEO and co-founder of the female health app Clue. Here she talks inspirations, challenges, and the power of anger.
Reader's Digest: Tell us the story of how your business began
Ida Tin: I started Clue because I was puzzled that there had been so little innovation in family planning, and wanted to know why it still wasn’t possible for me to know what was really going on in my body in terms of 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 simple things 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.
"I started Clue because I was puzzled that there had been so little innovation in family planning"
RD: What were you doing before you founded Clue?
IT: I was 33 when I co-founded Clue in Berlin, Germany. Prior to founding Clue, I ran a motorcycle tour company based in Denmark, touring locations like Vietnam, the United States, Cuba, Chile, and Mongolia.
I later published a novel, Direktøs, describing the experience of running the company from my satellite device, tent, and motorcycle in the deserts of the USA.
Photo by Kevin Grieve
RD: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
IT: 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've started myself.
I've always been fascinated by stories of strong women fighting for equality. I grew up travelling the world on motorcycles and having seen the lives of women all over the planet, and their strength, it is close to my heart to build technology that can support them in unfolding their potential—and quite literally the potential of the world.
RD: When did you first sense that Clue was going to be a success?
IT: I always believed that Clue had a role to play in the world because I knew that women globally had a real need for a tool just like it. However, receiving our first user feedback from women who were helped by Clue was amazing.
We heard from women who were able to understand and benefit from having intricate knowledge of their cycles and monthly changes and we heard from women who were able to spot worrying symptoms or cycle changes and discuss these with a doctor, thus receiving an earlier medical diagnosis.
Knowing that Clue was truly helping was a definite marker of success for me.
"In the course of 2017, our Support Team received over 1,000 enquiries relating to menstrual health, contraception or symptoms"
RD: What business achievement are you most proud of? And what’s your happiest memory with Clue?
IT: I would say that two of our main achievements have been when we surpassed 10, and then very quickly, 12 million global users. Knowing that the product we created was needed and was used by so many people, in over 190 countries around the world, has been a huge achievement.
Similarly, launching our website, HelloClue.com, in 2018 was a great highlight, and was one of the many examples of our company developing in response to user demand.
In the course of 2017, our Support Team received over 1,000 enquiries relating to menstrual health, contraception or symptoms, which meant that the answers were not readily available online. We decided to create a resource that would address these questions and provide reliable, unbiased, and scientifically accurate information to anyone who might be looking for it. Launching this resource and watching it grow has been a hugely rewarding experience.
I'm also both proud and grateful for the culture we have in our office, with people from all over the world and of different sexual orientations. When people tell me that for the first time in their careers they can come to work as their full selves and feel included, that makes me think that we are doing something right. I also know that as different as we are at Clue, we share a big sense of purpose doing the work we do, and that feels like both a huge resource and a gift.
Ida's role model, Anaïs Nin. Via Wiki Commons
RD: Do you have any role models?
IT: Anaïs Nin. I'm fascinated by her diaries which in my opinion form the absolute core of her work. Her ability to dive deep into the minds, emotions, desires and strange places of her own and other’s mind is just breathtaking.
Her depth and sensuality, sexuality and creativity are inspiring. But she's also an entrepreneur in fighting to make her art her livelihood in a time (30s-60s) where she got ignored because of her gender. Today we would say that she had an enormous amount of grit. She also has shadow sides and as an early adopter of psychoanalysis, she was also working very actively to develop herself from a timid girl into the strong woman that she became. I think there are many parallels to the journey you go through as a founder, rising to the challenge of being a leader.
RD: What has been the biggest challenge in growing your business?
IT: The biggest initial challenge was demonstrating the value and opportunity of a women’s health app in what is still a vastly male-dominated tech scene. Cycle health affects 100 per cent of the population. Even if you don’t experience a menstrual cycle yourself, you are almost certainly close to someone who does.
Women may be underrepresented in tech but there's no denying that we're starting to make a name for ourselves within the industry—digital female health is one of the fastest-growing sectors. Now, taboos around fertility and menstruation are disappearing, and as they do, women want to know more about their bodies and the unique patterns of their menstrual cycle. Apps like Clue give women the power to identify patterns in their own body and to understand what these patterns mean for them.
"Apps like Clue give women the power"
Getting funding is 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 never gets easy, 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 taboo, but in pushing this innovation forward, you are moving the world forward—and that's really valuable.
Clue is used by women in over 190 countries. Photo by Nathan Anderson
RD: What has set Clue apart from its competitors?
IT: 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.
Founder and CEO Ida TIn
RD: What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? And the advice you’d offer to wannabe business owners?
IT: I would advise anyone who is keen to pursue a career in technology 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 technology leaders for support, advice, and mentorship. By supporting one another in our pursuits, tech entrepreneurs will continue to develop and grow in whichever industry their choose. And I would also add, you don’t need a technical background to start a tech company. As a founder, you won’t code for very long anyway.
RD: Has being a woman in a male-dominated industry ever brought on extra challenges?
IT: Yes, it is more challenging. While times are changing, I think we still have some way to go towards achieving gender equality within the workplace in general, and not just in technology.
To do this, I think men and women alike need to support each other and open the conversation around how we listen, or don't really listen, to women’s ideas and perspectives. Women are angrier than we notice even ourselves, and we are taught to suppress this anger. This is a huge energy drain, and it also means that women don’t take, nor are given, the airtime, space and, essentially, the power that the world would be well served to make use of. When we're angry there is most likely a good reason for it; not being met at eye level, not having our boundaries respected, not being given the opportunities we have earned.
With our anger comes clarity and more space for unfolding potential. This doesn't mean that we should forget good communication, but that we shouldn’t just smile when we’re feeling angry.
RD: Do you have any mantras that have informed your work?
IT: I have always viewed the body as an area of life to really explore, and learn about. Getting more body literate helps manage stress, relate and engage with people, and to refocus myself.
Body therapists, trainers, and coaches have been really helpful in deepening my own awareness of the intelligence that this incredible sensory and nervous system we call "body" has.
Millions of women around the world use the Clue app to track their cycle
RD: What does the future look like for Clue?
IT: 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're 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're 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.
RD: And finally, what positive change do you hope Clue will create in the world?
IT: I hope that Clue will continue to be a useful tool for people worldwide, allowing women to understand and take control of, the unique patterns of their menstrual cycle and their bodies.
We will continue with our scientific collaborations, aiming to answer more questions about the various aspects of female health, finding answers to previously under-researched topics and thus opening up the conversation around this very vital aspect of our lives.
It's also my ambition to prove that it is possible to build a sustainable tech company built on a human-centric and ethical foundation, which includes not violating people’s personal data protection and being a progressive voice for women.
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