Necessity is the Mother of Invention
The contraception pill never worked well for Ida Tin–a complaint common among many women. One day in 2009, she was taking her temperature and entering the data into her phone to find out when she was ovulating.
“I urgently wanted to merge those two devices,” writes Tin, “to be able to look at my phone and know what was going on in my body, rather than enduring the tedious experience of manually transferring data from the temperature device into a spreadsheet, just so I could use it.”
Tin saw how far technology had progressed with the phone in her hand, but made one key realization: technologies focused on women’s health were still lagging behind. This realization led her to create Clue, the fastest-growing women’s health app and an entirely new category of technology: femtech.
Who is Ida Tin?
Ida Tin is a Danish entrepreneur, author, and motorcycle enthusiast. In 2012, she founded Clue, a menstruation-tracking app that helps millions of users take control of their periods and their lives. Tin is also credited with coining the term femtech, “a category of software, diagnostics, services, and products targeting women’s health needs.”
Before founding Clue, Tin worked with her father running motorcycle tours around the world in countries as far-flung as Mongolia, Cuba, and Chile. She documented her travels in the bestselling Danish book, Direktøs and currently lives in Berlin with her family, where Clue was founded and is still based.
Tin’s desire to better understand and thus control her cycle drove her to found Clue with her partner in 2012. By inputting data about your menstrual cycle, the app helps users track their cycles and fertility, boasting over 11 million users in almost 200 countries.
Clue helps users track their period by inputting data points in over 30 categories including bleeding, cravings, weight and temperature change, emotions, sex drive, exercise, and more.
When the app was first founded, they didn’t charge anything and ran the company using funding from venture capital firms. Clue has raised over 30 million dollars to date and was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 50 genius companies in 2018.
In 2021, the startup launched Clue Plus, a paid upgrade that unlocks other features like:
Clue Conceive, helping users get pregnant
Clue Pregnancy, tracking pregnancies
Clue Birth Control, to prevent pregnancy
This switch to the freemium model allowed Clue to become a sustainable business.
With great data comes great responsibility
Clue can best predict users' periods and fertility when they input menstruation data into the app. And with its 11 million users, Clue currently has the largest data set on menstruation in existence. But what happens to all this data? Tin very firmly states that Clue never sells nor shares personal user data with any third parties. She writes:
“Too many companies in the digital economy have business models based on exploiting people’s data in ways that are only possible because the companies are not transparent… ….We wanted to build an app that’s supported by you and other users like you—not by selling your data, but by creating real value in your lives.”
However, Clue does occasionally share valuable findings with academic institutions. In 2015, Tin reported that Clue was working with scientists at Stanford University, Columbia University, the University of Washington, and the University of Oxford to learn more about women’s health and reproductive health, which have been historically under-researched and under-funded. Clue provides these institutions with completely anonymized data and in turn uses their research to better their innovations.
By sharing data with carefully-vetted researchers, Clue can learn more from their users, and provide more accurate predictions.
Despite Clue’s success, it wasn’t exactly an easy journey. Tin shared that getting funding for her period-tracking product was difficult due to the persistent–yet severely outdated–taboo around menstruation. In an interview with the New Yorker, she revealed that many male investors said they would only invest in a product they would use themselves. However, the sanitary product industry is clearly a profitable business with the market currently worth almost 30 billion dollars and predicted to reach more than 35 billion dollars by 2027.
After years of leading motorcycle tours around the world, Tin settled in Berlin, one of Europe’s fastest-growing tech hubs. But she found that German investors were even more squeamish when it came to funding femtech and instead procured most of her capital from American firms. Many asked her to relocate to Silicon Valley, but Tin refused, insisting that she remain with her husband and two young children in the German capital.
A Technological Revolution
Seven years after Tin found herself tediously inputting data, she saw an explosion of products for women addressing the exact problem she set out to solve–innovations like temperature patches, wristbands, smart jewelry, apps like Clue–and even smart sex toys. In 2016 she coined a term describing this transformation: femtech.
Data differentiates the term femcare, the industry around pads, tampons, and other menstruation products, from femtech. Femtech describes all the products and services improving women’s health with innovative technologies.
Women in Tech: Crunching the Numbers
Women are changing the face of tech, but there’s still a long way to go. In 2023, women are still severely underrepresented. While it may seem that the industry is becoming more diverse, women currently occupy only 26.7% of tech jobs, and that number has actually decreased in the last two years.
The gender pay gap is a huge factor in this inequality. We’ve reported that there’s a global gender pay gap of 20%, but the discrepancies are even starker in tech fields where over 90% of companies pay male employees more, and women hold less than 20% of leadership roles. The gender pay gap is almost 5 percentage points higher in tech than on average.
Where do we go from here?
So how can we get more women in tech, fight the gender pay gap, and promote pro-woman businesses and work culture? It’s not an easy task, but here are a few tips:
Hire and promote women into leadership positions
Check the numbers - put together a report with salary and hiring stats
Build women’s confidence with support networks, mentorship programs, and learning budgets
Bring a diversity expert on board to lead trainings and workshops
Use inclusive language and think before you speak
Read Ironhack’s complete guide to supporting women in tech for more information on what you can do.
To Infinity and Beyond… Period.
Femtech is growing fast. The non-profit organization, FemTech focus, estimates the industry will be worth over a trillion dollars by 2027.
But despite the rise of technologies improving women’s health and Clue’s success, Tin claims that investors continue to lowball these innovations. “We’re still getting peanuts to play with when you see the amount of money that has been invested into, you know, e-scooters, car sharing,” she says.
Despite an uptick in funding for female-owned businesses, “In 2022, companies founded solely by women garnered just 2.1% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups in the US,” according to PitchBook.
There are plenty of obstacles in the way, but Tin views these hurdles as chances to change. She sees femtech as a category that will grow to “serve the vast opportunities that exist for female health.”
Ida Tin leads the charge towards further investment, innovation, and attention in women-owned businesses and femtech startups. Want to learn more about women changing the face of tech and empowering their peers? Discover more Ironhack coverage here.