Breaking Convention in Conception: The Femtech challenger brands to watch

Turn back the clock four or five years, and it might have seemed surprising if a friend mentioned that they were using an app to monitor their menstrual cycle – whether that be for contraception, conception or simply to gain a greater awareness of their health. However, in just a few short years the idea of tracking one’s fertility via an app has become mainstream – so much so that an estimated 100 million women are thought to use more than 400 apps worldwide.

Most women within a certain age bracket could probably name at least one of these apps – whether it be Glow, Ovia, One, Kindara, Cycles, Eva or Amila – however they would probably be hard-pushed to distinguish why some are more suited for certain stages of family planning, or which ones have received regulatory approval in their own country to be used as a method of birth control.

In addition to the family planning apps, other startups have developed groundbreaking technology and medtech devices which move away from the data-input element of period tracker apps. Oui by Cirqle Biomedical is a vaginal capsule that dissolves upon insertion and offers contraception within one minute of first use, while Inne’s diagnostic subscription service uses saliva to determine a women’s fertile days to maximise chances of pregnancy. There are also companies such as the soon-to-launch Pexxi, which will focus on offering a personalised contraceptive pill service as opposed to the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach so commonly used within birth control.

The tech-led options and opportunities within family planning and women’s health are growing exponentially, but how does one startup differentiate itself from the others? How can it ensure that its messaging is accurate, easy to follow and enables its users to plan and / or prevent pregnancies effectively, while becoming a natural choice over more mainstream chemical methods?

In short, why should a user (and, for that matter, a potential investor) choose one over the others and place their faith in something which can have life-changing consequences if it doesn’t work as advertised?

Ultimately, it comes down to three key factors: Transparency, Trust and Technology.

Each product needs to be straightforward and upfront in its messaging – both in terms of strengths and also weaknesses. Take period tracker app Clue, which has been hugely transparent about the fact that its product should not be used to prevent pregnancy, even going so far as to advise that other unregulated apps should be avoided for this purpose too, stating the poignant question on its website: “Would you buy your birth control pill from an unknown manufacturer on the internet?”.

Essentially these companies need to win consumer confidence by proving themselves transparent, and expert, about their offering and capabilities. Transparency is also key when it comes to the user experience, whether that be where and when a user’s data is shared with third parties or also how much user participation and commitment is required for the product to work correctly. Education campaigns are key to address and eliminate each product’s potential pitfalls of use, as well as hurdles that users might encounter, such as having to take one’s temperature consistently every day to avoid inaccuracies.

Through this education process comes the building of trust, both in terms of the product’s abilities and also the leader behind each company. By telling the story of the founder or CEO, it allows users and investors to understand the motivation behind the product and also build confidence in the startup’s capacity to deliver – especially if the founder has first-hand experience of the issue itself. For example, Oui was founded after the CEO’s girlfriend decided to come off the pill and he realised there was a distinct lack of hormone-free options available.

However, all parts of the puzzle have to align in order to cement the company’s credibility. In the case of Natural Cycles, currently billed as ‘the only FDA-approved birth control app’, its co-founder Dr Elina Berglund has a stellar CV, having worked on the team which discovered the Higgs Boson particle at CERN. Despite that, the company has still come under fire due to numerous reports of unwanted pregnancies, so a carefully honed messaging campaign is needed to quell those doubts amongst potential users.

This comes to the final point of Technological Innovation. For mass adoption, the product has to work, and also needs to be better or more convenient than ‘traditional’ alternatives across the conception and contraception spaces, whether that be the pill, IUDs or ovulation kits.

The Ava fertility bracelet just became the first and only FDA-approved fertility tracking wearable to aid women in the facilitation of conception. The bracelet only needs to be worn when sleeping so requires very low user input, but provides a much more accurate window of ovulation than the tried-and-tested approach of multiple at-home urine tests.

By demonstrating the technological and scientific advances behind these organisations, and combining this approach with open, upfront and clear communications about each app or product’s abilities, user experience and leadership, these challenger brands have the potential to become the chosen approach for millions more users worldwide over the coming years.

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