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The Magnetic Charisma of Clue’s Ida Tin

The Magnetic Charisma of Clue’s Ida Tin

A Retrospective of Talks with the CEO and Co-Founder of Clue, A Period Tracker App Company Based in Berlin

Although I wrote the majority of this post back in May 2017, I’m now taking the opportunity to reflect on learnings from Clue’s CEO and Co-Founder Ida Tin, and to contextualize them in light of her recent sold-out talk at GTEC in Berlin on May 2, 2018. There she seems to have almost cult startup status, with snaking lines of attendees waiting to consult her afterwards.

So why publish this? In short, it’s triggered by the last part of an answer that Ida gave at GTEC that got me thinking what can I do to change something. The question was: What’s your biggest challenge as CEO? The answer was ( unsurprisingly) defining her role and her strengths, but more surprisingly — ‘shaping the role in her own image while having no examples to follow’.

To help alleviate that lonely-at-the-top scenario going forward, and firmly establish more stories of female CEOs to follow in the tech and digital health space, I am amplifying her story here.

Let’s take a look at what’s new, and then dive into her back story.

You can watch the whole talk here.

The rooftop view from GTEC Berlin’s new location

The May 2018 Q&A session at GTEC also offered up interesting parallels and updates about Clue, a female health app now in use by 10 million people:

  • Clue’s main demographic is young, with the US as the biggest market, followed by Europe and Latin America
  • Single most important thing? Her team: that they feel motivated and find personal growth in their roles. Ida recommends always “hiring smarter than yourself.”
  • Learnings from time spent in other parts of the world, e.g Africa?: Technology access can bridge the gap. Be humble when you go into another community. You may have to completely change your product for different socio-economic models, and this includes content. So tread carefully.
  • When Ida says: “We’ve created a world where there’s no room for curves” it seems to have multiple meanings. At least one could be that the natural monthly hormone fluctuations produce physiological changes. She is looking not to flatten this charted data which follows those curves, but instead bring more awareness to the data, and set up a society to more effectively respond to what it means.
  • In regards to being a female founder, Ida recounted an anecdote from someone at Y Combinator who said: “On the long list of challenges you’ll have as a founder, being a female is not one of them.” Ida acknowledged this might sound controversial to a room full of women hoping for entrepreneurial guidance, but her point seemed to imply: there have been plenty of challenges that she has overcome that don’t necessarily point to gender. (She did add however that having a male co-founder has been helpful. )
  • Continuing the gender question, she discussed investors: “Investors are social animals.” They need an emotional reaction and this is hard to solicit from someone who will simply never use your product, ( i.e. presumably because they are male and your product is a female health app.) So, this means you have to get through to them via DATA. You have to find a way to build a bridge to them.
  • Finally, Ida mysteriously suggests a strategy of ‘consolidation over innovation’. She wants to see how data can be made something that the data owner can truly use. She also wants to see AI and Machine Learning make more sense of data, as in providing predictions, like when to expect a headache, or to debunk myths.

Ok, now let’s peel back to May 2017, during one of Factory Mitte’s Fireside Chats with Ida Tin (CEO and co-founder of Clue). Here’s my original story which tells some backstory on the now popular app.

Factory Mitte campus in Berlin, Germany

Outside Factory Berlin, I queued up for a healthy dose of femtech inspiration. The stately brick building tucked inside a Prenzlauerberg courtyard is a self-described business club between the old and new economy — a mecca for Berlin innovators. Apart from offering a venue where members from the Berlin startup scene can work and network, Factory Berlin hosts partner and branded events including talks by influential speakers.

Fireside Chat with Ida Tin of Clue

On May 17th, 2017 the Fireside chat speaker featured Ida Tin, a visionary Danish entrepreneur, who is CEO and co-founder of Clue, a period tracker and ovulation app based here in Berlin. I use the Clue app, and after having read about this well-respected woman who coined that term “femtech,” was excited to hear from her directly.

The event did not disappoint. I left feeling motivated and inspired to share what I learned. For those who don’t yet know Clue, it is a uniquely good app that helps track your menstrual cycle by your entering feedback throughout the month. Through a very usable interface (I use it in German to push my skills, but it is available in English), it manages to be both scientific in approach and playful in iconography.

Clue has a rich online community and informative blog connecting people who share a passion for female health. Beyond reproductive issues, Clue embodies a forward-thinking social movement; aimed at gender equality, it is based on tuning in and serving women’s holistic health needs.

That has big implications as roughly half the planet’s population is women. That evening among a throng of chic and savvy Berliners, many of them female, I bought a fancy lemonade and settled in with an open notebook (yes, the paper kind.) I later saw that Factory themselves posted on social media their amazement at the high number of women who attended this tech-based talk. After filling 8.5 pages with notes, I came up for air.

Ida has a soft-spoken wisdom. She chooses her words carefully, sprinkling in just the right amount of foul language when excited to make me trust in her authenticity. I stayed afterward to briefly meet her, and among other questions, asked if I could write a post summarizing insights I heard. She said, “Ok, up to you. Hopefully you say something nice!” Well, here goes. I am distilling some of the key messages that resonated with me. I hope readers use them as a spring board for more discussion about the role of femtech.

Ida Tin at left, listening to questions from the audience with interviewer Jenny Jung, on right.

The Interview

As a framework for this Fireside chat, interviewer Jenny Jung asked Ida to reflect on her past week, namely what was the:

  • Most interesting learning experience? An intense intimacy/sexuality workshop in New York, which was actually part of a year-long training in getting to know the body more deeply and how one relates to other people. And a round table on digital health in London.
  • Most frustrating experience? The hardest this is to say goodbye to her kids when traveling for fundraising. Ida recounted bringing her baby to pitch meetings, breastfeeding as needed saying “if the investor doesn’t like this, they are not my investor.” Word.
  • Hardest thing? Decision-making. Here Ida broke down a myth which is: “Leaders can make fast and decisive decisions.” She rather describes decisions as more of a fluid process, but for which the price you pay may rise as you wait. A decision can emerge from a range of influences, including as a result of group discussion, but at some point she offered: “you just know.” One of these decisions could be around data, for example. More on data later.

Counter-culture Roots

Ida’s parents were adventurers and writers, basically creative types who proved you could have a good life, which might be distinct from making a good living. Important difference. She herself attended a creative business school whose studies culminated in a cultural project, actually a foreign job sponsored by a major international consulting company. Only it did not pan out. The management bungled the hiring process and terminated her plans the night before she was due to fly out was saying: “You don’t have a corporate mindset.” And thank god for that!

She realized the manager was leading by fear and money, which did not align with her principles. As she reflected aloud on that experience, she confirmed that she was always “anti-clique”, meaning not quite fitting into social structures even at a younger age. But that positioning offered a certain autonomy for her. She did not bother with restrictions from others and pursued her own interests. In a way, it seems this has led to founding such a unique company. Now Clue attracts such like-minded individuals.

Diversity Connected by Core Values

Factory Mitte wall deco

Clue was co-founded by Ida with 4 intelligent guys that recognized that feminine health is underserved. In discussing the diversity of her team, she pointed out they rely on a value system that keeps them connected.

So what qualities does she look for in team members? It turns out there are many different angles to caring about female health. It can come from your own story, an interest in curbing population growth, or the struggle of a female relative. But people who are at Clue show initiative and somehow fit into a larger balance of energy: peaceful, assertive, go-getter, mediator.

She reflected on how her steady demeanor has led to great collaboration with her boyfriend, fellow co-founder Hans Raffouf, saying: “We do better work when we do it together.” She said it took humility to reach that revelation, but they frequently consult each other on both large and small decisions.

Fundraising, a Weird Social Game

When Ida Tin describes fundraising as a lone female among a group of males, she calls it a weird game, where one navigates a social space almost like a ‘disturbance’. The guys can’t quite figure out how to relate to her, seeing her as this ‘alien object’. In that moment, I felt the majority of ladies in the room intuitively knew how she felt. Like we have all had that moment in some other context.

Advice for Female Funders

When asked for this advice, Ida half-joked that she could host a Tech Open Air session on how to raise money, but here are some bullets:

  1. Screen investors well: e.g. Make sure they would support a Berlin-based company, in her case.
  2. Press for decision: e.g. Don’t be strung along; beware of investors who avoid simply saying “no” and instead drag it out. An investors job is usually to say no but cherry pick opportunities.
  3. Keep at it! Do not give up.
  4. Angel investors are important early on in process.

What does a 2-year plan for Clue look like?

Her response focused on giving even more back to users through better, deeper insights. This was a distinct thread running through the evening: a dedicated respect and gratitude to her app users.

She brought up a super interesting point: the history of medical science is based on data. Specifically, vaccines were invented out of a need established by data. Her point was: “If we don’t use data, we pay a huge price.” We have an obligation to use data for good, but monetization has to work for the user. Although Clue has managed well, they do need to create revenue. The big thing to consider is how to do so in a sustainable way where the user feels inspired to contribute as a natural progression, and as an authentic gain. Meanwhile, Ida is committed to safeguarding user trust.

Q/A Session with the Audience:

Certain topics piqued the crowd’s interest in relation to both the app and Ida’s perspective. These include: data, feminism, marketing, economic inequality, and politics. Here are a few of them.

1)How does Clue ensure the quality of data? Ida acknowledges that Clue data may be imperfect (it is self-reported), but with 5 million active users* it still makes up the largest existing female health data set. Her company regularly consults highly-regarded universities such as Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford to receive advice on how to refine it. (* Editorial Note: now in 2018, they have doubled this number.)

2) What is feminism to you? Her response was: the world needs all the feminists it can get from women, men, and across the spectrum to support equal rights. Ida describes a certain imbalance in the world due to a simplified male role model; this simplification harms all genders. For men, the model should be more holistic and for women it should include a fuller range. As we amplify this fuller view of women, it helps men too.

3) How does machine learning impact what you do? Machine Learning is important because it identifies patterns in big data. Applying algorithms and recognizing patterns offers new insights. She predicts it is already becoming part of a basic business tool kit.

4) How do you make your topic more approachable to men? One-word answer: LANGUAGE.

Through a subconscious approach, she sticks to neutral topics like reproductive health, use cases, marketing, tech-enabled communication between doctors and patients, and within relationships. She reiterated that for better balance, we need more female investors. (I strongly agree with this. Products that serve women are more likely to be funded if the investor can connect with its purpose in a personally meaningful way.) Ida says an investor needs to have an almost emotional response. Ultimately she cited the need for education. She is trying to raise more awareness about this issue online.

For example, did you know that in the USA, highly educated women tend to use the Pill, while in Denmark the opposite is true? In Denmark, the more educated a woman is, the less likely she is to take the Pill as contraception. I found this distinction fascinating. Our attitudes around birth control and presumably other health related needs are integrated in our culture, education, and in marketing.

5) Does app use and marketing spending differ in poorer vs richer countries?

Ida clarified the app is used for various reasons across different regions. But what struck me was when she revealed contemplating: what could we do for an illiterate population, or for people who cannot afford cell phone plans? She said she would need another lifetime to address these important issues and has to start where she can exert influence, but that made me see two things: a) Ida is seriously tuned in to what less privileged women need, and b) we need MORE Idas! We need more women entrepreneurs who are considering and solving these issues to focus more attention on women’s reproductive health around the world.

6) Does Clue aim to be political?

The elephant in the room…Ida says Clue aims to be progressive but totally inclusive. She recounted hearing from users who wanted to keep politics out of online discussion. She closed by simply saying: “People who voted for Trump really need the product.” Hopefully I captured the spirit of the evening for you. It was a mind-opener for me.

Wall deco at Factory Mitte, Berlin

If this resonated for you, please clap to let me know.

You can follow me here for more on what’s happening in tech, women in tech, digital health, and now IoT, all around Berlin. Danke!

Originally published at drawntoberlin.blogspot.com.