Family planning as fertile ground for startups? Clue is the latest entrant

Women’s fertility seems to be inspiring some new innovation from a small crop of young startups. In the past few months, a couple of interesting companies have been drawing headlines for apps that harness big data to help couples conceive, including PayPal co-founder Max Levchin’s Glow. This week, yet another startup is getting into the fray.
On Thursday, Berlin-based Clue said its new free app, which helps women track and better understand their cycles, had gone live in Apple’s App Store (s AAPL). Backed by London’s Hoxton Ventures, the app brings Quantified Self-type tracking tools to women’s fertility: It prompts women to enter data about their period, mood, cramps, basal body temperature and other indicators and then learns from the data to predict a woman’s most fertile days.
Clue 1For now, the app only crunches an individual’s data to pinpoint her “fertile window.” But founder Ida Tin said that as soon as next month, the app will ramp up its big data engine to analyze an individual’s data within the context of other user data to better predict when a woman is most likely to conceive.
Rival Ovuline also uses algorithms and data points from other users to identify a woman’s fertile days and it has a head start: The company recently told us that its algorithms are drawing on 2.5 million data points from 55,000 users. Levchin’s Glow intends to take a similar approach when the app actually lands in the App Store.
Interestingly, Tin said Clue’s predictive app will remain free (a nice advantage considering Ovuline charges $50 for its app) because its business model will be based on the company’s yet-to-be-launched hardware component, not the app itself.

Building a business model on new hardware

“Ovuline and Glow are targeting women who want to get pregnant and that’s an important need,” she said. “But our aim is to take women from their first period all the way through to menopause.”
Clue plans to reach women with tools that enable them to track their cycles generally and that specifically help them get pregnant or avoid pregnancy, Tin said. While she declined to share any details on how the hardware would work, she said it would help the company cover all three needs.
Clue 2Plenty of Quantified Self gadgets are already on the market, like the Jawbone, Nike Fuelband and Fitbit (see disclosure), that monitor a user’s activity. So it seems unlikely that the company would take its hardware in that direction (especially since it’s easy to integrate with those devices, as Ovuline does). But it’s possible that the company could be working on a basal body thermometer that plugs into the iPhone and makes it easier to record daily temperatures or something along those lines.
Dozens of apps in the App Store already promise women a simple way to track their cycles and predict their fertile days – in fact, Tin said, the category is the second-largest among health apps. It makes sense that startups are interested in this category: Women are willing to spend money when it comes to getting pregnant and, as my colleague Laura Owen recently reported in a column on pregnancy in the digital age, pregnant (and wannabe pregnant) women are hungry for digital content.

Designing for adult women, not teenagers

But most basic period-tracker apps don’t learn from a user’s data and, therefore, often inaccurately identify fertile windows. Tin also said that most cycle-tracking apps are dressed up in a too-girly aesthetic and make data entry tedious. Clue’s design is intended to make the app feel like a pragmatic tool that’s intuitive to use.
“Women are tired of pink and butterflies – they’re not made to feel as though they’re adult women with an important part of their lives to manage, it becomes this teenage thing,” she said.
Image by violetblue via Shutterstock.