Ida Tin talks about revolutionary period-tracking app

Words By Alison Rhoades
Photos By Zack Helwa

Sometimes it takes little more than personal experience, passion and a great cause to spark an idea that might change the world. Just look at Ida Tin, the co-founder of Clue who, struggling to find a way to manage her fertility that was right for her, had an idea to develop an app that would help women keep track of their periods and learn more about their bodies. It’s an idea that has made her one of the names in ‘femtech’, a term she incidentally coined herself.

In Ida’s own words, “Clue is a female health tracking app designed for rapid data entry and user friendliness. Users can track their period, fertile window, PMS, moods, pains, symptoms, exercise, medication, birth control usage, and notes about their cycle in order to gain a better understanding of their own patterns and personal trends.” Over 50% of the world’s population of childbearing age have a period each month, but Clue is more than a tracking app; it’s about education. Not only can you track your cycle, you can also get helpful insights into your sleep patterns, sex life, and ovulation if you’re trying to get pregnant.

This bold approach to tracking female reproductive health not only helps women and their partners stay informed and educated, it reduces the stigma around talking about menstruation, fertility and everything that goes with it. What your menstrual cycle is telling you can also have serious implications for your health and general wellbeing. That’s why Clue was developed in cooperation with top scientists and reproductive specialists, and the data they gather advances knowledge about women’s health through a collaboration with The Kinsey Institute. We met Ida for more insights into the story behind Clue, and she also filled us in on her experiences as a female entrepreneur and her vision for reproductive care in the digital age.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up in Berlin? I was born in Copenhagen but spent my younger years travelling around the world, as my parents ran motorcycle tours. When I did settle down to study, I attended Denmark’s creative business school, the KaosPilots. I moved to Berlin to start Clue with my partner, who’s born and raised in Kreuzberg.

How did the idea for Clue come about? Personal experience was really the reason I founded Clue. Reproductive health is an incredibly foundational and central part of our lives, but there’s a real lack of clarity for women, generally. That starts the moment a woman has her first period and begins to manage that part of her life, and continues as she chooses whether or not she wants to use birth control and, if she does, which method to use.

When I was about 30, the pill wasn’t working well for me and I realised there had been little innovation in this space for the past 50 years. I have always been curious about women’s health and was a ‘quantified self’ person – that is, someone who incorporates technology and data analysis into their daily life – long before I knew the term. These were the drivers to launch Clue – an app that could clue people in with personalised health data to give them an awareness of the unique patterns in their bodies and their cycles.

What were your main objectives when starting the company? When I dreamed up the idea of Clue, I was wondering how it could be that we managed to walk on the moon but that most women still don’t know which days they can or can’t get pregnant. I personally needed such a tool to manage that very important part of my life, and I was convinced that many other women would find an app like Clue not only very useful but also very empowering. When you are able to identify patterns that are unique to you, you feel more in control of your own body, and better able to manage the changes that are taking place within it.

We need more women entrepreneurs, who are considering and solving these issues, to focus on giving attention to women’s reproductive health around the world.

How did you decide what data to request from your users to give them an accurate forecast of their fertility and menstrual cycle? Each and every tracking category in Clue has medical research to back a correlation between that aspect of health and the menstrual cycle – whether it affects your cycle and vice-versa.  

Why did you decide to base the company in Berlin? We’re based in Berlin for several reasons. Berlin is an extremely exciting place for new technology, and it’s much more affordable than Silicon Valley from the perspective of a lean startup. Also Hans, my partner and co-founder of Clue, was born and raised in Kreuzberg, so that also influenced our decision to set up there.

In many countries, women’s reproductive health care is under attack. How do you think Clue can help women to take ownership of their own family planning? Actually, the biggest challenge since Clue’s launch directly relates to the lack of resources women have when it comes to their health – whether due to a lack of scientific research or societal taboos. This is still a very new space with a ton of potential because every woman in the world faces the realities that come with menstruation, fertility, and overall health.

While Clue cannot replace proper reproductive health care, it can help anyone without access to it to better understand their cycles and overall health, and it allows those wanting to start a family to assess when their fertile window may be, helping their chances to conceive.

A significant aspect of your company is education on women’s bodies, not just through using the app but through publishing articles about sexual and reproductive health. Why was it important to you to take this approach? When I founded Clue, menstrual health was one of the most underrepresented categories out there. Given that half of the world’s population will experience a period, I thought it important to develop an app that not only allows women to track their menstrual cycle but that also educates and informs, hence the amount of medical information that is available via Clue.

Some people are still unsure about giving their data to a company. What would you say to them? I would say to check the company’s data-sharing policies before submitting any information that you would prefer to keep private. There is a misconception about data sharing; it’s not always a bad thing, as long as the user is aware that their data may be shared with a third party and has agreed to this beforehand. Clue, for example, would never share users’ private data for profit or commercial gain. Any data we share is always taken from polls or studies that Clue users have opted to be a part of, and we would only ever share this useful, anonymous data with trusted medical organisations to help advance medical and scientific research.

The history of medical science is based on data. For example, vaccines were invented as data established a need for them. We have an obligation to use data for good. If we don’t use data, we pay a huge price.

You coined the term ‘femtech’. How would you define it? ‘Femtech’ is a term that addresses the growing sector of technology that is designed specifically for women. Femtech does not refer to ‘women in technology’, but rather the expanding category of technology that serves to help women take better control of their overall health.

You’ve spoken before about the reluctance of men to invest in products catered to women, and the lack of female investors in technology. Can you explain why you think that having women in tech – in both business and development – is so vital? Women are seriously underrepresented in tech. They only hold 10–20% of tech-related jobs at tech companies, yet digital female health is one of the fastest growing sectors, with period and fertility trackers encompassing the second largest category within health apps, second only to running apps. Investing in female-led tech isn’t just a step towards gender equality; it makes business sense.

I firmly believe that it is essential for women to empower each other to take up space in the industry, and to continue breaking gender stereotypes in order to pave the way for others, and this is what we are seeing now. One area where we most need to see increased gender diversity is on the investment side.

We need more women entrepreneurs, who are considering and solving these issues, to focus on giving attention to women’s reproductive health around the world.

What are some of your takeaways from being a female entrepreneur, particularly here in Germany? Berlin is such a creative hub, and the city’s liberal attitude and gender neutrality makes it a great place for a female entrepreneur to grow and succeed. Personally, I have never found that being a female entrepreneur, or a woman in tech, has ever held me back or presented greater obstacles. Although I’m fully aware that statistically, it can definitely prove more difficult for women to make a name for themselves in tech.

Being a female entrepreneur in an underrepresented field, I believe I have the opportunity to make a much needed change. At a company level, I feel the immense potential of what Clue can do when I think about the difference it will make in the world when people have a good understanding of how their body works and are able to take good care of themselves. Access to technology will change the world. It already is. We hear it every day through emails that people send us from all over the world. I am humbled and grateful that I get to do this work together with my team.

You’ve had an accomplished and diverse career, from leading motorcycle tours to being a best-selling author to being named ‘Female Web Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the 2015 Slush conference. What are some lessons you’ve learned throughout your professional life? Professionally, I have learned a great deal. In my role as a leader, I am exposed to a lot of things that I feel I can personally take care of. I used to make the mistake of trying to do too much myself instead of learning how to assess my own limitations and delegate tasks, enabling others to share the workload with me. Letting go and trusting others to take over key tasks is not as easy as it sounds when you are so invested in something, but I think it is something that people in all positions should think about in order to make themselves more productive. It becomes easier to let go as the team grows, and there are many talented people around me who are honestly better skilled to take care of certain things.

In 2016, Wired Magazine named Clue one of the top European startups destined for success. But being successful doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. How do you define success? Success is whatever you want it to be. There is a tendency these days to equate success with money or fame, but neither of these things are necessarily indicators of success. Success is simply the sense of achieving something, be it completing a small everyday goal or fulfilling a huge ambition. One mistake we’ve all been guilty of at some point or another is comparing our accomplishments to those of others. Only you can define what success means to you.

How will Clue revolutionise women’s fertility and reproductive care in the future? The evolution of the app has been incredible. In less than a year we have seen the amount of active users increase from 1 million to 5 million worldwide, as well as establishing partnerships with Stanford University and the University of Oxford, enabling us to carry out more in-depth research into menstrual-cycle health. Our mission is to help people all around the world benefit from insights into female health and, with more than 5 million users entering data every month, we are one step closer to achieving this.

It would be safe to predict that tracking apps and gadgets will become increasingly intuitive in the future, and will eventually monitor everything from heart rate and blood pressure to stress levels to amount and quality of movement, ultimately capturing data that will allow us to better understand both our emotional and physical wellbeing. This amount of data can only be a good thing, as it will offer doctors instant access to a far more detailed and accurate medical history.

Our ultimate goal is to completely move female health away from its niche status and get to a stage where society can openly discuss menstrual health without hesitation. You wouldn’t think twice of mentioning that you have a headache or sore throat, for example, and when people feel as comfortable talking about cramps or other period-related symptoms, only then have we managed to fully break down the stigma surrounding them.

If you want to learn more about Clue, visit their website and online store or simply download it for free and get tracking.