If you don’t work in tech, it’s probably not obvious how many people it takes to build a good app, or a platform that can securely handle billions of data points. We are a team of about 75 – we’re two thirds female, we come from all over the world, and we’re based in Berlin, Germany.
I love this team. Because not only are they brilliant and creative engineers, designers, scientists, they do this work with care and courage: Care to listen to our user community, understand their needs and experiences, and make an app that is high-quality, evidence-based, and trustworthy. Courage to take a stand when most companies avoid it, and to work tirelessly against barriers, myths and taboos.
This team is small for a tech company, but it’s still a lot of money to run (our founder, Ida Tin, wrote about this in some detail here). We have to make money, and because we care, how we make money matters. There’s no complex corporate structure, and, very transparently, the only thing we sell is features in the app–unlike some other apps.
But how come so many apps seem to be entirely free?
Many of the apps we use every day–messaging, maps, weather–don’t charge us money. However, if I’m not paying, then someone else is paying for this app to get built so I can use it, and they are most definitely getting something in return. Am I OK with what they are getting? Perhaps I am. But if I’m sharing sensitive data with an app, I would want to know: what is their business model? What are they doing with my data? Am I the customer, or am I the product?
Unless a company is prepared to be transparent about it, I can’t know exactly how they make money. A lot of the digital economy runs on an advertising model, in which you pay with your privacy: information about everything you do there is monetized–informing algorithms that identify you as a target for advertisement, or political ideas, or worse.
Shouldn’t healthcare be free?
Yes, it should. But it is only “free” to us if our insurance pays. And the reason that reproductive healthcare is such a disappointing experience for so many is that there is still very little systemic support through even the most common experiences and conditions. In the meantime, women and people with cycles are often DIY’ing their way to education and diagnosis.
At Clue, we are committed to making our app serve our user community–not the agendas of advertisers, insurance companies, data brokers, or anyone else. The best way to guarantee we stay true to that North Star is by focusing squarely on our customers–the Clue user community.
Only with strong revenue can we continue doing this work, and invest at the scale that is needed to fulfill Clue’s potential as a comprehensive reproductive health companion.
So what does this mean for how Clue makes money now and in the future?
We are focussed on becoming a sustainable, independent, impactful company for the long term – by building products that are so valuable to our users that they are willing to pay for them.
We are exploring partnerships that will help us bring Clue Plus to more people at less cost to them (for example, offering Clue as part of an employer benefits package). We’re excited to see if this can help us improve access, particularly in lower-income groups.
We are also exploring partnerships that recommend related products or services that we believe could be of genuine benefit to Clue users (for example, hormone testing for further self-discovery, or access to relevant healthcare). These will always be highly curated, grounded in shared values and principles, and with the interests of our users front-of-mind.
And we will continue to support science and innovation in women’s health with anonymous data for research purposes (see some of our recent research collaborations here).
Our team is happy to work hard bringing more things like the above to our customers. What we will not do is sell personal data.
A final note on why we are not a charity, or government-funded
After all, female health is public health, and surely something like Clue would be a phenomenal return on public health investment. We completely agree. If you know someone who wants to make a sizable grant, we’d love to talk to them.
The awkward truth is that creating innovative technology requires proper funding. Governments and charities do not have a great track record of funding femtech, and an even worse one of trying to build it themselves.
Also, governments and charities may have agendas that are not the same as yours. Would you really want, for example, the US government to control your cycle tracking app? Do you think your app’s existence should be dependent on a philanthropists' charity coming through? How many charitable projects you know have ended up looking like the worldview of the donors, rather than serving the needs expressed by the people they’re meant to serve?
When women build businesses, their profit motive is often questioned in a way that it is not for men. Ironically, this is particularly true when women build impact-driven businesses–as if profit and purpose have to be a zero sum game. In the meantime, enormous value and enormous wealth are created in the healthcare-industrial-complex, but women’s health is chronically under-funded, under-researched, and under-served.
We don’t buy that, we want to change it. We believe that an ambitious, principled femtech company run by women can grow to become the go-to resource for everyone with a cycle. And we believe that we will get there by following the age-old adage of putting customers first. Why? Because we believe that our user community is the right customer to hold ourselves accountable to.