Part 1 of 2: In the Machine Room of Apps was about how the apps you have on your phone come into being from a money perspective. Here is part 2 about how we both spend and make money in a different way than most apps.
I want you to know a little bit about the machine room of an app because you as a user are part of the story in ways you might not be aware of, and it relates to money.
Why does it continue to cost so much money to build an app?
Have you ever considered things like what it takes to be in compliance with European data protection laws, or what kind of processes need to be in place when someone stops working at Clue, or what tools are needed to send users a personalized email or an in-app message? Or how about what happens if a user was logged out while entering a data point into the app, and what if someone moves between time zones and needs a reminder to take their Pill? I kind of hope you haven't, because when things run smoothly then you, as a user, shouldn’t ever have to think about any of this. You shouldn’t need to consider the million other things that take place in the machine room of a startup that’s building an app.
A look into Clue’s machine room
We’ll start with the science area. We employ scientists who make sure the algorithms we use are showing you the best possible predictions given the data you track. We share surveys with which we learn about the health and healthcare needs of people who menstruate. We collaborate with scientists at various universities on research projects that hopefully eventually will mean that your health care providers know more about menstrual and reproductive health, a severely under-researched field. We have also given small grants and access to part of our (your) (always de-identified!) data set to carefully selected academic scientists so that they can keep asking hard questions.
Our science writers have authored hundreds of meticulously fact-checked, science-based articles, which are written in a way that is accessible and interesting. It’s a whole encyclopedia! We pay translators to translate these articles into Spanish and Portuguese, too, so that more people around the world can benefit from these insights about menstrual and reproductive health. We have also produced a podcast series to help you learn more about the remarkable world of hormones. Plus, our data scientists keep exploring ways to help users get more insights out of the data they track.
What else is going on in the machine room of an app? Who is there? On our team, we have software engineers for the iOS app that runs on iPhones, engineers for the Android app, along with backend engineers who build the infrastructure for handling the data. We have designers and product owners who figure out exactly what to build based on your feedback and the work that our user researcher is doing. We have data scientists who crunch the data and understand how the app is being used. We have an app store specialist to ensure you can find the app easily, and we have someone to oversee the app’s translation into your language (currently that’s 15 languages).
In addition to scientists, we have a medical doctor on the team to ensure we know what we are talking about from a clinical perspective. We have people who manage the organization including a finance department and a people manager. We have a quality assurance team to catch problems in the app before we release it into the world. We have a support team who works very hard so that users can get answers to their specific questions in multiple languages. There is someone to figure out how we can keep finding new users. There is a lawyer to make sure we do everything right regarding regulation. There is a team that produces our content and gets it fact-checked, a social media manager who ensures our content is engaging and relevant, and yet another person who handles all of our media work (many people are curious to talk about Femtech which is great).
And the list goes on with hard-working men and women and gender non-conforming people from all over the world, committed to having an impact on menstrual and reproductive health.
You get the picture: it’s a pretty big machine room and all of this costs money. Did you know that there are 1.600 people working at Pinterest, 4.500 at Twitter and 45.000 at Facebook? We are only 70 people at Clue. If we had the resources, we could easily employ thousands to accomplish all the things we want to see happen in this field. When you choose to pay for Clue by subscribing to Clue Plus or donating, that enables our team to build you a trustworthy and safe app–a much bigger and more complex thing than you may have ever guessed–which (hopefully) appears relatively simple.
No two machine rooms are alike
This is all related to what we do, but there is also the how. Many apps are built by companies that produce a whole range of apps, and for them, cycle tracking may be just one more business idea. Sometimes it’s not really about what the app does but about collecting and selling the user’s data, so the user becomes the product themselves.
We founded Clue with the desire to solve some of the pressing problems for women and people with cycles, and came up with the Clue app as the best way to do that. As a purpose-driven company, we take our impact in the world very seriously. This means that we think carefully about how the Clue app can improve users’ lives, not just make them spend more time using it. We want the information you receive through the app to be reliable, and we want the app itself to be reliable. That’s why we have stringent internal processes to make sure this is the case.
When we introduce new features, we do rigorous risk analysis so that we can be sure that we’re always improving. We take care to use inclusive, non-gendered language wherever possible, and to ensure that anything we write is true to the Clue brand, not only in English, but also in Korean or Turkish or any of the other 18 languages the app exists in. We prioritize quality when making our podcast, considering with care what experts we choose and what themes we believe can help Clue remain a progressive voice for reproductive and menstrual health. It makes us slow sometimes, and we know that can frustrate users too - but it takes time to build high quality things.
Hopefully that commitment to quality and health in its broadest meaning can be felt when you track in Clue, find our content online, or find that your health questions have been met with the care and respect they deserve.
The machine room keeps humming
In part one of this mini blog series, I talked about how we make money. In a nutshell, we have made the choice to trust that users will get enough value, quality and care from Clue that they will, with their individual contributions, keep the machine room humming - and together with us keep moving menstrual health forward.
Well, as you know by now it takes a lot of energy to keep a relatively small group of really caring and hard working people running. We have been busy in the machine room lately setting up some new powerful installations, and we are so excited to see how you will like what Clue has coming out soon.