Media Fortune Fame & Folly

Has media missed Femtech?

Back in 2019, the then editor-in-chief of US Marie Claire, Anne Fulenwider announced she was joining the print-media-executive-diaspora to tech. She wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last, but what was interesting about Fulenwider’s move was her destination.

She was leaving Hearst to co-found a women’s health startup. Alloy Women’s Health – a platform whose stated aim is “health empowerment for women over 40”, offering “straight talk and science-based solutions for women suffering from the symptoms of menopause” – is launching imminently. Fulenwider and her co-founder Monica Molenaar, of Seed + Mill, have just raised $3m seed-funding from Kairos, an organization that provides funding and resources to start-ups dedicated to solving problems, and Pace Healthcare Capital.

What Fulenwider was not alone in seeing was that the Femtech wave she jumped on, was about to become a tsunami.

Five years ago, the word Femtech didn’t even exist. Tech? Aimed at women? As if. Who can forget Apple launching a health tracker for the iPhone in 2014, that neglected to include period tracking because no-one who worked on it had periods? Now Femtech is a major investment category. In the first half of 2019, global venture investments in Femtech were estimated at $1.69bn. It is expected to reach $9bn by 2024.

Sounds a lot, until you look at the fact that only 2.3% of VC funding went to women-led startups in 2020 and 90% of investment decision makers are still male. It means that Femtech – and, in fact, any tech led by or aimed at women – faces the additional barrier of rarely being understood by those they’re pitching to.

The paltry level of funding for Femtech is particularly shocking because the sector is expected to scale to $1.07 trillion by 2026. And global healthcare spending is predicted to reach $10 trillion next year.

It has even spawned its own media, including production company Femtech Media and B2B platform Femtech Insider.

Even now, as Femtech explodes and launches aimed at women proliferate, the male-dominated VC world struggles to see the needs of women over 40 as potentially attractive and, let’s be honest, lucrative. Hence the growth in female-facing investment incubators like the former CEO of Hearst UK Anna Jones’ All Bright’s Female Founders Academy, and Femtech lab, Europe’s first Femtech-specific accelerator.

But what is Femtech anyway – and why should media owners care about it?

In a nutshell, Femtech is shorthand for tech solutions focussed on female specific health concerns eg fertility, periods, hormones, menopause. The kind of “women’s health issues” that have long been sidelined…everywhere except in women’s media.

In the last decade alone, a multitude of apps and tech companies have sprung up addressing women’s health and lifestyle needs; providing answers where there were none, support where it was lacking and practical advice, including tracking menstruation and fertility, offering solutions for pregnancy and breastfeeding and latterly menopause.

Crucially, research shows that women are 75% more likely to use digital health care tools than men, so it’s clearly an industry ripe for growth and one that’s tapping into a spending power that used to belong to media companies.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of startups in this space, ranging from science-based research to content-heavy solution providers. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll concentrate on the latter. 

Standouts include the pioneering Berlin-based menstrual tracker, Clue. It was launched in 2012 by Ida Tin (who, incidentally, coined the term Femtech) after she found herself holding a cellphone in one hand and a small temperature-taking device in the other and wishing she could merge the two to track her fertility days. It has raised €27.4m to date.

Elvie – a UK-based maker of a connected breastfeeding pump and a pelvic floor trainer – which has just raised an $80m series C (led by BGF), the biggest total for an initial fundraise round for a female-founded Femtech company. Co-founded by Tania Boler, who had previously worked in the charity and NGO sector, it has not only taken the Femtech world by storm, it’s started a conversation about pelvic floor training. (Isn’t that where women’s media used to play a crucial part?)

Similarly, but not as impactful, are Freda, a London-based startup that brings feminine hygiene products directly to your doorstep across Europe, launched by former management consultant Affi Parvizi-Wayne and her gynaecologist husband in 2017. And Moody, a hormone tracker launched by British former tech agency CEO Amy Thomson in 2017 when stress caused her own periods to stop altogether. It’s believed to have a loyal audience of 80,000 and generates £50k a month.

The women’s social network Peanut, founded by Michelle Kennedy in 2017 to “ensure no woman navigated womanhood alone” has also got in on the act,  launching Peanut Menopause in September. With a community of 1.6m women across the UK, the US and Canada, it raised $12m in 2020, bringing its total funding to $21.8m.

Content is key to many Femtech offerings, so it makes sense that it’s attracting former media – and specifically magazine – talent.

Menopause start-ups, in particular, are proliferating in the UK. And, with the world population of menopausal and post menopausal women projected to reach 1.2bn by 2030, with 47m new entrants each year, it’s not hard to see why.

MPowered women is a pre-seed menopause platform focussed around content, advice, events and consultancy, cofounded by former magazine editor Juliet Warkentin (ex WGSN, Redwood BBDO, Amazon fashion and Marie Claire) and Saska Graville formerly of Red and Ketchum.

Where MPowered started life as a content offering and then diversified, Adora Health co-founded by former Global Radio executive Ann O’Neill also offers online and text chat and digital therapy solutions. It has raised seed funding from Start Codon – an accelerator that identifies and seed funds truly disruptive healthcare start-ups.

For both these propositions, and also for Peanut Menopause and Alloy, ‘community’ is a core pillar. But what all these platforms also have in common is the unique combination of identifying a need, building a relationship with the audience and offering trusted solutions (all backed up by the credibility of medical experts). Didn’t that used to be the domain of the magazine industry?

However, the key to their potential does not just lie in giving the consumer what it needs and upselling them, with subscriptions, in-app purchases, events and e-commerce, but in their corporate and brand offering. Alloy, Adora, Mpowered and more have developed corporate propositions to smooth their paths to profitability, offering consultancy, consumer data and tailored advice (in this case, menopause) to company HR departments faced with the challenge of catering for a generation of women who are no longer prepared to be ignored; and brands who are finally waking up to the potential of this lucrative audience. Think Marks & Spencer, the UK’s Channel 4 TV, Coca Cola and a host of large finance companies who all have substantial budgets in this area.

So, here’s the question: Where exactly are the legacy media companies while their audience is lapping up Femtech? Not just the special interest magazines and websites which are obviously losing out to these niche women’s health propositions, but the more general women’s magazines who once built their reputations and reader relationships on understanding their audience’s needs almost before they did – and turning a “women’s issue” into a global one?

It’s not so long ago that magazines in many countries had something of a monopoly on meeting women’s needs throughout their different lifestages and providing (selling!) information on – and access to – those women to brands. But now… if you subscribe (and give your data) to a women’s health app that not only gives you health monitoring via AI, live advice, personalised solutions and a constantly updating library of content as well as a community that shares your concerns on call 24/7, why would you subscribe to, say, Women’s Health magazine?

This was not a foregone conclusion. Tech was so slow to embrace anything female that media companies who already knew the problems and had the audience could have – and, indeed, should have – been quicker to come up with the solutions. It’s not a million miles from a much-loved agony aunt to offering live advice via an app. Even now, it’s not a fait accomplis. The macro-economic climate is on the side of media – think feminism, Covid, the rise of the female pound/ dollar/euro, and consumers seeking a better, healthier way. And combine it with the talent, resources and audience understanding that established media already has… 

If you don’t have the inclination to build a Femtech platform yourself, perhaps you should consider investing in one. But hurry.