I would like to introduce Tania Boler - the Jonathan Ive of women's health technology! Our serendipitous introduction meant I got a glimpse into her future rocket ship over tea at Riding House Cafe. A few years ago Tania took the entrepreneurial leap from her career in sexual and personal wellness and founded Chiaro - a women's wearable technology company with real impact. Chiaro's first product is Elvie, your most personal trainer. Elvie is a smart kegel exercise tracker and app and is unparalleled in its scientific innovation and exquisite design. Mine hasn't arrived yet but when Tania presented one to me the "out of the box experience" was a hybrid between opening an iPhone and a Tiffany box! Keep reading to learn the secrets to better core strength, control and even better sex! You will also boss that pilates class!
Current Job CEO, Chiaro - a women's wearable technology start-up
Education Oxford, Stanford and a PHD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
First Job When I was thirteen I had a Saturday job working on a clothes stall in Portobello Market
Favourite place in London The canal behind my Islington home. I love the juxtaposition of cultures & styles
How do you switch off Watching Homeland - it just gets better and better!
Necessary extravagance A blow dry
Go to meeting spot Profrock coffee shop on Leather Lane
Female inspiration in business I recently met Cindy Gallop in New York. She is a strong inspiration as someone who doesn't care what people think and is relentless in her ambition to change the world
Top finance tip Raise more money than you need
Top networking tip Don't think about job titles
You have a long career of working in women's issues, including working for the UN on global sex education curriculum. Can you share a highlight?
Travelling two days by rickshaw and boat in northern Bangladesh to deliver family planning services with the Marie Stopes team.
Where did the idea for Chiaro stem from and what was the catalyst to quit the day job?
I thought I was an expert in women's health! This was until I got pregnant and realised that there are so many things to do with our bodies that we don't talk about and that I wasn't aware of. At the time I was leading the innovation and strategy team at Marie Stopes and knew we were at the beginning of a health tech revolution and that I wanted to be a part of it. My vision for Chiaro was to change the way technology is used by developing new products that break down stigma and change lives. I talked to over 40 physiotherapists and kept iterating. The catalyst was winning the UK Technology Strategy Board Innovation Award of £100,000 which validated the idea!
Tell us about Elvie, your most personal trainer, Chiaro's first product
Elvie is a small yet powerful exercise tracker for your pelvic floor. It's beautiful and smart - giving women real-time feedback so that they can track their progress. It's hard to exercise a muscle you can't see. Without feedback, you simply don't know how you're doing. We have designed and patented a new way to measure force so that women can visualise their kegel exercises. Elvie even corrects your lift technique as 30% of women push down which can lead to damage. A journalist recently said it was like the iPhone - the new must-have gadget for all women. We agree with that!
Can you elaborate on your motivation behind Elvie?
I think all women deserve smarter technology. Women and men are different physically and therefore have different health and lifestyle needs. Technology doesn't seem to have caught up with this basic fact. With 1 in 3 women experiencing problems due to weak pelvic floor muscles, there has been shockingly little innovation in this area and we hope to use the novel, innovative data to improve motivation for women to exercise and see results.
Most consumer electronics - when adapted for women - tend to focus on the aesthetics like the colour or adding a jewel or prettier packaging. Sure, Elvie looks beautiful which is part of why women get excited about it - but it is also smart. It has induction charging, no lights, no exposed parts, fully waterproofed, machine learning-based algorithms and personal goals. But why isn't there more smart technology for women?
You have won best R&D at HealthTech Awards and Best Startup at the Wearable Technology Show - tell us more about the research and innovation that distinguishes Elvie
My partner is Alexander Asseily and he founded Jawbone so we have really benefitted from his experience in designing awesome products. We worked with academics at Imperial and Oxford and also with some top engineers and designers. The likes of kickstarter have helped inspire a hardware renaissance but I think that we are being flooded with poor quality products that will disappoint customers. We are under pressure sometimes from investors to show how we will launch four products in two years but this is unrealistic unless you don't really care about true innovation and quality.
As well as working with the best, we also worked with the end users throughout the process. I think we had over four sets of user testing and well over 150 women test Elvie and tell us what they think. Just this morning I got an email from a journalist who told me she was at a party this weekend and her friend came racing up to tell her all about Elvie. I fundamentally believe women have been waiting for something like Elvie for a while - something fun yet effective.
How did you pitch Chiaro to your early financial backers Lars Rasmussen (co founder of Google Maps) and Alexander Asseily (co founder of Jawbone)
I think the numbers speak loudly here. For Elvie as our first product, more than half of all women have physical problems at some point during their lives and one in ten women need to have an operation because of a pelvic floor related problem. The adult sanitary pad market is valued at close to $17 billion over the next couple of years. This has to end and is crazy as it is largely preventable.
For Elvie, you need investors with vision as there isn't an existing marketing. This is a new product category so there is an element of education involved. We intentionally delayed raising an institutional round, bringing in a lot of super angels instead who bring so much to the table; as well as Alex and Lars we have Nicole Junkermann and Michael Spencer. So far our rounds have been doubly over subscribed meaning we have the luxury of being picky in the next raise. We will look for investors who can help with accessing new distribution markets for example in East Asia or North America.
What are your future ambitions for Chiaro?
We want to be the Apple of women's health tech. We are changing the way technology is designed for and used by women and we want others to follow suit. For example, for Elvie, there are a few competitors coming to the market and they are using our language of women's empowerment and placing this more as a lifestyle and wellness issue rather than waiting until it becomes a medical issue. This is great - together we can change the discourse!
Women in Tech
What is your definition of success?
When your consumers tell you that your product has changed their lives
What has been your observations of women in tech?
Female investors are without a doubt amazing Elvie women and ambassadors. However, behind most male investors is a strong Elvie women! For us the female tech journalists have been incredible too - Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch, Olivia Solon at the Mirror and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian. Check out their Elvie experiences:
What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
- Don't worry about what people say about you
- Live with the uncertainty - it won't feel comfortable and it is a steep learning curve but that is part of the fun
- Be determined - you need to be the kind of person who doesn't give up as it will always take longer and cost more money than you expected
What is one thing you recommend all women to do right now to safeguard their health?
Our motto at Chiaro is: Learn your body. Love being a woman