Elvie hopes bold marketing and sleek design will help it become ‘the Apple of femtech’
For too long, the tech industry has lagged behind when it comes to disrupting women’s health and wellbeing. Now femtech darling Elvie, is using smart products – and even smarter marketing – to disrupt the sector.
Earlier this month, London-based women’s health startup Elvie raised $42m in funding; marking the largest known investment in femtech to date.
Armed with multimillion-dollar backing from IPGL, Octopus and LGT, the brand intends to use the money wisely to empower women through technology.
"Someone once said to me ‘do you want to be the Apple of women's health?’ Darren Goode, Elvie’s president, corporate and commercial tells The Drum. “I was like ‘okay. I like it, why not?’”
It’s not too lofty an ambition either; given that Elvie seems to have cornered a market that others have shown little interest in, placing a huge emphasis on the look and feel of its products.
It’s what women want too: a recent study from market research firm AYTM found that only 32% of women think technology is designed for them, with 70% saying the look, feel and tone of products are often incongruous to their needs.
Elvie chief exec and co-founder was similarly dismayed by a lack of products and solutions on the market engineered to tackle women’s health issues (including pregnancy, childbirth, periods, and menopause). So, in 2013 she took matters into her own hands and launched a business designed to do just that, along with Jawbone founder Alexander Asseily.
The brand’s first product was a smart Kegel tracker that helps women strengthen their pelvic floor with real-time biofeedback. Elvie has since launched the Elvie Pump – a welcome alternative to the clunky and restrictive milking machines of days gone by.
With a background in women's health that saw her working in medical research for governments on areas like HIV prevention and safe abortion practices, Boler said she recognised that technology has the capacity to "transform health in a much bigger, much faster way," for women.
She says the fact that women were suffering from unpreventable health problems was a "public health issue" and wanted to shift the conversation on women's health away from "yucky" issues into something more positive.
When she was drafting up ideas for the upstart that would become Elvie, Boler said she would consciously rethink the challenge she needed to tackle as one that pertained to “general wellness.”
This attitude stretched to the language it used in pitches and marketing too.
“Instead of 'bladder problems,' we talked about ‘inner strength’ and 'core strength' which aligned [the brand] more with the yoga and pilates movement," she says.
Hence why, when the brand launched its Pelvic trainer back in 2015, it targeted boutique gyms across London, instead of hospitals.
Impactful marketing and smart design
For now, Elvie only stocks its two flagship products – the pelvic trainer and the wearable breast pump.
Despite its limited range, Elvie's annual revenue run-rate has tripled over the past six months and is expected to grow by another five times by the end of the year with SyndicateRoom ranking it as the 13th fastest growing business in the UK.
It's success lies in an ingenious fusion of product design and impactful marketing, which has helped push its marketing into the spotlight.
“Medical devices are very utilitarian in their approach,” says Boler, “but if you get the right design brains around the table to look at health problems, you end up in a very different space.”
For marketing lead Goode, putting design and innovation at the heart of everything the business does is the reason its return rates on products like the Elvie Personal Trainer clock in at less than 1%. According to one internal case study referral rates of the same product are over 90%.
As the company’s growth increased, so has what Goode calls its “marketing machine.”
The team now totals 11 people filled with top steals from Dyson, Apple and L’Oreal. “You start to see in our advertising, in our look and feel, we very much look like the product of a Dyson and Apple fusion,” said Goode.
The brand's global marketing director Aoife Nally joined the team from Dyson where she was involved in the Supersonic and the Airwrap. “She brought with her expertise, and after six months had refocused the Elvie trainer,” says Goode.
In August last year, Elvie appointed the aptly-named Mother London as its creative partner, after its chief executive Michael Wall approached the startup.
“It’s a relationship made in heaven,” admits Goode, noting that both companies share similar values.
When Elvie launched its breast pump back in September, Mother created a tongue-in-cheek music video that features four real-life mums tackle the humorous distinction between boobs and udders.
Since launching in 2015, Elvie has organised several bold advertising stunts.
2018’s London Fashion Week saw the first breastfeeding model when Valeria Garcia walked down the runway wearing the breast pump, as part of a campaign created with the PR agency Talker Tailor Trouble Maker.
Earlier this month, passers-by in London’s Shoreditch were greeted with giant, inflatable boobs. Coinciding with Mother’s Day, the #FreeTheFeed campaign created by Mother placed the boobs in public spaces to try smash taboos about breastfeeding in public.
Both products have also been included in the past few years Oscar goody bags.
“We’re bold in our approach, bold in our design and bold in our language,” explains Boler. “When you launch a new product category, you need to educate the market around that. We have a point to provoke conversation and debate.”
Alongside a number of paid influencers, Elvie benefits from a strong organic social following from mothers and medical professionals.
“Everything we’ve done has been really organic. There’s a lot of influencers who love the products and share,” Boler said. “Particularly our pelvic trainer requires education, so it’s great to see news generated content about what a pelvic floor is and how tech can help.”
So far, women have taken to social media to post themselves breastfeeding while driving, performing surgery and even running a marathon.
Using its investment wisely
Although the startup has just raised unprecedented funding, when Elvie started five years ago, Boler admits it was hard to raise money.
“People thought [women's health] was a niche issue, and even with statistics, it was difficult to persuade investors,” she said.
“We’ve had to prove ourselves, but investors are now waking up to the potential and getting over the assumption that women aren’t early adopters of technology.”
Femtech funding still has a long way to go to keep up male equivalent wellness start-ups. In January of this year, the erectile dysfunction and male balding company, Hims entered the unicorn club with a $100m investment.
With it's own finances secured, 2019 looks to be a “pivotable year” for Elvie, primarily in the areas of building infrastructure and strengthening teams. Goode says the funding will partly go towards accelerating product development.
“A lot of the series B funding is to allow us to go faster with more products at the same time,” explains Goode.
“Because it took us two years to make the trainer, and another couple of years to make the pump. If it takes us two years, at least we can launch three products, rather than just one,” he added.
Elvie wants to be a global women’s health technology brand that addresses all life stages. It is, therefore, bolstering its engineering and product team to be able to cope with this vision.
And the vision isn’t only forwards, with Goode admitting the company wants to go sideways into other categories.
“We’re very much building a brand,” said Goode. “The great thing about the mother and baby zone is you lock in a woman at the one moment in her life which she doesn’t go to school for.”
“It doesn’t matter how educated you are, at that moment you know very little,” he said. “We believe we can insert our brand into that moment and call it ‘disruption for a woman’ then you can go anywhere as you’ve locked her in a brand that she loves. Then you have the trust and authenticity to jump into another area.”
Although rooted in the UK, Elvie has already set its sights overseas. It’s currently distributing in Asia through Hong Kong, which is a continent it’s still testing, with Goode saying the business is being “very respectful" because it's aware that "you don’t take a British brand and drop it in Asia.”
He says the US is its first priority, though, as "demand is through the roof.” It already distributes the Elvie trainer in the region and launched the pump in early February. In the first launch, the pumps sold out in eight minutes, and 35,000 women are currently on its waiting list.
The partnership with Mother is helping Elvie to spread its global wings. Goode has already visited its offices in Shanghai and New York. “It’s becoming a large relationship, and a good one,” he says.