The UK startup behind aconnected kegel exerciser called Elvie is today announcing a$ 6 million Series A round led by European VC firmOctopus Ventures. Female focused VCAllBrightis also joining the round, which will be used to expand sales tomoremarkets and construct out its productportfolio, witha second deviceplanned for launching in early2 018.
Tania Boler, co-founder of the London-based company, which was founded in 2013 working stealthily at first before decloaking to take pre-orders for Elvieback in November 2014 describes itsoverall focusas femtech, with the push and purpose for the team being to develop smarterproducts thataddress female health& wellbeing issues.
Such as, in the case of the current product, helping to build pelvic flooring strength an issue that can affect women post-childbirth, to move to difficulties such as urinary incontinence. While a stronger pelvic floorcan haveadditional positives, with Elvietouting better sexuality as one of the potential lifestylebenefits, for example.
This does throw the startupinto something of a category of its own in the hardware startup space, where wearable-makers arent typically constructing for the purposes of the a single and specified( let alone female-focused) purpose. And where addressing womens needs most likely means some sort ofaesthetic concession such as wearables where the techis embeddedintoa piece of jewelry.
Its also fair to say that the consumer wearables space has not had the easiest ridein recent times. Even for veterans ofthe category likePebble, FitbitandJawbone whose co-founder, Alex Asseily, also happens to be a co-founder of Elvie there have been shut downs, undertaking cuts and suggestions of b2b pivots.
But obviously its not all doom and gloom at least not for thisalternative wearable maker( the Elvie device is worn internally duringpelvic flooring workouts ). Even whether the government has taken Elvie a little longer than Boler originally anticipated to close the Series A.
The funding climate has changed since 2014 in general in Europe, but also particularly for wearable technology, she tells TechCrunch, discussing the elevate. A plenty of startups working in the hardware space, after a lot of initial exhilaration aroundthe hardware revolution and the opportunities offered by connected devices because thesuccess rate has not been so high, and actually especially female-focused wearable tech has not fared so well over the last few years so we very much had that in head when we were going for the Series A.
We wanted to learn some of the lessons, even from Jawbone. And show how we were different to other hardware startups. So very much our focus was we launched just over a year ago really been demonstrated that the unit economics job, that we could get to breakeven and a sustainable business modeling, because this wasone of the key concerns of investors.
Elvies tightly focused consumer product turned a profit six months after thedevicewent on sale( its currently sold in 59 countries, with 25 more to be added with the new funding ). And produced$ 1M in income from direct sales during 2016( Elvie is alsosold via third party retail channels such as John Lewis storages ); the $199 price tag suggestsaround5, 000 units were sold direct in the first year.
The team says the customer base is currentlygrowing by 50%, quarter on quarter. And Boler underscores theyve also been operating with zero budget for marketing up to now. All of which clearly helped convinceinvestors to open theircheckbooks at least those who could see beyond the interference of the wearables category.
We had some investors who asked us when we were going to start playing in the major league, and start rivalling with Fitbit and Jawbone and stop being so niche, says Boler. But a lot of those wearable tech corporations have just been in an limbs race to plough in as many sensors as is practicable. And consumers dont understand how to make sense of that data and its not relevant to them. So for us our approach is to go in, hithighly disruptive instants in a womans life, make sure were solving a real problem.
The femtech scene is beginning to show traction, she adds. In the last year theres beena lot more startups in this space. What we do we think is different, weve very much going at it around specific stages in a womans life. And supporting them during those changes because thats when theyre most likely to adopt new technology. But our ambition is to build the first ever global womens health tech brand. So we needed the extra financing to accelerate on product developing and market penetration.
While it would be impossible to accuse Elvies first product of absence a clearly defined proposition, Boler says thespecificity has caused some investors to doubt theres anything morethan a niche market here.In a sort of damned if you do, damned if you dont twist.
I think we probably had to hit more milestones than a non-female-focused startup, she says, discussing the challenges ofraising fund for a business focused on womens intimate health issues when, inexorably, themajority of VCs are men.
There were a lot of naysayers, a lot of people saying this is a niche issue .
We made sure that we moved that extra mile. There were a lot of naysayers, a lot of people saying this is a niche issue You can show them the statistics and explain that 51% of the population are women and womens health are critical issues, but because these issues arent talked about the require is not so obvious.
Boler says Octopus experience constructing consumer brands and also launching brandsin the US wasa big pull, while female-focused firm AllBright is an obvious strategic investor, given the shared vision.
Prior to the Series A, the team created$ 3M in seed fund, from investors including Google Maps founder Lars Rasmussen, iCAP founder Michael Spencer, Nicole Junkermann founder of NJF Capital, and Lulu founder Alexandra Chong, as well as taking in $1.5 M via different government grants schemes utilizing these relatively slender resources( for a hardware startup) to reboot an existing product, the kegel exerciser, by adding sensors and connectivity toenable real-time feedback and app-enabled guidance.
But tech is just the tool Elvie isusing in pursuit of itswider mission ofbuilding lifestyle products addressingwomens wants. So Boler, for example, describes the company astechnology agnostic because thepriority is addressing thetarget user , not playing in a particular technology niche.
For us its not about just the technology, we had to change the conversation because everybody talks about this issue as a yucky health issue, so there were a lot of naysayers. People said youll never get a celebrity to talk about this issue. Youre never going to get retailers to stock this in John Lewis. And we demonstrated them all wrong.
Ultimately I think investors increasingly are seeing that the female consumer has been really overlooked, she adds.Theres now an appreciation that women acknowledge and will pay for technology that will improve their lives.
Beyond questions about the size of theaddressable market for products targetingwomens personal health issues, she says some investors also worried about how to categorize the company wondering whether to file the startupunder medical devices or consumer. In reality Bolerreckons Elvie sits in between aimingto capitalize on three growing trend: female empowerment; connected devices; and a societalneed for healthcareto become more preventative to reduce costs.
When you take the women, the technology and the health, those three parts means that now is a very special time in history to do something big, she argues. So the opportunitys bigger than I first realized and thats why were busy constructing our second product, and growing the team.
Commenting on the funding in the following statement, Octopus Simon King, added: Elvie is addressing an unrivalled market for womens personal health and has already established itself as the leader in this category. In particular, Octopus focuses on backing remarkably talented squads and Tania and her team are exceptional. Were thrilled to accompany them in this new phase of growth, rolling out in new geographies and extending the reach of what connected hardware can do for womens personal health.
The roadmap for Elvie at this point is to have launched four devices by 2020, says Boler. And although sheisnt telling exactly whats in the works she corroborates each forthcoming product that willsit under the Elvie brand will be focused ona very specific challenge that a womans facing in her life at that moment. So again, the products will be outcomes based rather thangeneral purpose thingamajigs withthe resulting pitching to customers beingtheyre paying for an improvement, rather thana capability.
I think the old fault line between medical devices and consumer products are truly blurring, she adds.What we recognize as our strategic value as a company in general is were very good at taking unloved, neglected medical devices and turning them into premium lifestyle products. And the possibilities of is really big across all health devices, I think, as a call out to other startups. Because medical devices, historically, have just been purely based on function and not around a user-centered design.
So our second product is going to empower women. Its an existing product category that hasnt been innovated in for a long time. And will be accompanied by nicely Elvie Well be launching it, hopefully, in January 2018.
Forthe current Elvie kegel exerciser, Boler notes thatthe workout programs in the app have also been tweakedto be more objectives-focused enabling users to, for example, target a particular health problem but also switch to more casual utilization, when appropriate.
To have intelligent solutions for women you need to recognize what their objectives are and gratify those, she says, adding: We keep working on the app, its an ongoing programme based on feedback. The key issue is Elvie helps women be rewarded through positive behaviour and exercising this is why we send out intelligent reminders based on when theyre more likely to use the product, we retain adding new degrees, and were actually launching some games now. Its all just about inducing the experience more interesting for women.
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