Breaking a health taboo with A.I. and data
Adora brings a personal touch to treating the menopause
For something that affects so many people, the menopause has been something of a taboo for too long. Today’s startup is tackling the challenge of helping to open up treatment options when they’re needed.
They’re not the only team addressing the problem, but Adora think they’ve got a unique approach with some useful benefits. Scroll down to read all about them.
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Adora brings a personal touch to treating the menopause
The menopause: it has a significant effect on half the population and yet it’s barely ever mentioned in society.
“What typically happens to women in their 40s is that they just start to feel a bit ‘not themselves’, whether that's through changes in their period, whether it's their mood, their energy levels, their sleep… all these subtle things start to happen and they just start to withdraw into themselves a bit, start to feel less confident, less social, less happy.”
That’s how Ann O'Neill, CEO of Adora explains the health challenge her startup has set out to address as part of an emerging field of apps aimed at helping people through what can be a very challenging time of life.
O'Neill says Adora exists “to empower women through the menopause, to start accelerating the time it takes for them to get to understand what's going on in their bodies and to easily and quickly get solutions and treatments they need… It's about making sure they live their best life at this very natural time of change.”
Like another primarily women-focused startup I recently covered, Mirza, Adora aims to be sold via employee benefit programmes. The app takes a chatbot-style approach to helping users understand what’s happening to their bodies and confirm if it’s likely due to the start of the menopause.
The app then guides users to the best solution for their own symptoms - be that a consultation with a gynaecologist, sleep therapy, or adjustments to their exercise or diet.
“It's tidily, easily, conveniently taking everything they need and serving it to them in a personalised way, depending on what they tell us their priority is,” says O’Neill.
The personal health app revolution
Adora aims to follow in the footsteps of personal mental health apps like Headspace, which helped transform the perception of common mental health problems to be something that people could take positive action upon.
“[Headspace] broke down a taboo and got people into better habits, getting them talking about mental health… It's pretty inspiring to me, personally,” says O’Niell.
“At the heart of Adora is conversational chat,” she continues. “Fantastic apps like Woebot... they've proven that it's possible for chatbot to have emotional connection with users, [and] more than that, to improve their mental health. They’re excellent examples of modern, new apps that have taken a subject that's really taboo and normalised it.”
Part of the challenge of addressing the menopause is that symptoms can vary significantly.
Ed Smith, Adora’s co-founder and CTO, explains: “you're talking about the significant impact of hormone decline in women of a certain age. And there are so many symptoms.”
For example, Smith says one of Adora’s early users appreciated the inclusion of dizziness as a possible symptom, despite it rarely being mentioned in online menopause help.
“Dizziness is a really niche symptom. But of course every woman's experience is different… The majority of apps out there are informational. If you're building a website by information you'll just deal with the common stuff; the hot flush, the brain fog, the night sweats.”
Less common experiences like a ‘burning mouth’ sensation, tingling, numbness, or joint ache are significantly important to individual women, Smith says. “The majority of the women end up having niche symptoms that these generic services can't service… Being able to offer personalised care around those range of symptoms, which are going to be very unique to women, is a real game changer in this space…
“There are 100 websites that will tell you how to deal with hot flushes and brain fog, but women's experience tends to be a lot more nuanced and a lot more unique.”
The conversational approach really garners results, Smith says.
“When you open the app it asks you how you are. And for some people, that's the first time they've been asked ‘how are you doing today?’ It really can be quite a lot of help and support to have that emotional support in there. And that's one of the things that conversational A.I. is really good at - actually engaging in conversation in the way that our human brains work.”
The value of menopause data
Beyond helping individual users, Adora wants to learn more about the menopause from its users, which can help offer better support over time. Ed Smith, Adora’s co-founder and CTO, explains the startup wants to help people with the menopause at scale by building up a wealth of health data that could improve how the condition is understood.
Smith says users’ interactions with the app form “a dataset which will help us look at our own data to provide better support. What are clusters of symptoms? What is the pattern of symptoms? What are the most likely successful treatments? Or most successful pieces of advice to actually benefit women?
“But also, when we came to this project, I was really excited about looking at what data there is on menopause and doing some A.I. data analysis… but there just isn't clean data, well-labelled data at volume to do any of this… And so a really big part of what we're wanting to do is change that understanding of menopause, change that understanding of women’s experience, the symptoms, the medical history, the impacts of that…”
Smith says the data Adora collects could benefit academics, pharmaceutical companies, and medical professionals, as well helping Adora improve its own product.
O’Neill–who previously worked in the TV and radio industry–says Adora came about after she spotted the opportunity and spoke to around 50 women to understand their pain points. She knew there was a tech-based solution and got in touch with Smith to help her build the product. Medical expertise in developing the product comes from Dr Karen Morton, a senior gynaecologist and obstetrician.
After around a year of research and assembling the founding team, Adora teamed up with Cambridge-based investor and venture builder Start Codon. This backing allowed them to create their beta app, which is currently in private testing on iOS.
O’Neill reports some encouraging results from the app so far. “We've had women asking questions they've never been able to ask anybody, because of the private nature and the expert advice that they get back; vaginal symptoms or painful sex, and things that are difficult to talk to anyone about, let alone maybe your GP.
“They love the fact that they get some indication of what stage they're at…. A lot of the pain points that women have are waiting and waiting and waiting to see a GP, not recognising what's going on with their own bodies, spending a long time not getting treatments. We can accelerate that time and we can get them to the treatment or give them some advice really quickly. That's what women are telling us they want.
“We're product led and we're audience led. We're listening, and we're talking to women every week. It helps that I'm in that space of life myself.”
The business of menopause support
Selling Adora through employee benefit programmes feels like a solid approach to avoid the freemium trap of going straight to consumers who often can’t or won’t pay for an app like this, no matter how much it could help them.
“It's about employers supporting their female employees [aged] 45 plus, of which there are four and a half million in the UK,” says O’Neill, adding that the global market is around 1.1 billion.