With a goal to revolutionise the way women use wearable tech, Tania Boler, co-founder and CEO of Chiaro, is challenging the status quo when it comes to women’s personal health issues.
Launching pelvic floor exercise tracker Elvie, in October 2015, the PhD holder and entrepreneur has since raised over £1 million in seed investment from prominent business figures including Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen and Jawbone co-founder Alex Asseily.
Winning a UK Technology Strategy Board Innovation Award of £100,000, and endorsement from Gwyneth Paltrow, who featured the pioneering device on her website Goop, Boler is disrupting a male dominated arena – starting with the issues that matter to women the most.
On track to generate revenues of $20 million in 2017, and with a second product on the way, Boler has ambitious plans to create a suite of lifestyle products that make women feel happy and confident about their bodies. A further £5 million investment will kickstart expansion across new markets including the US.
Combining the latest in wearable technology with cutting-edge medical advances, here Boler explains how she’s bridging the gap between health and tech, and why she believes Chiaro has what it takes to become the leading women’s lifestyle consumer brand….
On developing innovative wellness tech for women…..
Fundamentally, I believe that we’re all at the beginning of this wellness revolution and technology has such a central role to play in that. But, somehow the specific needs of women have been overlooked.
We live in such a PC world that we forget that women are physiologically different from men, so I want to develop smarter and elegant technology for women, because most technology that women have is either very medical or a bit frivolous.
With Elvie, we took the best of what existed in the hospital and turned it into a lifestyle product that women actually enjoy using.
On building Chiaro from the ground up….
Winning £100,000 from the UK Technology Strategy Board Innovation Awards allowed me to quit my job and put my idea into practice. Then I got really lucky because one of the first investors I met was a guy called Alexander Asseily who started Jawbone.
As a huge global leader in terms of sports technology, he was able to offer me advice on how to apply the best of sports tech to Elvie. But, in terms of getting the product off the ground operationally, it was all about building the right team.
Elvie is a connected product, an amazing piece of hardware which is also very safe and easy to use. In order to create it we made the decision to hire top engineers from Dyson.
On implementing a solid funding strategy….
For me, understanding all the ways in which I could get money into the company as easily and quickly as possible was very important. For example, we’ve raised over £600,00 in innovation grants from Innovate UK, which is a government agency.
If you’re launching a product with some sort of technological innovation, then it’s great to apply for these type of grants because they give you the money and don’t expect anything in return. That gives you a lot of freedom to move ahead with your RMD, so that’s been a really important part of our strategy.
In addition, bringing in strategic investors has been very important. The fact that Alex Asseily who started Jawbone was my first investor has been groundbreaking and significant for us.
We’ve also brought in some great female investors, including Nicole Junkermann, who is a big investor in health and wellness. If you can bring in people like that, they can really help you with growth, as well as your business strategies.
On setting up a new business….
I think when anyone starts a business there are so many things you don’t know and you can’t become an expert in all of them. If you do, either it’ll take too long or you’ll make too many mistakes, so I brought in people who already knew what they were doing.
I was really lucky with Alex Asseily coming on board. I’m not an engineer, but I was constantly the voice of the user so we very much started with a blank page. Then we worked with over 150 women to help develop the product, in order to make sure that it was what they wanted.
On the challenges of being your own boss….
It’s been much harder than I thought it would be, but I never regret it. People often say it’s like a marathon made up of 100 metre sprints because everything you’re doing is new. You just have to fuel out the fear and keep going – it’s an amazing adrenaline rush.
I’m also a mum of two, which is challenging.
I got pregnant pretty soon after starting the company, so I only took one week of maternity leave before going back to work. Because it’s my company I just turned up at meetings breastfeeding and people had to accept it. It’s great being your own boss in that sense.
On scaling a niche product….
It’s difficult because although Elvie is a ‘niche’ product, every woman has a pelvic floor and one in three women have problems.
We’re focusing on an issue that affects pretty much every woman at some point in their lives, but has traditionally been thought of as a health issue or a sex issue, so for us it’s been about changing the conversation to make it a woman’s issue and a normal lifestyle issue.
Our approach was to start off in boutique wellness and fitness studios in order to introduce women to the product. We also had Gwenyth Paltrow help launch us in the US on Goop.
We’re in John Lewis in the UK now, which is great because they are such a trusted British brand. But, if we’d have gone to John Lewis at the very beginning when we were a tiny startup they wouldn’t have taken us seriously.
We waited until we had a bit more credibility and then when we went to them we were able to negotiate. I think with any startup it’s all about being confident – you have to go in and be at an equal level.
Now we have plans to go into ten international markets.
On the importance of innovation…..
At the moment we’re getting ready to launch a second product.
As pioneers of smart technology, we’re planning on having a suite of about four of five connected wellness tech products with a tracking app.
Innovation is really important for us, but it’s a combination of being analytical and rational – having to look at market needs and whether or not we’re fulfilling a real need, especially in wearable technology. You have to provide a solution, but also make sure you get really creative energy in there as well.
Last year I won the ‘Innovation Of The Year Award’ at the Women’s Tech Awards, which was great. Typically, I think technological innovation has been a very male dominated arena, but I think there’s an increasing appreciation for women’s technology.
Women were the early adopters of fitness technology, but they’re kind of overlooked as a segment. Our view is that by the end of the decade we’ll be the first ever global women’s lifestyle consumer brand and it’s crazy that that has never existed.
On future ambitions…..
We’re always working on Elvie, because women keep telling us the workouts that they want and with the app we can keep adding to it all the time. But ideally, I’d like to change the way women think about and use technology.
I think we’ve got the potential to help women on a grand scale to live longer and healthier lives, but women are traditionally a bit hesitant when it comes to embracing certain technologies, so I’d like to focus on changing that and maybe the way we design it too.
We’re at such an exciting point in history where we (as women) are much more proud of our bodies, and we’re talking about things we’ve never talked about before. Elvie is really capturing people’s imagination and it’s very exciting.