In our “Starter Story” series we invite femtech founders to share their stories of how it all began. How did they come up with the idea? Where did they meet their cofounders and what was the hardest part of going from 0 to 1?
In today’s Starter Story we get to share Alva‘s founding story as told by co-founder Annie Coleridge. Alva’s mission is to help women understand menopause and to support them with information and advice based on hard evidence and real experiences.
When did the idea for your startup first come up?
Whilst working at Thriva, I was speaking to perimenopausal and menopausal women for product research. Through these conversations I discovered that women know very little about this stage in life. Perimenopause in particular is a confusing time – women experience a mix of the 34 different menopause symptoms and they’ll often stop and start.
Time and time again I heard: ‘I just don’t know what’s going on inside my body‘; and ‘I feel so alone‘. What shocked me most was 90% of women could not answer the question ‘Are you before or after menopause?’ So we decided to change that with Alva.
When and how did you take the decision to take the plunge and turn your idea into a business?
Once Phil, my brilliant co-founder and Alva’s CTO, and I decided to work together I knew that Alva would become a business. I have never wanted to do a company alone – and I standby that even more after this first year. Having Phil wanting to work on changing menopause with me was the pivotal moment for what has become Alva.
A couple of months later we launched our free assessment MVP (and had 1000s of women do it in the first few weeks). That was when we developed our commercial model for Alva – one that came from testing many different propositions.
How did you meet your co-founder?
We met whilst working at the health-tech company Thriva. We both learned a huge amount there. We had the opportunity to work together on different products. Through that experience we learned that we were very aligned in our values and ambition.
Phil left Thriva to go to Babylon – and I stayed there for about another year. So we had over a year of being friends before we started working together again on Alva.
What were the biggest challenges for you personally and your company going from 0 to 1?
Any first-time founder will say learning to lead a team is a time of intense personal development, reflection and learning. For me, developing the confidence to lead has been one of the biggest challenges and it’s something that takes active work. I’m lucky to have people around me to support me to develop.
For the company – I’d be lying if I said building a team in 2020 has been easy. Given we put a huge emphasis on values, remote hiring was not exactly what we had in mind. We’ve had to learn about our process and make changes to make sure the external complications of 2020 did not compromise our vision for Alva’s team.
Do you have any advice for others, who are just getting started?
- Find a problem you deeply care about and understand. Because if you get it right – you’re going to be working on that problem for a long time. There’s so many personal reasons which make improving the experience of menopause incredibly important to me personally. These reasons spur me on every day.
- ‘Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do.’ I recently read this quote from Ben Horowitz again – it helps with being kind to yourself.
- It’s going to be really hard! Sometimes the things you expect to be hard will be easy, and enjoy that moment. But most of the time things will be harder than you expect. This, I believe, is a universal truth of startups. So accept the things you can not change, and if you’ve chosen something that really inspires you there will be joy in the hard work.