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Focus on FemTech: Alice Pelton on building ‘Trip Advisor for contraception’

Posted:
12 March, 2021

“I had lots of problems with my contraception. I started taking the pill at 16 and had tons of side-effects,” recalls Alice Pelton. “I basically spent about 5 to 10 years trying different methods, and learning first-hand that contraceptive healthcare is an absolute minefield.”

Alice’s story is all too familiar to many. 

Ask almost any woman, and they’ll tell you a story about a ‘female-specific’ health issue – contraception, fertility, menstruation, vaginal health – where they, or a friend, had a bad experience. They were misdiagnosed. Their problem was minimised. They were given medication that was inadequate or had well-known, unacceptable side-effects.

“Most of us have problems getting specialist care from doctors, and a huge lack of data in this space to help us make our decisions”, says Alice. “That’s what led me to the idea behind the company.”

Alice is the founder of contraceptive review platform The Lowdown. Described as ‘Trip Advisor for contraception’, the platform provides women with a platform to review and research different contraceptive methods to assess what’s right for them.

The Lowdown is part of a new generation of companies collectively known as ‘FemTech’, who are listening to and acting on the issues faced by women.

Often led by women motivated by their own experiences, be it as researchers or in their personal lives, these companies aren’t sitting around waiting for a solution. They’re building it themselves.

In this new series to mark International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we invite you to hear from a series of FemTech leaders on why they’re refusing to accept the status quo – and how they’re challenging it.

For the first story in our series, we hear from Alice Pelton on her journey to building The Lowdown, the future of contraceptive care, and why she believes leading a mission-driven company is not synonymous with being charitable.

“I realised that I was the right person to put this into action.”

While the story of The Lowdown began when Alice was a teenager, the company was set in motion a few years ago. “Everyone has a story when it comes to contraception. I began wondering what would actually happen if you got loads of people to share them in one place.

At the time, I was working in media, and did lots of digital product and business strategy, as well as working with tech teams developing apps, games and websites.

This experience gave me good grounding for building out a tech startup – and I realised that I was the right person to put this into action.”

Alice began building the site in 2018, launched in 2019, and, last year, quit her job to join Entrepreneur First. With our programme, she was able to focus on the company full time, receive a pre-seed investment in The Lowdown, and accelerate the growth of the platform.

“We now have one of the biggest datasets, and the most comprehensive understanding of women’s lived experiences of contraception, of any company or NGO in the world,” Alice explains.

“We collect user data, then analyse and convert the results into visuals to help users understand the effects of different forms of contraception, We can then provide recommendations on which contraception could be right for them.”

Alice notes that a big part of The Lowdown’s strength comes from the variety of support it can offer users.

“Some women like reading the experiences and gaining more of an emotive understanding, some people really like looking at the graphs and the data – we cater for both.

Overall, the response we’ve had from users is that they’re very excited, and very relieved that there’s somewhere to find actionable data. They’re also relieved to know they’re not alone, and not the only ones feeling what they’re feeling.”

Reviews from The Lowdown
Reviews from The Lowdown
“We’ve entered a new conversation.”

Among this positive feedback, another point often comes up: ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’

“It does seem like such an obvious thing”, says Alice. “We review everything these days. Why wouldn’t we review our contraception?

I think women have only more recently started to really critically assess their contraception. Our mothers’ generation were just so excited to have it in the sixties – in its initial phase it was amazing, and revolutionary for women. 

But we’ve been through that ‘hype’ phase, and are now entering one of disillusionment where we’re noticing its effects on our bodies. We’ve entered a new conversation around side effects, and whether women should have to put up with this. And The Lowdown is helping to spur on that conversation – it feels like the right time for us to exist.”

The platform is now considering ways to extend their service, and ensure users get the best possible experience from their contraceptive healthcare.

“We already have an ‘Ask a Doctor’ service, where you can speak to a GP who specializes in contraception. That’s got an amazing response; 90% of people who book say they’re very satisfied, and love the fact that they’ve got 20 minutes with an absolute expert to really talk and take time over their decision.

We’re now working to launch our prescription service, so that women can get their contraception through us. We can then deliver it to their door. 

They don’t have to wait for doctors’ appointments or make decisions without the data in front of them – we can look after them end-to-end.”

Reviews from The Lowdown
Reviews from The Lowdown

Alice is confident in the positive impact that The Lowdown can have, and is already having, in contraceptive healthcare. However, she believes there needs to be more action from policy makers and pharmaceutical companies.

“I’d like to see more advancements in the way we regulate contraceptive care to support women to make their own decisions – for instance, we’re seeing movements to make the progestogen only pill available over the counter. This is really important to make sure women can access contraception as easily as other medication.

The other thing is that even when choosing your contraception with The Lowdown, you’re often picking the best of a bad bunch. There’s a perception that we’ve got enough methods – the pill works, so we’re fine. 

Male and female contraceptive developments are something I’m very passionate about the more options we have, the more choice, and the more chance that someone will be able to find a method that works for them.”

“You can lead a mission driven company, but also be really ambitious.”

Alice is clear that she wants her company to have a positive impact – but she’s also firm in her conviction that what she works on, and how it’s perceived by others, shouldn’t affect anyone’s view of her as a leader. 

“I think there’s a perception that women who lead FemTech companies are doing it for a charitable cause.

You can do that, and I am passionate about helping women, but women can also be competitive. You can lead a mission driven company, but also be really ambitious.

At EF they ask you to focus on your edge – your competitive advantage that makes you the best person to build your company. Having built a data set of thousands of women’s experiences, spent three years working on the problem, and experienced it first hand, I think I am one of the best people in the world to solve this problem. But I don’t get the same types of comments about my strengths, as a male CEO who’s an expert in cryptocurrency would. 

I’m passionate about what I’m working on and I want to see positive change. But I’m not just addressing women’s health as a charitable act – I’m a good investment.”

You can find out more about The Lowdown at theldown.com

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