In 2014, Lea von Bidder co-founded Ava with the goal of making it simpler for women to track their fertility window while trying to become pregnant. Ava did just that in 2016, releasing their wrist-worn fertility tracker – a device that, in combination with an app, calculates and tracks levels of hormones like estradiol to tell women exactly when their fertility window is open, even for some women who have irregular cycles. The Ava tracker only needs to be worn to bed at night, making it a non-invasive, non-intrusive solution to fertility tracking.
Now, less than two years after the launch of the tracker, Lea is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in healthcare. I sat down with Lea to talk about that honor, Ava babies, and the differences between the startup cultures in San Francisco and her native Switzerland. Here’s our chat, which has been edited for length and clarity.
First of all, congratulations on making the Forbes 30 under 30 list for healthcare. What did that mean to you?
I was really excited about it, because making that list on healthcare is really important to us. It was always our vision to contribute to the healthcare space. That was the first thing that we heard from the healthcare space recognizing us, so that’s been really great. And I think on a personal level, I am from Switzerland originally — Forbes 30 Under 30 was always something far away. I think especially if you’re not from the Bay Area and you haven’t been in this environment for a really long time, it’s a very special recognition, so I was super happy about it. I wish that my co-founders would also be on the list.
What is it about healthcare specifically that made you feel good about that recognition, rather than making it on the consumer tech list?
I’m personally extremely excited about healthcare. I think we have a healthcare product and I think we have a medical device, but we’re selling directly to consumers. Digital health companies are at this very interesting edge right now between healthcare and consumer tech, and if I could choose in which side I would want to fall, I would want to fall on the healthcare side. We have so many ideas about healthcare in particular and what we want to contribute, so it was just a great recognition to have.
Since the beginning, Ava has conducted peer-reviewed research, and has been involved in a study published in Scientific Reports. Going into the Ava project, was that kind of research something you were focused on from the beginning?
Yeah, that was always at the core of what we wanted to do. That’s how Ava even existed, it’s not that we just randomly stumbled over this technology. We started with the first clinical trial, where we looked at our assumptions. Ava wouldn’t exist without the clinical research that we did. Since then, we’ve made clinical research and data science the core of our company, and we want to keep innovating in that space.
In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, there’s always this pressure to move very fast. Has there been any tension between the need to do clinical research, which can be very slow, and the need to move fast as a startup?
That’s a really good question. I think there hasn’t been tension within the company. We’ve always known that if we want to do this right, it’s going to take some time. I think there’s sometimes a little bit of tension with external parties. Obviously when you’re in San Francisco people expect you to be really fast, and sometimes you need to talk to the right audiences about products like ours, which might take a little bit more time. It took us about one and a half years from when we started the company to the moment we came on the market. If you talk to a typical software investor, they would say ‘Oh, that’s forever,’ and if you talk to a really hardcore medical investor, they might say ‘Wow, only one and a half years?”
You have to choose your audience, and the interesting thing with digital health is that it’s so new that no one really has a framework. There’s no clear idea of how long it should take. Some investors think the fact that we already have revenues is amazing, and some think ‘Oh, but you don’t have that much.’