Created by a Belarusian team, the Flo electronic service has gained an audience of 10 million and holds a secure place in the highest rankings in the United States and other countries. The app, which looks like a simple women’s calendar, employs artificial intelligence technologies and affects many aspects of a woman’s health. The app was developed in Minsk by the company IDEAnomix Digital.
The mobile app Flo (iOS, Android) builds a forecast of the menstrual cycle based on data from previous cycles and symptoms that a woman records in the app. A few days before “critical” days, the user receives a notification that a new cycle will be starting soon. But that’s not all. Flo is a full-fledged platform that monitors a woman’s health and gives her personalized recommendations, accurate forecasts and the opportunity to talk to experts and other users anonymously within the app.
«THE MENSTRUAL TEAM»
IDEAnomix Digital started working on Flo in the summer of 2015. The idea belonged to the well-known Belarusian IT entrepreneur Yuri Gurski, who had been involved in the projects Viaden Media, sport.com, MAPS.ME and Masquerade. The current manager of the company is Yuri’s brother, Dmitri Gurski. He says that it all began with a market analysis.
“Yuri found that there were considerably fewer major players in this segment than, say, in the field of fitness apps,” says Dmitri. «This is especially true if we are talking about the quality of software products. There has been an ocean of all sorts of ‘pink calendars.’ We call them that because they were developed based on a very superficial understanding of a woman’s needs. Their icons and interface are packed with pink flowers, ruffles, kittens, and panties. That’s all very nice, but that’s not the main thing atall.” There are currently 30 people working on Flo, and all of them are in Minsk. The team includes developers, medics, content specialists and a user support team. “There have been occasions when male IT specialists have smirked after finding out what we do. Some of them even called us ‘the menstrual team’. But that does not embarrass us. We know that what we do is important,” Dmitry says.
10 MILLION USERS
The number of monthly service users has reached 10 million. This is comparable to the entire population of Belarus. About a third of the service audience lives in the US and Canada. The app constantly ranks close to the top in its category in multiple countries. There is only one competing product that has a larger monthly active audience, and that’s just because it entered the market six years earlier than Flo. In the US, though, Flo ranks Number One in terms of active audience. In addition, the Belarusian product is constantly at or near the top in the “Health and Fitness” category in the US (between third and fifth place). Overall, the app from Minsk is in the top five of the “Health and Fitness” category in more than 80 countries. “Flo is based on a period tracker (menstruation calendar). Women use it to make sure they don’t lose track of their next period,” Dmitry says. “But that is only part of the service. Flo has something that we call health insights — the app sees what is happening to a woman at a given moment and gives her targeted tips in the background.” Of course, a woman installs the app primarily to use the tracker and not because of those tips. But those kinds of recommendations are extremely important for keeping her healthy in the long run. When a woman is more aware of exactly what is happening to her body, that helps her make correct and timely decisions.
INVESTMENTS WORTH MILLIONS AND SUPPORT FROM CELEBRITIES
The project is currently being developed with investor money. On August 11, it became known that Flo had attracted another 5 million dollars from the international venture capital fund Flint Capital, which had previously invested in the project together with the Haxus Venture fund. Among the private investors is Natalia Vodianova, supermodel, social activist, and mother of many children. She also joined the Board of Directors. “Whatever is offered for money must be of added benefit to the customer,” says Dmitri Gurski about the monetization of the app. «I think a good example of this are paid DNA tests, which help make tips much more personalized and are an additional service. The app itself will always be free, and we will never involve advertisers, to ensure the maximum protection of user data.”
«THERE ARE MORE THAN 150 CONFIRMED SYMPTOMS OF PMS»
When creating the content part of the app, the Belarusian company did not confine itself to an in-depth study of medical literature. The tests offered to users are developed by certified gynecologists. “There are more than 150 scientifically confirmed symptoms of premenstrual syndrome,” says Yekaterina Turbina, head of content and science at Flo. “They start to show about a week before a period and peak a few days before the start of a new cycle. This set of symptoms is individual for every woman, but we at Flo have made it possible to monitor the most common ones. These are mood swings, increased appetite, different kinds of pain (in the chest, stomach and back, and headaches), changes in the oiliness of the skin and rashes, increased fatigue, insomnia, and digestive problems.” “Women are not very educated in this matter,” Dmitri says. “That’s what we can see from the statistics of how our users pass the tests. Unfortunately, women know almost nothing about prophylaxis, preventive medicine or about what the symptoms mean.”
ARTIFICIIAL INTElLIGENCE FOR COMPLEX PREDICTIONS
The application has a built-in artificial intelligence system, which addresses one of the most significant tasks – forecasting irregular cycles. “Regular statistical methods are not applicable to such cycles,” Yekaterina says. “The next cycle has nothing to do with the history of previous ones. Each cycle is linked to certain hormonal changes and associated signals that a woman’s body generates. The challenge is that there are a lot of those signals, and they are different for each woman. However, the neural network – artificial intelligence – manages it. “According to our data, the accuracy of the forecasts of irregular cycles increased by 60 percent after this algorithm was integrated, which means an error reduction from approximately six to two days. However, that’s only the beginning of the use of artificial intelligence. After analyzing the symptoms, the app may advise the woman to pay special attention to her condition, take a test or see a doctor. It does not give an exact diagnosis – it only gives recommendations. “For example, if a woman’s period is several days late, she will receive a notification stating that pregnancy may be the cause and that perhaps she should take a test to confirm or reject this assumption,” Yekaterina says. “There are insidious diseases such as endometriosis, which manifests itself in a cycle. Endometrial cells expand, begin to reproduce themselves closer to a period. After the period, they all disappear, and the symptoms of the disease become unnoticeable again. The woman may be thinking that something else is causing her to feel unwell, and that can last for years. The virtual assistant will help her better understand the problem and advise her to seek medical advice. The virtual assistant is being tested. This is how it will look. “People are used to thinking that symptoms, including pain, that are produced by a serious illness are supposed to be clear, strong and specific. However, a number of conditions start with symptoms that are barely noticeable. Our app teaches women to pay attention to the kinds of signals that their bodies generate. For example, hormones can be used to stop endometriosis at an early stage, but the only thing that can help it at a late stage is surgical intervention. Why allow a problem to develop if it can be detected in time?”
IT AT THE SERVICE OF SOCIETY
Although Flo cannot substitute for the doctor, medics will have less work to do in the future owing to the development of technologies similar to the Belarusian app. There is a general shortage of good doctors, but there are areas where there are no doctors at all. IT systems effectively provide people with access to expertise in any part of the world. It is enough to teach a person to properly identify symptoms in order to get the right diagnosis with the help of artificial intelligence. The Belarusian programmers have set themselves the goal of expanding the number of users of their Flo application to 100 million. One hopes they will be successful because this is exactly the type of a case where the interests of a business coincide with the interests of society, where concern about a woman’s health is key to the survival of the human race.
BY ANNA YERMACHENOK
PHOTOS: DMITRY BRUSHKO