Ovuline Takes Geeky Approach to Pregnancy Tracking with Ovia App

Xconomy Boston — 

For a lot of people who get pregnant, the freak-out-and-gather-information phase still looks a lot like it did decades ago: stockpiling thousands of pages of advice books, and trying to burn through them all without gagging on all the conflicting pointers.

It’s not a terribly efficient way to gather information. But anyone who’s tried to simply collect all of their medical records in one place can tell you that the healthcare industry isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of the Web age.

Entrepreneurs have noticed. The medical category in the iOS app store, for example, is chock full of paid and free pregnancy and fertility apps, all racing to build a better way of helping women navigate the most important time in their lives.

One of those startups—Cambridge, MA-based TechStars graduate Ovuline—is taking a big leap forward this week with the debut of its new pregnancy-tracking app, Ovia.

Ovia is the second app from Ovuline, which started out with a fertility-tracking app released last year. That product attracted about 150,000 users, who have given it great reviews and kept it ranked in the top 10 of free medical apps.

And, as you might expect, that’s led to some ready-made customer demand for the new pregnancy app.

“We have a list of tens of thousands of women who we’ve gotten pregnant, who have said `Yeah, please help me track my pregnancy,’” CEO Paris Wallace says. “And we’ve said, `We’re working on it!’”

Ovia is, as Wallace says, “jam-packed” with features that a mom-to-be might want at her disposal.

Ovia is part pregnancy journal, with details on what size the developing baby might be at each stage and the ability to upload pictures of a growing belly. It’s also a medical guidebook, with a huge list of FDA recommendations for medications and a compendium of common pregnancy symptoms. It even connects to a galaxy of “quantified self” devices, like wifi-enabled scales and blood-pressure cuffs, to help measure physical health.

But the heart of Ovia—just like Ovuline’s fertility tracker—is its ability to gather, synthesize, and analyze data contributed by its users. Instead of just offering a blunt-force lookup tool that tells women what to do about higher blood pressure or a weird rash that may have cropped up, Ovia responds automatically to the information that expectant moms are adding to the mix.

So, if a woman reports that she’s looking pale and feeling fatigued, Ovia will immediately ping her back with an alert—those symptoms could be indicators of anemia, and it’s time to check in with the doctor. If she reports something less serious, like an itchy stomach, Ovia will kick back an article about the symptom and how to treat it.

Ovia also gives pregnant women a sense of how their experience relates to that of other moms, indicating how many other women at a similar stage in pregnancy might have reported a similar mood, for example.

“The fundamental question people are trying to answer is, `Is this normal? Am I normal?’” Wallace says.

Ovuline got its start when Wallace’s co-founder, computer scientist Alex Baron, went the ultra geeky route when he and his wife were trying to conceive.

“The joke there is, he was starting his family and, as opposed to doing what any normal person would do—which is have sex—he started writing algorithms to predict ovulation,” Wallace says with a laugh.

It worked, by the way, and Ovuline was born. Investors have staked the company with about $2.75 million so far to help get Ovia, its marquee product, into the market.

It’s no mistake that Ovuline took its time building a feature-packed pregnancy app—the market for women wanting to track a pregnancy is much larger than those seeking a fertility app, just for the simple fact that many pregnancies aren’t planned, and many more are the result of less-intensive “see what happens” efforts to have a baby.

“We think there’s about 1 million people in the United States every year who are trying to get pregnant, and there’s 4 million pregnancies,” Wallace says. “And we know the vast majority of those people are signing up for pregnancy trackers.”

Ovia is free to users, so it can get the widest possible distribution. Ovuline makes money by collecting lead-generation fees for service providers who are contacted by its users, but the startup goes out of its way to make sure personal data and e-mail addresses aren’t shared with or sold to outsiders.

That obviously sounds like a good policy, since the key for Ovia’s success is women trusting it enough to document very personal moments via the app. On the upside, that means the recommendations that Ovia makes should be pretty specifically targeted, especially compared to most Web advertising.

“If you’re based in Boston and you want to go back to work, it turns out that you typically need to sign up for daycare 10 months before,” Wallace says. Since Ovia can calculate that lag time based on the baby’s due date and other personalized information the mom enters into the app, “We know the exact day and say, `Hey would you like to be connected with one of our partners?’”

If the answer is yes, users are sent to a sign-in page where they submit their contact information again, making the process totally opt-in.

Ovuline employs 13 people now, one of the bigger teams working out of the TechStars office in Cambridge. If the young company can duplicate its fertility app success with the Ovia pregnancy tracker, you might be hearing more from them.

“The biggest determinant of where you fall on the app store is how good your product is and how engaged your users are,” Wallace says. “Yeah, there are some ways to goose it, but you need constant success and you need an amazing product.

“If you have that, you actually win, which is exciting.”