Two Years of Elvie Trainer: Interview with CEO and co-founder, Tania Boler
Tania has been pioneering conversations around taboo health topics, from HIV to maternal health and sexual education, for most of her career. We asked her what the last two years of lifting the lid on pelvic floor health and normalizing the conversation around these unchartered waters (no pun intended) have meant to her. She even shares a little sneak peak of what the next two years could bring…
To start, can you share the story behind Elvie Trainer?
Like lots of women, I found that becoming a mother was a real shock to the system and I hadn’t realized how much change your body goes through.
My husband is French and I discovered that it’s normal for French women to attend pelvic floor rehabilitation classes after birth to help their bodies re-strengthen. Nothing like this existed in other countries, which is crazy when one in three women experience pelvic floor problems, like lower back pain, bladder control issues and organ prolapse.
As I researched and talked to experts, I realized that there hadn't been much innovation at all. Giving women real-time biofeedback is shown to be the most reliable way to encourage commitment and improve outcomes of pelvic floor muscle training, but this technology existed almost exclusively in hospitals.
The idea with Elvie Trainer was to use a connected tech device to create a discreet yet fun and simple way to do your pelvic floor exercises at home... or anywhere.
What gave you the courage to finally commit to creating Elvie’s first product? Did you feel ready?
My father was a serial entrepreneur so I grew up with a real can-do attitude. Taking the entrepreneurial leap is daunting and although I am a natural risk taker, it is important to also understand and be prepared for failure. I was at a great place in my career and had a supportive network around me so that made it easier. However, for a long time, it all felt like a half-baked idea in my head. It was only when I won a government innovation competition for £100,000 that I realized it might actually work!
How did it feel when you saw Elvie Trainer as a finished product for the first time?
I can’t believe it has been two years since we launched it. I am so immensely proud of the team and everything we have achieved. Jon O’Toole and Ben Levy led the product development and they not only brought to life the original idea, they created a product and experience that far surpassed my ambitions.
What is the most common feedback that you hear from Elvie Trainer users?
We hear back every day from women who say that Elvie Trainer has helped them regain bladder control, recover from pregnancy and get on with life without having to worry about accidental leakage. Pelvic floor strength is very intimate and women often get very emotional when they discover a solution to a problem that may have bothered them for years.
Some of my favourite feedback is about the less obvious results, like feeling in touch with your body in an entirely new way. It’s surprising how many women have completely neglected their relationship with their bodies and feel so much more confident when they take better care of themselves.
What did the Elvie team look like in the early days?
We’ve always kept the team quite small and worked with a lot of freelancers. We’re a pretty mixed bunch - lots of Europeans, women, men... Our core values are around passion and perseverance so we’re a very committed group of people… but we also like to have a laugh together!
What has been the biggest challenge since you started developing Elvie Trainer?
Years of research and development went into Elvie Trainer before we were able to actually launch a finished product. It was a big moment to launch it to such a glowing reception but there were lots of hoops to jump through before that. Elvie Trainer went from idea to reality in two years, which is actually relatively quick for hardware - you have to be very patient!
What do you wish you had known before starting Elvie?
I had no experience in tech before starting Elvie. This has probably been good because we focus on solving real problems, not just innovating for the sake of it, but it’s also been a huge learning curve for me… working in tech, running a business, hardware development cycles, securing funding. If I’d known about everything involved I might not have started!
What was the best piece of advice someone gave you in the early days of Elvie?
Hiring the right team was tricky early on. My business partner, Alex Asseily, encouraged me to hire the very best engineers from the start and was really helpful when it came to choosing my design team.
What do you love most about your work at Elvie?
I get to work with a team of inspiring people who are passionate about what they do. It’s cheesy but everyone at Elvie really has drunk the Kool-aid!
Do you have any role models or women in the industry that you look up to?
Cindy Gallop, for her candid speech and her relentlessness in her ambition to change the world – "be proud of helping women on their overall wellness journey, including sexual wellness."
If you hadn’t founded Elvie, what would you be doing instead?
I loved my last role at Marie Stopes International where I was Director of Evidence, Strategy and Innovation. I would probably still be there - I always had aspirations to become CEO one day!
What one piece of health advice would you give to all women?
Womanhood is to be celebrated, not something to be embarrassed about.
How have you seen the conversation around tech and women’s health shift over the last two years?
The femtech industry has grown hugely since we first started working on Elvie’s kegel trainer in 2013. Women deserve better technology and they are demanding it, which is what we’ve been seeing with Elvie Trainer. At the start there were naysayers that didn’t think women would talk openly about the pelvic floor and bladder control but now we have celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow recommending us and we’ve been featured in glossy magazines, from Vogue to Marie Claire.
This is an exciting time for women’s health tech because of the convergence of three trends – we are all talking more openly about our bodies; internet and innovations in sensor technology means real-time body monitoring is now possible; and finally, our perceptions of health and wellness have dramatically changed from one of doctor-patient to individuals taking control for themselves.
With Elvie and some of the other women’s health startups, we’re forcing the investor community to take notice. It feels increasingly inevitable that there will be the first global women’s consumer tech brand emerging by the end of the decade. It just needs to happen. It is crazy that it hasn’t already. Until recently, consumer tech often just meant making a pink accessory or turning something into jewellery. Now there is the realization that women appreciate and want the best technology available.
And finally, what can you tell us about Elvie’s future and the next product?
I’m really excited about launching our next product, a connected lifestyle product specifically for mums, in 2018. It’s coming around quite quickly now and I can’t wait to finally share it with everyone. We plan to have four products on the market by 2020 and, ultimately, the vision is to be the global hub for connected health and lifestyle products for women.
If you're new to Elvie Trainer you can learn more about our award-winning pelvic floor trainer here. If you're already part of the Elvie community, thank you for being part of our journey over the past couple of years - we'd love for you to celebrate with us on Facebook or Instagram with #elviebday!