COVID-19 Is Changing How Women Think About Their Fertility
Here's how one startup is helping them navigate critical decisions around fertility, careers and money.
Entrepreneur’s July 2020 cover featured not one or two people but a whopping 137. Why did we put 137 people on the cover? Read all about it in Jason Feifer’s editor’s note. Afton Vechery and Carly Leahy, founders of Modern Fertility, were two of those people. Their company’s best-known product is an at-home fertility test that evaluates a woman’s hormone levels based on her birth control and gives her doctor-reviewed information about ovarian reserve, egg freezing, IVF and menopause based on her results. It also sells Modern Fertility-branded pregnancy and ovulation tests and offers one-to-one consultations with fertility nurses and so-called “egginars” for women to ask their most pressing fertility-related questions.
After the issue came out, we caught up with the pair to discuss how the pandemic and economic downturn are impacting peoples’ plans to have children and the intersection of money and fertility.
Q: Did you notice an uptick in interest in your business in March? What did you initially attribute that to?
Afton: We saw an initial dip in our business. In these first few weeks, it seemed that people didn’t have an appetite to buy things online, aside from food and household essentials. In April, we regained some normalcy (at least, in terms of our business) and went on to have some of our strongest days and weeks yet for our core offering.
Now we think we’re seeing an acceleration of many of the trends that were driving Modern Fertility all along. People want to be more intentional about family planning and have a desire to control the areas where they have some agency, while the temporary closures of fertility clinics have exposed the vulnerabilities of the traditional, reactive approach to fertility. All of these trends are helping put fertility conversations out in the open — and intention and conversations alone are central to Modern Fertility.
Has it changed the way you view your company's growth trajectory?
Carly: We’re extremely fortunate to have a model that supports women from home. While we could have certainly never predicted this, we always believed that fertility information and care should be accessible to her wherever she is. We’re continuing to roll out new tests and digital tools that are accessible for everyone, from anywhere.
Afton: With uncertainty about the future, we reconfigured some of yearly goals to fit this new reality. Our primary priority is the health of our employees and making sure they feel supported while we focus on staying strong as a business during these times and optimizing for the long term. Growing sustainably was also a key, top-line goal for Modern Fertility, but now more than ever, we are prudent with our investments and staying nimble.
I assume you've always collected data about your customers. What made you want to start sharing that data?
Carly: Research has always been core to Modern Fertility. As a company committed to making personalized fertility information more accessible, we’re also committed to continuing to improve the quality of that information with new research that pushes the industry forward. Every year, we publish a flagship research report, the Modern State of Fertility, which examines specific cultural and societal elements of fertility. We also ask customers if they’d like to opt in and consent to have their results anonymized and used in clinical research by our team that helps uncover new nuances in reproductive medicine to ultimately build a better predictor of future fertility.
For our annual Modern State of Fertility research report this year, we partnered with SoFi very early in 2020 to run a survey that explored the ways that fertility, money and careers are interlinked. Come early March, we had just wrapped up the survey analysis and COVID-19 changed the world in ways none of us could have expected. We knew we had to go back out to the survey participants and ask them how their attitudes may have changed since COVID-19, particularly given how inextricably linked the pandemic is with fertility, money and careers. It was a big lift for our team to reorient parts of the project to focus on COVID-19, but we knew it was important, necessary work. As a result, we were able to produce some of the industry’s first data points on how COVID-19 was impacting fertility decisions, providing critical macro-level info about this new reality. It’s been very rewarding to see the research continue to show up in industry articles and commentary as a foundation for explaining how things are changing.
How has sharing this impacted your business? How do you think it will impact it in the future?
Afton: We’ve always been deeply committed to research, but the timeliness and gravity of this report seemed to really establish Modern Fertility as a resource for pressing, data-driven analysis. We’ve continued to get inquiries from industry professionals and experts asking for our commentary on these trends and are already actively exploring new concepts and partners for our next Modern State of Fertility report.
When we publish our Modern State of Fertility reports, we try to include as many helpful resources as possible related to the issue we explore, whether they come from Modern Fertility or not. For this report on fertility, money, careers and COVID-19, we worked with SoFi to create comprehensive guides on navigating fertility amid a downturn, based on the expert advice of career counselors and financial advisors. We also offered custom cuts of the research organized by careers path, so people can see how trends vary specific to their industry. These opportunities for deeper engagement with our research helped us strengthen our relationship with our existing customers and grow to new audiences.
What advice would you have for other businesses who are looking to study and release data around their customers' behavior?
Carly: Think deeply about what your customers care about and what will actually be useful to them. What do they want to learn? What are they wondering but maybe don’t feel supported to ask? What resources do they wish they had? When you start with utility and work backward, your work will be more relevant and tangible.
We’re always asking ourselves what we can “make” for her to use vs. what we can “say”. We want to bust myths, fill information gaps and provide answers to nebulous areas where women are already curious and above all, be useful.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned in the past four months?
Afton: Assume that these world-changing, hard problems will keep coming, keep throwing off everything you had planned, and keep pushing you to adapt. When you default to operating as if things could be turned upside down, teams are a lot more collaborative, nimble and flexible. That’s key in these crazy times.
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