Transforming Women’s Health

Say goodbye to stationary health! Maxie Matthiessen, the co-founder of Ruby Cup, started Femna. The female health telemedicine platform accommodates women’s needs through a holistic approach. She talks about how digital tools enable women to get more medical attention than the usual ‘drop-in drop-out’ doctor visits 

Transforming Women’s Health

What’s the background of your company? What is Femna about?

At my previous business, the Ruby Cup, we would receive thousands of questions every day about female health. Women would enquire about what to do against heavy periods, cramps, PMS, menopause. I was wondering: “Why don’t they ask the gynecologist or endocrinologist?”. And, of course, Dr. Google doesn’t give them any right answers. That made me think a lot about female health education. That was the reason why I launched Femna and what gave me the spark to the idea of the company. In a nutshell: Femna is a telemedicine platform only for women. No matter what problem you have, whether it is menstrual cramps, menopausal problems, acne, anything related to hormones – you can come to us. We do home tests that are followed by online consultation. We send out the tests, which are based on saliva, a patient spits into a small container, sends back the sample to our laboratory and, based on the results, we carry out the online appointment. And based on the hormone levels we can offer a very valid advice on what to do. I think that's what’s unique about Femna – a very holistic approach. We try to work together with naturopaths and doctors hand in hand to offer women the best possible health experience they can get. We also offer education consultations. Because doctors don’t have time to listen to them and that's a big issue. And our approach is also convenient for those who don’t always have time to go to a doctor, for example working moms.

It's really interesting what you said about education. Do you offer purely educational consultations or courses?

Yes, we do that, women can book 20 or 40 minutes sessions. We also offer courses for free on our Instagram account, where we have online health consultation once a week, touching on different topics. Our consultants and health experts really take time to listen. Because often the problems are strongly connected to the psyche. If you go through an extremely stressful period then cortisol, which is the stress hormone, definitely impacts your estrogen, which impacts the hormonal system and that might cause difficulties. Therefore looking at women holistically, so at psyche and body together, that's what draws women to Femna. And that's also where I see a huge gap in old societies like Germany, where you would assume that the health system is one of the best in the world. But it's not. On average, women spend seven minutes at the gynecologist and doctors are not well paid for just talking to their patients. And that's where we see a huge demand for the educational aspect. In Sweden, compared to Germany, women spend 22 minutes at the doctor. They have the time to talk, get their questions answered.

Looking at women holistically, at psyche and body together, that's what draws women to Femna

Do you think that there's still stigma around this topic, are there are still certain taboos or is the situation changing now?

I think it's very private, but I do think that it’s opening up now, especially everything related to periods is becoming more and more mainstream. The topic that is extremely taboo, which we will focus on next year, is the STI. No one really wants to talk about it, but we do! We will offer online tests, patients can test themselves through urine and send the sample to our laboratory. If you're positive, you can directly speak to FEMNA experts and they will send you the prescription to the pharmacy that is located near you, or you can even have it sent to your home. There is a saying "break the bloody taboo”, which was all about periods and I think that so much work has been done. It’s not yet normal to talk about it, but it has definitely improved and people are not so much ashamed anymore. And I think that it's interesting that this was not something the state was initiating, but start-ups, female run businesses were the ones fighting for period equality. I think the next hot topic is menopause. And, of course STI – everything related to sex is a little bit taboo. But it will be interesting to see how we can break it next year!

This business model is definitely a new face of health sector. What would you say are the main benefits of it over going to a traditional gynecologist?

I think this holistic approach is really beneficial, because you can talk to a doctor, but you can also talk to a naturopath. Also, you can get proper diagnosis from the comfort of your home, so women don't have to leave in order to talk to someone. The whole thing is called a ‘home care sector’ and it’s gaining huge popularity now, so there’s definitely demand. Also, health is the last sector that has been very offline based, at least in Germany. We shop everything online, but health is very stationary and that sometimes conflicts with the reality of the lifestyle of many women. We are not so strongly connected to where we were born anymore, people move more often and that creates this ‘doctor hopping’ and always having to find a new one. So that's where technology helps. The health care is now slowly gaining entry into the online world. And Femna is one of the firsts to do that.

On average, women spend seven minutes at the gynacologist. In Sweden, compared to Germany, women spend 22 minutes

Is your company just women-run business? How is it different to work in a women-dominated environment?

We have two men now working at Femna. I highly appreciate that, because I do believe in mixed teams and the benefits of diversity. And I found it very courageous that the two men went into a female dominated company, because usually it's more likely for a woman to go into a male dominated business. But I think it's great to also have male perspective. In regards to working with women – we are very respectful towards each other and also look at what women need in their careers. We live by the rule of helping women internally within the company. Also, our doctors and experts are female and I think that makes our patients feel better. I personally feel more safe and comfortable if I have a female gynecologist. If you talk about your hormones, you’d assume that a female doctor can understand it better.

Are you planning to expand the company?

It’s very German-centered at the moment. Our labs are based in Germany, so if you send a test, it can only last a week in the mail. Therefore we cannot offer liability that it will come in time to our lab in Germany if the customer is in, for example, Spain. So we’ve had to decline a request from customers based in other countries. That's why we only offer German consultations and we only ship within Germany. But we are going to open up to STI and that's going to be exciting. When I lived in Denmark, if you wanted to get tested you had to enter huge hospital and there were 50 people waiting for the results. You knew that everyone waiting there was being tested for the STI. Everyone was looking down, being ashamed and it was just an uncomfortable situation. And now we will be able to avoid it.

You founded the company four years ago. What has changed since you started it?

Femna went through a business pivot. From my experience, probably 80 percent of start-ups go through that phase. At Femna we started out by being a female health platform, offering different products and then quickly ran into the problem of health claims in Germany. We were offering different teas, cramp relieving herb teas for menstruation. But that was a complete failure of our business model at the time. That made us think, because we still received so many questions from women. So we started looking into the educational side. We then figured the best way to actually help women with their issues is to start with a proper diagnosis. And yes, you can do diagnosis from the comfort of your home. So let's combine those two. And I think that's what's so innovative about Femna, is that it actually combines testing and consultations.



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