Amber Vodegel and John Miles launched their flagship app, Pregnancy+ after going though parenthood themselves. Confused by the lack of information and community support for expecting parents, particularly app-savvy millennials, the pair founded the company, Health & Parenting in 2012, bootstrapping the business from day one. We speak to Vodegel and Miles on their start-up journey and growing Pregnancy+ to its position as the number one parenting app in the App Store today.
What does your business do?
Health & Parenting develops independent healthcare and family-related apps to guide parents through pregnancy and early parenthood. We first started with Pregnancy+. The app is for the entire duration of the pregnancy, and is recommended by midwives and paediatricians. Since our launch, we’ve had more than 10 million downloads worldwide, and a reach of 44 per cent of all expecting mothers in the UK and 21 per cent in the US. We’ve also launched Baby+, a baby’s first year tracker and diary, and Baby Names Genius, the baby-naming app that uses artificial intelligence to help parents pick the best names. All of the content developed for our apps are in partnership with a team of healthcare professionals.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Miles: I was working at EA Games and Amber was working in digital marketing. She was pregnant for the first time, and was looking for apps out there, and there were none. That’s when she saw an opportunity out there to develop a pregnancy app. We started it initially as a hobby in 2012, and it grew from there. Five years later, here we are. We became the number one pregnancy app in the App Store and Google Play.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Miles: We weren’t under pressure to develop something quickly. It’s been rebuilt from the ground up a few times, but we’ve stayed true to the quality. Most of our growth has been organic; people find us by looking for the app. A lot of the growth is through word-of-mouth.
Vodegel: The great thing about apps is you can launch it into the stores and it’s instantly worldwide. We benefitted by being out there early on, when there were fewer apps in store.
Miles: It’s an evergreen app that is relevant for pregnant women. From a games industry point of view, you launch a game and spend a lot of time acquiring users. Over a period of time, users start to drop off. But we’ve seen growth of the app steadily over the years. We’ve expanded into seven languages, and we aim to launch in more languages this year.
For a long time we were incredibly lean, very much following the outsourcing model. We have key developers in UK, Malaysia, India, and content contributors in North America and Europe. Our customer service team represents every relevant language in the markets we’ve localised into, and they are based in their native countries.
Vodegel: We’ve proactively been bringing in people who are enthusiastic about the product, and a higher proportion of them are mums working part time from home. The thing is, you can have a high-flying job and be doing incredibly well, but as soon as you have children, you have to juggle everything, and it’s hard. This is why so many women don’t want to return to their old nine-to-five lives. We’ve been able to tap into their talent and offer them what they want: flexibility. We now have a team of 35 people, which we’ve built through our network of contacts.
How did you raise funding, and why?
Miles: It’s been bootstrapped to date. We’ve just reinvested as we’ve gone along, and that has served us very well. We’ve got aggressive plans for the coming year, so we might potentially look for investment as an addition, but it all depends on how quickly we reach our goals.
The good thing is we haven’t had to spend a huge amount on promotional advertising. Once you start to rank well, get good reviews and good download numbers, it becomes a rolling ball where you only need to periodically put money in for marketing.
Describe your business model in brief.
Vodegel: Our users download the app for free. They just need to put in their name and due date, and the app customises itself to them, providing daily content based on the point in pregnancy. There’s a paywall of a one-time payment from week 15 to unlock content for the next trimester. But we’ve consciously kept that low. For £2.99, the same price of a pregnancy magazine, users can access customised content to guide them through the nine-month journey.
We felt like it’s fair to only introduce the paywall later on, because if there’s a risk of miscarrying, it’s generally in the first trimester. It’s only fair that users try out the app and see if they like it. And if their pregnancy continues, they can choose to continue using it.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
Miles: Being featured in the store was our first big milestone. Developing a relationship with Google and Apple was great, and being able to talk to them about our updates was definitely a highlight. The point when we reached a million downloads was amazing, too.
Vodegel: Also, being number one in the UK and Germany when you search for ‘pregnancy’ in store was amazing. When we launched in Brazil and Russia, it took about a year to get to that number one spot. It was a big challenge to localise content in Brazil and Russia, but we did it.
Of course in Brazil, we had to be sensitive considering the issues around the Zika virus. We launched quite a while before Zika became widespread, but we made sure our users were informed, and provided unbiased content.
Miles: We had to be careful not overdramatise it either. The most important thing for any pregnant woman is that she liaise with her healthcare provider, so we steer clear of providing specifics, and keep it general. You can read scary things online which can cause a lot of undue stress. We believe it’s important to enjoy the journey.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Vodegel: Keep things simple. The industry changes very fast, and every day you get emails presenting great opportunities, but you need to focus on the ones that will work well for you. Keep it clear so that you can adapt to change.
Miles: Crucially, stay up to date to what the tech is doing. We go to the worldwide Apple developer conference and other big conferences where people share new ideas and processes. It’s important to filter that content and choose what’s relevant to your market, and make sure that your content is of the best quality.
Do everything you can to keep the app bug-free. We spend a lot of effort testing our app before we release any updates. It’s important to remember that you spend a lot of time and energy building the app, but all of that isn’t worth anything if you don’t do the best you can to get the best reviews, engagement levels and downloads, which all makes it easier for people to find your app organically.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
The app world changes so rapidly! Our main goal is to try and become the world’s trusted pregnancy and parenting club. We want to be the place people go to find information, be social.
The key is to try and find the right strategic partner to benefit both sides.
There’s a lot of really good things coming in the next few years, so it’ll be important to launch it in the right time. There’s a danger in technology. You can get really excited about something and launch too early. Our goal is to always be aware of these developments, and identifying possibilities, but see if it makes sense to us and our users.