We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Audrey Tsang, Chief Product Officer at Clue, a menstrual health app that does a whole lot more than track your period. Based in Berlin, Audrey leads the company’s product, design, data science, product marketing, and growth teams.
Before joining Clue, Audrey served as Product Lead of the Pinterest Home Feed, Director of Mobile Products at HotelTonight, and first Product Manager at Yelp. She also loves building teams as a startup coach and empowering individuals as a leadership coach. She holds a B.S and M.S in Computer Science from Stanford University and an MBA & MEM from Northwestern University.
With 12 million active users from across the globe, Clue is the #1 doctor-recommended period & cycle tracking app. Clue’s mission is for women and people with cycles to make good choices for themselves, and live full lives not in spite of their biology, but in tune with it. Clue was founded in 2012 by a Danish female entrepreneur, Ida Tin, who is convinced that technology will profoundly change the future of family planning.
Needless to say, we were excited to speak to Audrey about her work at Clue…
“There is still so much we don’t know about female health, and we are now at a time where we have access to much larger and richer data sets.”
From the outside looking in, the role of the Chief Product Officer appears to require quite a range of skills, responsibilities, and the balance of multiple stakeholder interests. For you, what exactly is the role of a CPO, and how has your background and international experience prepared you for the position?
The role of the CPO differs from company to company depending on the team, the company, the product, and the stage. At Clue, a company of about 70 people, I manage product management, design, data science & analytics, growth, monetization, and marketing. All of these functions support understanding our user, delivering something they’ll love, and building a sustainable business based on it. I don’t have a formal background in most of the areas I manage, so my role is less to teach or do each of those functions, and more to lead and grow an effective and fulfilled team that collaborates well cross-functionally.
The leadership responsibilities of a CPO include setting the direction (through setting good strategic goals and creating clarity) and ensuring the team is empowered to deliver results (through designing the team structure, defining clear ownership, and growing and developing the team).
My experiences leading product at multiple companies of varying stages has exposed me to best practices and bad practices, which I draw from often. And my experience managing products in Silicon Valley for 15 years instilled an entrepreneurial creativity and drive that takes on a new energy in the diverse and relatively young Berlin tech scene.
What is the biggest challenge you face working in FemTech and with the taboo subject of period and reproductive health?
In all honesty, I still haven’t fully explained to my parents what I do, and I likely never will. My mother was never comfortable talking about these subjects but fortunately, sex ed and biology classes at school made up for that. It inspired me throughout my life to talk about my experiences with female health and contribute to educating others and growing what we know about it.
So while I’m not personally embarrassed to speak about it, it does require some approachable education and the courage to not worry that others will feel uncomfortable — because then they most definitely will feel uncomfortable. This comes up when speaking to potential investors or partners or when interviewing candidates.
“Our users want to understand the patterns in their cycles, and the emotional frame in which they use Clue may be anything from planning what coincides with their next period, to curious whether certain cycle symptoms coincide, to worrying whether something is wrong with their health.”
I imagine that Clue has a very engaged user group. How are Clue’s users different from the other users you’ve built products for? What is some of the more interesting user feedback you’ve received?
Having worked on many more “social” products, Clue is inherently much more private, the topic is more sensitive, and the need to be healthy and understand what’s going on in the body are higher stakes. Our users want to understand the patterns in their cycles, and the emotional frame in which they use Clue may be anything from planning what coincides with their next period, to curious whether certain cycle symptoms coincide, to worrying whether something is wrong with their health.
An illustration of this: In the process of redesigning and improving some of our core tracking functionality, we tested a super efficient and compact design that lets you track symptoms with two taps vs the current swipe, tap, swipe, tap etc. We ended keeping our current interaction model because users found it more “calming”. This came as a surprise for someone used to making efficient conversion funnels and information-dense screens.
Health is personal. What visual and functional cues do you use to assure users their data is private and secure?
Agreed. Health is very personal, and at Clue, we take it very seriously. We don’t show you ads, and we don’t sell your data. Ever.
- The Journey of a Single Data Point
- The Journey of a Single Data Point, Part II: The Underworld of Digital Advertising
- The Journey of a Single Data Point, Part III: About the selling of health data
Unique to Clue is your emphasis on the most up-to-date science and research. What does this collaboration with the science community look like, and how has it transformed your product offering?
We frequently support science research. You can find out more about our current and past collaborations here.
There is still so much we don’t know about female health, and we are now at a time where we have access to much larger and richer data sets, one of those created by the 12M monthly users tracking symptoms in Clue. Our science collaborations and our in-house scientists and data scientists develop algorithms to help our users make meaning out of the data they track, and ultimately, make better decisions for themselves.
An example of this is our PCOS feature, developed in collaboration with leading researchers at Boston University.
Clue has a wide range of features and tracking options. Which feature is most appreciated by users, and how often do you review and iterate on app functionality?
Beyond knowing when their next period will come, our users love understanding patterns in their cycle. This is delivered through our Analysis Tab which displays when on your current cycle you might expect to experience certain cycle symptoms or cycle experiences, if a pattern has been detected.
We know from feedback in App Store Reviews, social media, and customer support messages that users love these features, but we also hear suggestions, feedback, and bug reports that guide our iteration. Combining that with what we learn from engagement data means that we’re constantly looking for and evaluating ways to improve the user experience.
We’ve seen design thinking play an increasingly critical role in both on product design teams and even in the rethinking of company culture. How do you see the role of design and design-thinking at Clue?
Design thinking has been guiding light for how I approach almost everything I do at Clue.
One of the most powerful tools I use from design thinking is defining a good problem/question. Before developing a strategy, designing a team structure, or writing internal comms, I always start with the question “What problem are we solving?” and I look for user problems that are specific, relevant, and that I can use to engage others in radical collaboration and ideation. And then it’s about finding quick ways to sketch, prototype, or test out solutions.
In the product realm, my team also starts with asking the question “What user problem are we solving?” And collaborates cross-functionally to ideate solutions, prototype them (either through invision, figma, or paper), work with our in-house user researcher to test them or A/B test, before iterating.
The way Clue visualizes user data is integral to how your users understand their bodies and take charge of their health. What have you learned about how the visualization of data affects the perceived usefulness and accessibility of Clue?
Our users want to see patterns in their cycle. To help them do that, we used to display historic data laid out on a flat timeline stacked cycle over cycle. We were constantly getting questions about how this worked through support, but we also knew that few users were engaging with it. When we redesigned it, we displayed your expected symptoms on your current cycle. Rather than make users work to notice patterns, the new user experience did the work for the user and turned historic data into an actionable insight.
Rather than make users work to notice patterns, the new user experience did the work for the user and turned historic data into an actionable insight.
Clue’s Encyclopedia is an absolutely amazing resource for women and people with cycles. How do you make the link between brand awareness and app usage and how people use the app?
The HelloClue.com website and the Clue App may share much of the same articles (like the Cycle Science encyclopedia) and writers, but they were designed for very different use cases. The web is used mostly by people with a question or a specific query which gets them to the site via a search engine while the app is designed to help users track and understand their cycle. On the web, from a specific article, readers may browse laterally or to encyclopedic content, or they may learn about the benefits of period tracking and eventually choose to install the app. Once in the app, content is critical users make meaning of what they track and what’s going on with their body. The Clue brand and the values we stand on underlie the content and the design of both while they speak to different points of the user journey.
And finally, it would be inconceivable to finish the interview without mentioning COVID-19. How are you coping with working from home? Do you have any tips for people managing remote teams?
I, like many others, have ridden the emotional wave of social distancing, sheltering in place, and the uncertainty of the future: shock, frustration, fear, grief, etc. As a manager, it’s important to not drag everyone with you through these emotional waves. For me, writing, exercise, scheduling breaks, meditation, and being gentler with myself allows me to process what’s happening so that I can constructively share how I’m feeling or more often respond in the way I want to. This makes me more consistent and thus creates greater emotional safety and trust for the team.
Over-document and share it out. This creates clarity and alignment and helps to minimize the chance someone who is already feeling isolated at home wakes up to find out she’s the last one to know something. This is emotional stress that can be avoided, and this ensures that everyone moves in the same direction when not all the normal channels (like the coffee machine or walking over to someone’s desk) exist.
Create light-weight ways to deepen relationships with colleagues. Allow the first 5 minutes of a call to just be chit chat. Whether that’s asking about something hanging on the wall in the back of a colleague’s video or saying hello to the child that pops onto the screen. Alternatively, make a point of non-work related conversations. Schedule skip-level meetings with no agenda, ask an ice-breaker question to kickoff a group meeting, or invite folks to an instant coffee break over slack, devote 5 minutes to 1:1s to checking in on their needs — these are new emotional connections that can be made, in a time where that’s more needed than ever.
Be honest and transparent. This always works but when in extraordinary circumstances like these, it’s all the more important. It’s healthy to acknowledge that the times are challenging, and acknowledging allows for open dialogs on how best to respond. Transparency is a sign of trust in the team’s creativity and resilience, and that helps the company make it through together.
“Over-document and share it out…this ensures that everyone moves in the same direction when not all the normal channels (like the coffee machine or walking over to someone’s desk) exist.”
Beyond the Screen is a new interview series from Goodpatch, where speak with the leaders behind today’s most exciting digital products. Many thanks to Audrey for speaking to us!! If you have any questions about Goodpatch or Beyond the Screen, please reach out to Maya: Maya@Goodpatch.com