How the CEO of a fertility app learned to trust her instincts - and deal with the media - in recovering from a business crisis
Courtesy of Natural Cycles.
Courtesy of Natural Cycles.
- Since its launch in 2014, Natural Cycles, a fertility app, has gained over 1.5 million users and been approved by the FDA as a contraceptive app.
- Cofounder and CEO Elina Berglund has learned that, in growing a company, some of the responsibilities will need to be handed over to others, providing structure to how you grow the team.
- Berglund said she likes to focus more on solving the problem instead of dwelling on the issue.
- This article is part of a series on growing a small business, called "From 1 to 100."
Setting up a business with your husband is risky, but it seems to be paying off for 36-year-old Elina Berglund.
Born and raised in Malmo, Sweden, Berglund is the cofounder and CEO of fertility app Natural Cycles, which has amassed 1.5 million users since launching in 2014.
Before becoming a full-time entrepreneur, Berglund was completing a Ph.D. at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), which is the largest particle physics lab in the world. While there, she worked with a team that won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle.
Berglund set up the company in Switzerland before relocating it to Sweden less than a year later to launch the app. That's when her husband Raoul Scherwitzl - a physicist she met while working at CERN - started working full time on Natural Cycles, and they hired their first two employees to focus on marketing.
Expanding a team is a part of the process
There was a reason for hiring more than one person.
"Since we're also a husband and wife [team], it can maybe be a little bit intimidating if you're one person coming into strong cofounders that are also a couple," Berglund said.
The team scaled up to around 95 employees when Berglund and Scherwitzl were living in Sweden.
"We're both very passionate about Natural Cycles and our mission and the product," Berglund said. "It was amazing that we could spend basically all our awake time just talking about Natural Cycles, and we didn't really feel the need to talk about anything else for quite a few years."
At one point in Sweden, they decided to sit at opposite ends of the office.
"We had no meetings with each other because we were so busy," she said. "We felt like, we never had to talk to each other because we can do that in the evening at home. That was maybe not the best strategy because we ended up always discussing things when we were very tired at the end of the day."
They moved to New York in September 2018 to try and to win over consumers in the US.
When they got there, they started sitting next to each other again and they allocated at least two hours a week where they actually aligned with each other during working hours.
Evolving as result of live changes, and major brand challenges
Berglund's leadership style has changed over the years, and the fact that she and her husband now have two young children has forced her to focus on other duties as well.
Natural Cycles had its biggest business challenge in early 2018 when negative press over customers who became unintentionally pregnant while using the app's system for identifying fertile times during the month. The company has been recovering from this setback ever since, and later in 2018 Natural Cycles became the first app ever approved as contraception by the FDA.
"There are always going to be things that are out of your control," Berglund said. "Once I realized this and stopped beating myself up about every issue I encountered and I was able to spend more time solving the problem."
She also tries to be a bit more hands-off than she used to, allowing the team to do what they do best. Berglund said she has also learned to overcome self-doubt.
"There've been a few instances I look back on when I've not done something I should have because I felt I didn't have the experience or expertise to do so," she said. "I've now learned that while it's important to find, hire, and listen to experts, it's also okay to go with my gut when I feel something is right."
As a trained scientist, she knew little about dealing with media and PR. "I was often intimidated to interact with reporters, especially in the case when they may have published something that wasn't factual," she said. "Over the years I've learned that when building a disruptive product - especially within an underserved field such as women's health - there's going to be misconceptions."