Editor’s note: Today’s Q&A is with Urska Srsen, co-founder and COO of Y Combinator company Bellabeat. Bellabeat is a smart device that tracks the vitals of pregnant women and their unborn babies in-utero. Not only is this innovative product loved by its users, it’s poised to make real contributions and improvements to the state of fetal and prenatal health and healthcare. This smart, ambitious team has been great to work with, and we’re invigorated by their broad-reaching and impactful goals. We’ll be sharing more cases of Layer used with hardware devices that connect to apps, but this is one we love. Watch for these guys at YC Demo Day next week.


Layer: Tell us a bit about Bellabeat. What is it and what does it do?
US: The Bellabeat System empowers pregnant moms with information. Think of it like a FitBit for pregnancy. It consists of the small Bellabeat handheld device that works by tracking both the pregnant mother and her growing baby in-utero, which connects to the Bellabeat app.

For mothers: Bellabeat helps women lead a healthy pregnancy. It tracks weight gain to help women see weight gain trajectory and heart rate to understand if they’re in a normal, healthy range, thus avoiding complications.

For babies in-utero: Bellabeat lets pregnant moms experience the joy of listening to their unborn baby’s heartbeat and share the experience with their loved ones through social media or intimately. The Bellabeat kick counter gives moms peace-of-mind about baby’s well-being.

Layer: How’d the idea for Bellabeat come about?
US: My mom is a renowned Ob/Gyn, with a specialty in maternal-fetal medicine. Sandro ([Murr], cofounder – a mathematician and entrepreneur) was working with her on building a home pregnancy monitoring system for clinics. We met through their collaboration. In testing the product, Sandro and I quickly became aware of the shortcomings of prenatal care. The wants and needs of the new generation of pregnant women and future pregnant women have drastically changed with the quantified self movement. Plus, the Internet and the advent of mobile means so much information is accessible and available now.

Layer: Why is the data Bellabeat gives pregnant mothers so valuable?
US: A few reasons. First, the way prenatal medical care is structured means pregnant women are reliant on healthcare providers for information. Both about how their baby is developing, but also about the state of their personal health. This often means the time in between doctor’s appointments are periods of heightening anxiety. Bellabeat bridges the gap between appointments and empowers women by giving them access to information.

But perhaps most important is the fact that mHealth on the whole has the potential to reduce the costs of healthcare services dramatically, while improving the quality of healthcare and the health of individuals. If you look at the data, women’s life and health is at peak risk during reproductive years. The metabolic and physical demands on the body increase by 30% to 50% during pregnancy. A lot of that is due to simple lack of information. We believe Bellabeat has the potential to dramatically lower those numbers by empowering women with information. Also, simple routine kick counting has been proven to early-detect fetal development problems, which can help avoid the absolute worst case scenario – fetal or neonatal death. But many people find it hard to do on their own. Bellabeat changes that. And the weight gain tracker in Bellabeat helps pregnant women avoid complications like gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders. These are just a few of the ways our data can be impactful, but we expect many more.

Layer: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen about the way people use the device?
US: The emotions that surfaced instantly. There is nothing more powerful than allowing a future mom to connect with the ultimate sign of a new life developing inside of her.

Layer: How might comparing your data to another pregnant mother’s data empower your customers?
US: Again, pregnancy can be a time of heightened anxiety, so mothers often turn to online message boards and websites to compare their symptoms to others, and infer a self-diagnosis. This isn’t ideal for obvious reasons, but primarily because the context is often inconsistent. Bellabeat allows pregnant mothers to connect directly with other pregnant mothers and compare real data.

Layer: How does Bellabeat change the patient/obgyn relationship during pregnancy?
US: It’s important to note that Bellabeat isn’t a replacement for regular checkups with a care provider, but it does offer help with keeping track of the pregnancy’s progress in between the examinations. It encourages women to be more active in prenatal care and self-tracking which can help them communicate their problems or concerns better when addressing their care provider.

Layer: Tell us a bit about how you’re using Layer and building communications into the product.
US: Bellabeat uses Layer to power the communication channel between a patient and care provider. We’re working on this now, so look for this and other communications features to come – we’ll offer services in the future to offer pregnant woman 24/7 access to care providers.

Layer: How did Layer impact your development cycle and design process?
US: We were trying to implement messaging in our product for a long time, but our expertise is in our product and its user experience, not building a communications stack. Layer helped us to implement it easily, without losing focus on our core product.

Layer: There are so many wearable devices these days. Where do you see the quantified-self tracker market headed?
US: Quantified-self trackers are consumer products focusing on educating and encouraging people to lead a healthy lifestyle and take preventive steps in remaining healthy. But many quantified systems are actually paving the way for life-saving mHealth systems that have the capacity to provide healthcare at the right time and the right place. mHealth systems have the potential to transform the way healthcare is managed and delivered, maintaining good quality on low costs. Preventive measures are less expensive than treatment of complications, the ratio being approximately 1:3. I see lots of growth for this market because it has massive, global impact potential.