August 3, 2020

South African FemTech Company Empowering Women's Health and Wellness

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Android Studio, Firebase, Google Analytics, No external database (conserve data usage)

Empowering women goes beyond access to education and corporate inclusion. It also includes access to capital that funds ideas, whether it’s to build a product that contributes to the greater tech ecosystem or it addresses a need unique to women.

Since 2011 the Female technology or “femtech” industry has raised $220 million, and it’s expected to be a $50 billion industry by 2025.

Femtech includes startups that use tech-enabled software, diagnostics, products, and services to address women’s health. More than a niche, as women make up more than 50% of our population, Femtech products aim to give women more control over their lives. 

With applications that track family planning, fertility, and menstrual cycles, Femtech is making healthcare for African girls and women more accessible — founded in 2018, Uteroo is a mobile application that assists in the tracking of menstrual cycles.

I spoke with Pabi Moloi, Software Engineer and Founder of Uteroo, who is on a mission to break the stigma around menstruation in black households, about building a Femtech product, the challenges associated with it, and Tech in Africa.

 

What inspired you to create Uteroo, and how did you translate the requirements into code?

Growing up in a black household, you don’t talk about periods, and if you do, it has to be hush-hush. The conversation has to take place in the corner somewhere where no one can overhear. I remember I was driving back home from work with my mom, and I said to her, I’m in pain. She said, what’s wrong? And I said it’s PMS. She responded, don’t be too loud. Your brother will hear you. 

I want women to feel comfortable talking about their periods. I have very painful periods, and because it’s taboo, I suffer. Knowing how to code and seeing the widespread use of technology, I got inspired to build a product that women in a similar situation can use. Had I known I should see a doctor when I was twelve because of my painful periods, I would be a bit healthier because I would have known that I needed to change my lifestyle and my diet.  

With Uteroo, I want women to learn about their bodies and empower them with the knowledge that allows them to make the right health choices and improve their lifestyles. The app includes four key features:

  • Period Tracking – helps you keep track of your period.
  • Period Prediction – helps you predict your period for the next three months.
  • Cycle History – view your cycle history.
  • Ovulation Prediction – predict your approximate ovulation day, and you can also track your symptoms.

To translate these requirements into code, I first looked at the problem that I was trying to solve. Empower women with a tool that allows them to know what’s happening in their bodies so they can live a healthier lifestyle in response to what they’ve learned. I broke the problem down into smaller pieces. For example, I thought about how a person can track their cycles? Then, I built code around that by breaking it down into classes and models. I continued this process for the other requirements.  

 

How important is empathy in the software development process?

Empathy was essential in the Uteroo development process. First and foremost, I am building a product for human beings, so I need to understand how they think and feel. Software development isn’t just about me sitting behind the computer and coding away, it involves people, and I want users to have a delightful experience when they’re using the product.

Empathy also helped strengthen the collaboration between myself and my designer. To create the user stories, we conducted five in-person interviews and did an online survey. 

 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the software development process?

Designing the application was the biggest challenge. I’m not a professional UI/UX designer, so I got help from a friend who is one.

In my opinion, it is important to collaborate with designers because they are professionals in what they do, as much as we are professionals in writing code. There were things I missed that she picked up when it came to building Uteroo. While developers are focused on code running, they’re looking to create an experience for the end-user. Which I feel is one of the most important aspects because without any users, what’s the point?  

Through in-person interviews and online surveys, she was able to create use case scenarios and personas. 

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What do you believe are the keys to being a successful software developer in Africa? 

You have to be open to learning something new every day. We’re in a fast-growing industry. There’s always something new coming out, whether it’s a new library or tool. To keep up, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone. You can’t say, “I’m comfortable working in this language,” and not push to learn other languages. To stay relevant in the market, you have to upskill. 

Personally, when I see a new library or tool out, I apply it to my side projects on my GitHub to test and see if it’s something that will be valuable to a project. I also read a lot, mostly on Medium, dev.to, and Android developer blogs

 

Built In Africa? What does that mean to you, and what are your thoughts on Tech in Johannesburg?

Built in Africa, to me, means that solutions are closer to home. That Africans are building relevant and accessible products that address the challenges we face in our communities. It also represents that we are capable and innovative.

Tech in Johannesburg is great. We are just behind Cape Town, the startup hub, often referred to as Silicon Cape. Johannesburg has an active developer community. I’m a co-organizer of GDG (Google Developer Group) Johannesburg. We host meetups every month and invite people in the industry to discuss topics related to Google technology. I’ve learned quite a bit from the various talks and have been inspired by hearing what other people in the tech community are building. 

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