Natalia Vodianova is taking women’s health into her own hands.
The model and philanthropist has made an investment in mobile app Flo — which helps women track their health symptoms, periods, moods and more. Vodianova invested as part of a $5 million Series A round led by Flint Capital.
After downloading, women plug their health details into a user-friendly interface. From there, Flo suggests relevant health blurbs, tips, and discussion boards where women can communicate honestly and anonymously. Vodianova is also taking a seat on Flo’s board.
“The period tracker is the tip of the iceberg,” Vodianova said. “You discover all this amazing, very curated to your personal needs, content, which is delivered in a very nice way — very easy to digest in short messages.”
“It’s completely anonymous, so [women] discuss anything from anal sex to HPV, and whatever women may discuss,” Vodianova continued.
After friends introduced her to the app and its founder, Yuri Gurski, Vodianova brought up the part of Flo that really piqued her interest, she said.
“The most frequent thing I was reading in Flo Forums is, ‘Oh my God, I’m not alone,’” she said. “Behind this platform is the potential of conversations that have not been brought up.”
For Flo, one of the next steps is additional languages. Right now, the app is in English and Russian, and later this year will come out in French and German, Vodianova said.
Flo is growing by about 1 million users per month, according to Vodianova. The business also claims it helps 100,000 women per month get pregnant. It helps others to not get pregnant, Vodianova pointed out, and uses artificial intelligence to ping users if the symptoms they plug in are indicative of a larger problem.
“We cannot diagnose the condition, but we can know exactly what kind of symptoms may suggest that you have it, and what we do is suggest you go check with your doctor,” Vodianova said. “[The app] never accuses you of anything, but [will] suggest what kind of lifestyle changes you should be doing.”
Women who use the app have manually entered more than 1.4 billion data points. The anonymity factor is key, Vodianova noted, as she pulled up a message board about teenage pregnancy on her phone.
“Because it’s completely anonymous, you get really strong message,” Vodianova said. “Here, for example, the girl is saying, ‘My mom got pregnant on purpose when she was 13, and had another [baby at] 15, and now I’m 12 and she won’t let me go anywhere because she’s scared it will happen to me, because I was raped.’”
“Then, you have women replying to her,” Vodianova continued. “Saying, ‘That must have been such as scary situation to go through,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘Stay strong.’ Replies also trickled in from other 12-year olds, she noted.
“This is a very safe place for women to deal with a lot of anxiety, a lot of self-esteem problems and I think especially for those 11- or 12-year-old girls all over the world, [there’s] still a stigma and shame about being a woman, and our bodies and vaginas and periods,” Vodianova said. “I’m a model and if I’m on a shoot, sometimes I have my period, and accidents have happened in the past and it’s so horrifying. But it shouldn’t be really, because it’s the most natural thing.”
The mother of five says she’s already started having honest discussions with her eldest daughter about periods. “I’ve been planting it,” Vodianova said. “I try to empower her to not be in a situation that would be uncomfortable to her.”
Flo isn’t Vodianova’s first tech undertaking. She founded charity app Elbi, which aims to connect do-gooders with charities, in 2013. Elbi is the exclusive charity partner to Flo, Vodianova said. She’s also involved with PicsArt, an image-collecting app, creating an editing platform (complete with gifs and memes, Vodianova notes). “I became the head of aspiration,” Vodianova said. “Basically, I’m head of fun.”