How Do You Discuss Family Planning When It’s So Taboo

CycleTel Humsafar knows building a startup around sending SMS notices related to menstruation, sex, and family planning is tough but knows it is something critical to increasing quality of life for especially women in non-metro India.

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Ramya Kancharla, country manager, CycleTel Humsafar, elaborates on the initiative.

Explain the venture to us

CycleTel Humsafar is an SMS based service that supports use of the Standard Days Method (SDM) of family planning, which is 95% accurate in perfect use. Both CycleTel and SDM were developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University, tested in India, and launched in October 2015.

Nicki Ashcroft supports the mobile solutions team at IRH in developing and bringing to market CycleTel. I manage CycleTel operations in India and work with various partners to scale CycleTel across the country.

Share with us what’s special about this venture and how it’s different from its competitors?

CycleTel is the only SMS based family planning method available in India. It is unique in that it is a completely natural, modern family planning method that women and couples can access outside the healthcare system and in complete privacy. There is no other family planning method like this available in India.

How did you manage to fund this idea?

We have been fortunate to have a variety of funders, including USAID and the UN Foundation.

What are/what will be your monetization paths?

We’d like the service to remain free for the foreseeable future, since we strongly believe that it is important to provide women and couples with greater access and choice when it comes to family planning. We can best do this by reaching out to underserved communities and offering them a free service. At the same time, we aim to be a sustainable social enterprise, and with this aim in mind, we are exploring several monetization paths, including partnerships with non-profits and corporations.

Tell us how the business has grown so far

The Standard Days Method (SDM) is a WHO approved scientific method of family planning, and has millions of users worldwide. We currently receive over 150 calls per day to our call center from users who are interested in signing up. However, CycleTel and SDM are not suitable for all women. The method had certain eligibility conditions that have to be met, so we’re unable to register everyone who calls us. We currently have over 2700 registrations.

What marketing strategies and plans are in place to grow the business?

Over the past year, CycleTel has experimented with many marketing efforts. We have held a press conference, distributed press releases, played radio ads, displayed billboards, held events in Big Bazaar stores, and released a promotional video.

Equally importantly, we have partnered with non-profit organizations that work in the family planning space and have strong ties with the local community. Our outreach workers are trusted by the women in the community and have been critical in reaching out to potential users and building awareness of, and interest in, CycleTel.

What is the market size and opportunity?

There are 30 million women in India with an unmet need for family planning. Currently, CycleTel is available in English, Hindi and Hinglish, so we are targeting the Hindi speaking states. Over time, we plan to add more languages and reach out to other states also.

Any challenges faced setting up? Anything unique to your situation?

The biggest challenge has been in terms of talking to women about menstruation, sex, and family planning. Women’s sexual health is still very much a taboo in India. So it’s been a challenge to talk to women about this, encourage them to ask questions, and make calls.

What is the goal of this service? Profit or simply social service?

The goal of the service is to provide women with more family planning options. The service is free for our users. However, we aim to be a financially sustainable social enterprise, and are constantly exploring pathways to sustainability.

Are there actual users for this product? How do you convince people who don’t believe your service can work?

We have had about 2700 people sign up for the CycleTel service. Many of our users have not used any family planning method before signing up for CycleTel. We are particularly proud that we have been able to introduce a suitable family planning method to these users.

We explain the benefits of CycleTel to potential users – it is scientific, it is effective, it is 100% natural and has no side effects, it does not require a visit to a medical practitioner. That said and done, we understand that different people prefer different family planning methods – we encourage our users to be aware of the choices that are available to them (including CycleTel) and choose a method that works best for them.

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CycleTel Humsafar Family Planning indian startups

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