One of the reasons we created our Newcastle Startup Week festival was to show the world what a great place the North East of England is to start or grow a business by bringing together all the best help, advice and support in one place. This story of how Minnesota-based Cindy Moy Carr found the help she needed in the UK is such amazing validation for the event and the close-knit and collaborative nature of the business startup community in our region that we are consistently told doesn’t exist anywhere else! Here’s what happened…
1. Hi Cindy, can you please give me a brief overview of your business?
Vorsdatter Limited creates digital wellness solutions and our first solution is an app, mySysters, that helps women experiencing ‘perimenopause’ symptoms. the time before menopause when a woman’s body gradually produces less oestrogen, possibly leading to hot flashes, night sweats, migraines, joint pain, anxiety and other symptoms. Symptoms typically start around age 35 and last into the 60s but may begin in a woman’s 20s. The app lets women track their symptoms, print a chart of what they’ve tracked, and share advice with other women in discussion forums.
Our second solution is an app for women’s partners, myGauge, that opens the door for better communication and was a solution requested by my male co-founder and the partners of the women already using mySysters.
2. Who is your target audience and how do you help them?
Our target audience is the 50M women aged 30 to 65 in English-speaking countries who are affected by symptoms such as brain fog, insomnia, migraines, anxiety and depression. We then focus our app market further to attract members who share our values and reflect the community we’re building – members who are problem-solvers, compassionate, collaborative, intelligent and resilient. The app increases the quality of their lives through symptom tracking and talking to other women in a social forum designed to protect their privacy while being encouraging and supportive.
3. When was the business established, how many people are in your team & where are they based?
Vorsdatter LLC was formed in November 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA by myself and a co-founder. By June 2017 we’d become Vorsdatter Limited, registered in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK after attending the first Newcastle Startup Week festival in May 2017. In late 2017 my co-founder decided to return to corporate life and a chance encounter led to Cheryl Behr joining Vorsdatter in January 2018. Right now we live in Minneapolis and travel to the UK every few weeks. We like Newcastle and the surrounding North East area very much and would like to become a permanent part of the North East business community.
4. What motivated or inspired you to start the business?
I did it for my younger sister and friends, to spare them what I and other friends were going through with perimenopause. We were all under-informed, medical misdiagnoses were common, and many of us felt isolated as we suffered with painful, sometimes debilitating, physical conditions we couldn’t explain. It’s a lot more than a couple of hot flushes. It may be nothing at all, or it might be 12 years of anything from hair loss to dry eyes to incontinence.
Meanwhile, more than 200 period-tracking apps were available to younger women while almost nothing was available for women in my age group and those apps addressed neither our needs or wants. The mobile app my friends and I wanted or needed to track what was happening to us simply wasn’t available.
I don’t have a tech background so I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen. I just started doing research and gathering data and putting the pieces of the puzzle together and here we are!
5. Where did you go for help or advice when you first started out?
I began with a friend of mine whose specialty as a business consultant is scaling up small businesses. I asked him to look at my numbers and confirm it was a viable business. He became my co-founder. Neither of us had tech backgrounds so we reached out to people in our networks and asked to be introduced to people who do. We had several meetings or video calls with executives in the tech field.
The best piece of advice we received came from Tom O’Neill, former CEO and President of The Nerdery, the premiere web design and development firm. He told us: “Never forget, you’re not in the tech business. You’re in the behavior business.” That advice alone kept us from wasting thousands of dollars and a lot of time.
My background is in law and journalism. I studied both individual and corporate taxation in law school. One of the first steps I took when coming to the UK was to line up a commercial lawyer, Amy Wanless of Muckle LLP, and an accounting firm, Blu Sky Chartered Accountants, to make sure our corporate books were aligned with UK laws and regulations. It costs a lot less to do those correctly from the start than it does to pay fines or fix mistakes later.
It was Dave Gibson at Blu Sky who introduced us to Paul Slater, CEO of the personal trainer app GymPlan. Paul is a terrific mentor and advisor. I’ve turned to him many times over the last year with questions. He’s someone whose opinion I trust very highly.
6. We think the North East of England is a great place to start or grow a business. Do you agree & if so, why?
Coming to the North East gives us access to a tech startup ecosystem not available in the States. There isn’t much of a startup community in Minnesota, or in the US, especially for people who aren’t fresh out of college. Two years ago I hadn’t even heard of Newcastle. After stumbling on a 2012 blog post titled ‘Why tech start-ups (and giants) should leave London (and move to Newcastle)‘, I came to the first Newcastle Startup Week festival in May 2017. A few weeks later I transferred the company here. Our key partner is Sunderland Software City, and so we spend a lot of time in Sunderland.
More than that, though, are the friendships we’ve made here. We’ll walk down the street in Newcastle or Sunderland or Durham or Darlington and run into people we know. In August I went to the 70th birthday party of a friend’s dad in Alnmouth, and her parents were so lovely. That’s what we value the most about the North East – the relationships.
7. Have you had any funding or investment to date & if so, where from? (e.g. Angel Investors, VCs, Govt Grants).
As far as monetary funds, we’re self-funded. Every penny comes out of our own pockets. We work out of my apartment, take side gigs to pay the bills and barter services with friends. It’s a choice we made that allows us to stay true to our vision for serving our community.
SSC invested in us by paying for our developer’s time while he, Chris Grant of Throneware, acted as our CTO and helped us create a functional spec for mySysters. When the spec was done we sent it out to get bids to build the app. We got bids from all over the world but we hired Throneware. Chris is phenomenal to work with – I can’t speak highly enough about him. The North East and Vorsdatter, we took a chance and invested in each other.
8. How would you like to see the business develop over the coming months & years?
We’ve just created a partnership with a company whose product is both complementary to ours, and also benefits our members. We have several more such deals in the works. Corporations rarely market products to this demographic and if they do, they don’t do it well. Our members appreciate the tone we’ve set and are responding with their pocketbooks / purses.
9. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a tech/digital business?
Seek counsel, not opinion. It’s the same advice I’d give anyone starting any kind of business.
10. What one business book, video or podcast would you recommend people watch?
I’d recommend as many as possible of all three, and not just about business! One book that was especially enlightening was Kit Yarrow’s ‘Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy‘ about how technology has changed consumer psychology.
Want to know more?
The mySysters app can now be downloaded via iOS for free until 1st September 2018, after which it will move to a paid-for, subscription service. An Android version is planned for the future.