Lucy wants to make it easier for expectant parents to find and book support services

Lucy, a Bay Area startup, which was founded this April and launched its beta today, reckons it’s found an underserved not-so-niche market to target: expectant parents. The team presented on stage today here at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016, after being lifted from startup alley as the day’s wildcard battlefield company.

Lucy offers a marketplace focused on helping expectant families find support services. Specifically it’s for pregnant women in the third and fourth trimester, so pre-birth and post-partum. The idea being to serve up custom support plans for expectant parents to make it easier for families to locate and book allied (and vetted) health professionals.

The team has a website but it’s a mobile app play first and foremost. On sign up the app asks the user to respond to a few questions, such as whether it’s their first child and to quantify their attitude to particular services, before generating a suggested support plan, with recommended services viewable and bookable right in the app. Down the line they intend to support user ratings/reviews.

Examples of the sorts of support services offered via Lucy’s marketplace include doulas, lactation consultants and specialist nutritionists. So basically anything other than the primary medical care that a pregnant woman would already have in place. The team is intentionally extending to support services beyond the point of birth when traditional medical services would be dropping away yet new parents’ need for help may well be stepping up.

Helping to support women to continue and thrive in careers after having children is one big motivator for the Lucy team.

“I deeply believe that the system doesn’t quite make room for women to be in leadership positions, so you don’t find a lot of women in leadership positions. And when you look at the data the drop off is always when they start families,” says co-founder Shannon Spanhake.

“Two things happen: you’re starting a family, not only is this a major life transition, your body is completely changed, you might be mentally suffering from post-partum depression… and if you do go back to work you potentially even lose the will to fight for executive positions.”

“I’m an OB-GYN and I know that the medical system and how we approach birth just doesn’t provide nearly the amount of support that we need to for expecting families — especially women,” adds co-founder Chitra Akileswaran, discussing how the team came up with the idea for the startup.

She explained that while she is aware of “incredible practitioners” able to address a range of issues for expectant families and those with newborns — whether that’s emotional, physical or career support — she is unable to refer her patients to these allied health practitioners, so the platform aims to do that work of simplifying tracking down support services.

“Increasingly we’re also finding that having this additional support — in the form of lactation, doulas, nutritionists, coaches — are actually improving health for women and their children,” she adds. “My patients don’t know how to find them… It’s a very murky market.”

The team’s first sales pitch has been direct to enterprises, rather than families — as they reckon more businesses want to be able to offer benefits to help retain female employees. Currently the marketplace is only live in the Bay Area but they already have a handful of businesses signed up. The business model is also still being formulated but businesses currently buy packages to offer expectant parent employees. These packages include six sessions with practitioners on the marketplace, and open access to a care team support phone line called the Lucy Line.

Lucy’s team is Friends & Family funded at this point. It’s also very much in the early learning startup stage, with the team conducting personal interviews with every user at this point to better understand their needs and offer relevant support services. Down the line the hope is this face-to-face research will feed into building a recommendation engine that can automate the support via relevant in-app suggestions — and allow the team to scale.

“We’re already developing learnings from even the 50+ families that we’ve worked with,” says Akileswaran. “One thing that we’ve recognized is the importance of lactation support immediately after birth, and actually making that a core focus of that first couple of weeks because if women can’t feed their babies they’re not going to go back to work.”

“Our plan is to start prototyping a recommendation engine pretty soon,” she adds.

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Judges Q&A

Q: On the product is this something that’s going to save companies money or is this going to give expecting mothers a better experience – who are your customers?
A: The customer is actually the companies right now. We’ve broken that into two segments. So there’s self insured companies and fully insured companies. The self insured companies value the product because we can cut down and reduce their health spend. And for the fully insured this is a way for them to retain more women, lower attrition and be a family forward company.

Q: Have you been able to show it reduces attrition?
A: We’re just getting started but in fact one of our families – she’s a female engineer at one of the companies – and she just got back to work, and we heard from that people person that that basically paid for the program.

Q: How do you sell through to the employees? And how do you do that economically? What’s the longevity of that model when it’s a one-shot deal?
A: On boarding is a pretty important part of this process to actually show the value of the services in advance to families. The way in which we on-board is actually at the time that an expecting parent is telling their employer that they’re going to be needing leave. So we change that moment from one of anxiety to one where they feel supported, where they feel like their employer is really with them.

After that they have a very personalized, high touch introduction to our service.
I’m an OB-GYN. I actually meet with all of our families. We understand that’s not scalable long term but what I’m doing is I’m soliciting their preferences so that we can build that plan for them. So it really gives them a sense that someone knows them, that a team is going to be there to care for them.

Q: What’s the most valuable thing that you’re providing?
A: One is that most families realize that 90% of the questions that they ask their OB-GYN aren’t able to be answered. I can vouch for that as a physician. What they’re going through is not just a medical event – it comprises the social transition of becoming a parent, the career transition and we’re able to support all of those other things. So the magic moment is not only realizing that they’re going to have a holistic team when they first enter our program, that’s going to take care of all of those other issues, but also that we’re extremely responsive – after they’ve had their baby, we’re there, we’ll go to the hospital and visit them there, we’ll go to their home and visit them there. That’s not something they’re going to get from the medical system.

Q: Have you thought about community? Other parents connecting?
A: Absolutely. That’s on our roadmap right now. That’s a really important part of what we see. The first thing that parents do when they don’t know what they need is ask their friends. And so community is going to be a really important aspect of what we build on our platform.

Q: Having a child is a very emotional moment. Human interaction is very important. So it seems like you’re going to be more of a tech-enabled service rather than just an app, right – is that correct?
A: It is a tech-enabled service. And the service providers, these are practitioners they have their own practices, so we’re just enabling them to help scale their businesses.

Q: What is your average selling cycle with your core customer?
A: The companies we’ve been working with so far are around 200 to around 1,000 employees. We’ve had a contract go through in a week and then we’ve had a contract take around six weeks. With the self insured companies we predict that those sales cycles will be upwards of six months, potentially.

What’s pretty cool about this model is it kind of has a built in consumer mechanism. So the company subsidizes X number of visits and then the families can pay out of pocket after that. So the companies become channel partners for the families who become consumers.

Q: After a company signs up does a user sign up to the service very quickly?
A: Very quickly, yes.