Helping women fight taboo topics – Interview with Hajnalka Héjja

Women all around the world face problems with their menstruation cycles, cramps, contraception pills, and pregnancy. Most of the time it is not easy for them to speak about it openly. Hajnalka Héjja is helping these women overcome their fears and problems in the previously mentioned topics with her AI based application SuperIzzy.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your startup!

“SuperIzzy AI is a Messenger based chatbot, which has been working for 2 years now. With its help the users can constantly monitor their menstruation cycles, cramps, they can speak with Izzy about contraceptional pills and she can alert the users when they need to take it. For the moment these are the basic functions. I developed my company based on the ‘lean-startup’ principles and from a real early stage, it was available on the market.

Two years ago, we have published our first ad to which more than 300-400 users replied (since the chatbot was not developed yet I needed to reply personally to all the messages). Basically, this was the validation that gave us the push. 6 months after we had our first version ready to be launched. Since then the product had gone under several upgrades. Thanks to these changes the number of all-time users has risen to 30.000 women all around the globe.”

What motivated you? How did you come up with this brilliant idea?

During my medical studies, I had the opportunity to visit several High Schools and Educational Institutes. Here I held preventive classes for the students and this is when I had to realize how big of a problem it is to speak about topics that involve sexuality, pregnancy or menstruation. I was shocked by the fact that even in this ‘enlightened’ and ‘accepting’ world these topics are still categorized as taboo, and people feel uncomfortable to speak about it even though we need to face them day by day. My aim was to create a product that gives women a safe place, where they can deliberately and peacefully consult and speak about their ‘problems’ thus making there everyday life easier.

I was thrilled to see that our product is a real solution to a huge problem in our society. Ever since we launched the app more and more women start to use it. This is probably linked to the fact, that they are aware of actually speaking to a robot. This makes them feel comfortable and secure since Izzy only replies based on facts and her best knowledge and does not judge or ask any unnecessary questions.

What obstacles did you need to overcome in the beginning? Do you think solving these would have been easier if you were a man?

Everyone faces problems in the beginning, despite their gender. You have to accept the fact that when you start something new – a startup – we stumble into a huge amount of uncertainty which sides with stress. Personally, learning to deal with this and finding a way to transform all the negativity into positive energy was most challenging.

Sadly, though I had to – and still have to face problems due to the simple fact that I am a woman. I get these patriarchal comments from certain partners who provide their services – and the weirdest thing is that they do it unintentionally during meetings. In the beginning, I just froze and after the meeting felt bad, ashamed and bitter about it because I had no idea why they did it or how to react to it. I am thankful because by now I have learned the right way to handle these situations and comments.

What would you highlight as positive aspects of a woman becoming a startupper?

In my scenario, I would say it is a huge advantage since the product I develop concerns me the same way as it concerns my consumers.  It is a great advantage because I can develop the product based on my personal experiences and feedbacks, I can relate to the other women. The other gift is that I can inspire girls and women to start working on their own dreams and plans through my interviews.

Would you say that investors take you as seriously as they do men?

 It has happened to me once that the investor clearly stated he will not grant me the investment and can’t take me seriously just because I am a woman. He said I need to hire a male executive and after he will consider the investment. Yeah, believe me, I was shocked, but fortunately, this is the only situation where I can state that I was discriminated based on gender.

In other situations, I think it’s not fair to say it is because the VC or the Angel or any investor was gender biased. It can happen with men and women equally that their pitch is not as good as they think or just at the moment they were going through a lot and could not show their best side or simply the investor just decides not to invest due to any other reason.

Do you have a gender preference when you extend your team?

I don’t specifically pay attention to this factor when deciding about a new colleague. I try to bring my decision based on their abilities, determinedness and professional experience. Besides me within the ownership of SuperIzzy there are only man and the core-team is a 50-50 ‘mix’.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to advance SuperIzzys capabilities in AI and broaden her scope. In order to achieve this, we need to put emphasis on developing the product. By this, I hope to boost the number of users and profit. These developments involve building and adding new domains to SuperIzzy which specifically concentrate on topics connected to sex and pregnancy.  

If you could give one advice to girls starting their own startup what would that be?

You just need to start! Don’t get distracted by all your thoughts and overthinking. In order to reach success, you have to be brave and determined, without these, you can’t progress. I remember when I started off, I was scared, literally. The day I was supposed to sign the founding papers I ran out of the notary’s office because I was not ready. But! I pulled my self together and two weeks later I went back and started my very own company!

It’s not easy but we have to learn how to deal with the difficulties. The path towards success leads through it: ‘The obstacle if the way!’.