Amy Thomson was in her late twenties when her periods stopped.
From the outside in, her life jetting between Europe and the US at the helm of her own successful marketing start-up must have looked pretty perfect. On the inside, however, the story was quite different.
“I was 24 when I started that business and within two years, we were turning over £10 million in revenue. It was mad,” she smiles, wryly. “I mean, I had no concept of how you could go from nothing to that in two years. It blew my mind, but I didn’t stop working. I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder, I had so much to prove.
“I looked really young as well, so I would walk into meeting rooms with no room for error. I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect all the time, to travel and do all the speaking opportunities. I didn’t know what the word ‘no’ was.
“And it’s not healthy. You can’t live like that. Whether you want to be or not, you become a martyr to yourself. And that’s when my body just went…”
Today, Thomson is relaxed and smiling, perched in a shaft of sunlight at her dining table in Lisbon, the city she has since chosen to call home. In the five years since selling her first business, she’s been on a deep dive into hormonal science, trying to unpick what exactly it was that stopped her cycle in its tracks. And she’s used that learning to build a new venture, Moody, which aims to guide other women towards the same level of understanding.
“I was privileged that although, yes, my burnout forced my periods to stop, I knew it was self-induced and I had access to excellent medical care and support. But I realised there was a bigger problem here with the lack of information women had – all of the things we don’t learn in school beyond the basics on periods. I mean, this is more than 50 per cent of the population. There isn’t a single woman you speak to that hasn’t had some sort of hormone issue at some point, probably misdiagnosed, whether through menstrual cycles, puberty, pregnancy, menopause…
“You cannot get through your life as a woman without having something hormonal affect your mental or physical health. And yet we learn about this stuff as how a man can impregnate you or how you can avoid getting impregnated. Talk about a world controlled by big dick energy – we’re literally educating ourselves around penises!”
Thomson realised that technology could provide a solution, and took an academic approach to researching the latest science on women’s health, bringing together research from a host of world-leading experts across a range of disciplines before setting out to curate the information. The result, Moody Month, an app which helps women decipher their hormonal cycles and plan their lives accordingly, has already been downloaded more than 150,000 times. Meanwhile, a book, Moody: A Woman’s 21st Century Hormone Guide, offers a deeper dive into the science and research behind the technology.
Hormones for happiness
Different from period trackers, Thomson says the aim of the business is to educate users on the more wide-reaching implications of hormones on everything from energy levels and mood to motivation and sleep – and to help us harness their power.
“I would never use myself as a case study because I am completely imperfect – I drink, I eat pizza, I have sex with people I shouldn’t. I’m not Gwyneth Paltrow,” Thomson laughs. “But what I do think is that this knowledge allows productivity. I am now able to be much kinder to myself, I’m able to understand myself better. And I use the word superpowers a lot because it genuinely feels like that.
“Knowing when to push and when to pull – that is hormonal. Knowing that your body is telling you to be more relaxed, and that isn’t because you’re lazy. That’s social conditioning, and its unhelpful, and I’d rather we talked about happy hormones. And the thing I hope people take away from both the app and the book is that you have chemicals inside your body that allow you to operate at the most incredible high functioning AI levels, but what we haven’t done is given ourselves the right software to help us understand that. Now, we can retrain ourselves to be able to tune into our bodies.”
Funding for females
For Thomson, building a female-focussed business meant having an all female team. And yet, she says, the sheer variety of ways in which that would prove a challenge in the male-dominated tech space was shocking.
“Our whole engineering team is women, and they’re some of the best minds in the technology space. And one of the major things that was really pissing me off was these women were not just being paid less in their previous jobs, but they were being used almost like bastions for women in tech.
“But women don’t have the same flexibility that men have in starting businesses, let alone jumping ship to join a start-up – that’s a male privilege. So, we had to raise a lot of money in the first phase, just to make sure that the women we wanted to integrate into the business could afford to work with us. It’s all well and good talking about this abstract idea of building a female engineering team, but you need a lot of money to do that, because these women might be at the top of their game, but they also have responsibilities and families and they can’t take risks.”
Raising funding, she says, was also incredibly tough – not least because Moody’s proposition was one that a lot of money men simply didn’t understand.
“We’d tell people – men – about the idea and they’d say ‘Ah, so niche’,” she laughs, rolling her eyes. “Niche? I mean, it’s literally half of all people. It’s the opposite of niche. And what frustrates me most is the biggest period tracker is Flo, which raised tens of millions in funding. It’s run by six Russian men and it was harvesting data.
“Then you look at Clue, or Natural Cycles, apps with amazing female founders that take an incredibly ethical, vigilant approach, and it’s harder for them to raise money. So, really, it’s not the topic that’s the issue, it’s the founders. When we think about money, we don’t think about women, and that has to change.”
One day, she says, she will write a book about the “the bullshit, the sexist comments, the dark stuff” she experienced while trying to get the business off the ground – not to mention the funding scheme that turned the business down for funding for ‘lack of diversity’ due to the absence of men.
But for now, she resolutely refuses to complain or shame, lest she be portrayed as a victim. She’s much more interested in encouraging more women into the space – and doing what she can to change the picture from within. “Things are changing, and everyone has a responsibility, but I think there’s a lot of badging going on right now too. I, and a lot of our engineers, get asked to speak a lot about being a female founder or about being women in tech – yet we’re not getting any more money from giving our time to businesses or funds that aren’t investing in women. So, the first thing I always say is unless you are investing in 50 to 80 per cent more women than you were last year, no one on my team will be allowing you to appropriate our voices.”
In the meantime, though, she’s making the most of living in Lisbon – Europe’s emerging tech hub, sure, but also a city famous for its lifestyle and, she grins, its pastries. Balance, today, is the key, she says. Listening to her body, resting when required, and understanding that she can’t solve the patriarchy by herself.
“It’s frustrating to know that, fundamentally, legislation is the only way to change systems truly, yet the legislation is being written by idiots. It’s sad, but I’ve learned to laugh rather than cry – and not just because it gives more happy hormones!
“It’s so easy as a woman to become frozen by the scale of the problem. But you have to take time for that as well, to mourn for the hardships. These days, I indulge myself. I rest, I text my exes, I eat chocolate cake and I mourn for women everywhere. I allow myself that time. And then I get back to it.”
Amy Thomson’s book, Moody: A Woman’s 21st Century Hormone Guide, is out now, published by Square Peg (£12.99). Buy your copy here, or visit the Moody website for more information or to download the app.