TechSesh Spotlight: Leslie Heyer, founder of Cycle Technologies

When you think of technology, you probably don't think of how it can help plan or prevent pregnancies, do you? Leslie Heyer, founder of Cycle Technologies, has used innovative technology that goes beyond gadgets and gizmos to help millions of women world-wide. 

Leslie Heyer founded Cycle Technologies with the goal of creating sustainable health care products in mind. When she saw the challenges millions of women face when it comes to health care, especially contraception, she became driven to develop simple and effective contraceptive options. Now in its 15th year of business, Cycle Technologies has brought numerous products to market which are widely used to assist in effectively planning or preventing pregnancies. 

Thanks to Leslie and Cycle Technologies, over 5.5 million unplanned pregnancies have been avoided, with over 1.5 million pregnancies successfully planned using their products. 

We had a chance to talk to Leslie and hear how she grew her business and became one of the “50 Most Talented Social Innovators.”

What motivated you to start your business?

I founded Cycle Technologies to help research organizations and others create successful, sustainable health products. It wasn’t until I learned about the challenges in global family planning that I became laser focused on working to address women’s contraceptive needs.

While researching women’s reproductive health needs and learning about the many negative outcomes associated with unplanned pregnancies, it was clear that more needed to be done to innovate and provide women with real contraceptive options that better met their needs.  I became highly motivated to develop and bring to market simple, effective, natural, contraceptive options.

The first contraceptive product that we worked with was CycleBeads® - a visual tool that helps women use a proven, fertility awareness-based method known as the Standard Days Method®. CycleBeads is now used in +60 countries by millions of women worldwide and offered in health programs, both domestically and internationally. It is also offered as an app.

More recently, we developed Dot™ - a patent-pending, app-only contraceptive method that gives women critical fertility information by identifying daily pregnancy risks and predicting future periods with its highly sophisticated advanced algorithm. Dot Fertility & Period Tracker was launched for iOS in late 2015 and the Dot app for Android was launched earlier this year. We are thrilled that researchers at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health, with support from USAID, are conducting the first ever contraceptive efficacy study on a fertility app with the Dot app. To date, 6 million women use Cycle Technologies’ products worldwide; and over 5.5 million unplanned pregnancies have been prevented, and 1.5 million pregnancies successfully planned using these options.

What started as a health and product-focused consulting business has grown into a global, social-impact company focused on reproductive health. It’s exciting because I’ve found a great team of people that share in my passion and bring different skills to the issue of meeting women’s contraceptive needs. This year, we’ll be celebrating our 15th year in business, and we continue to stay highly driven knowing that our hard work helps improves the lives of women around the globe.

What is the number one thing preventing women from taking the plunge into entrepreneurship?

Women are less likely than men to start businesses that require them to seek capital, but women are natural entrepreneurs. We see women starting all kinds of businesses from their homes, while doing other jobs, etc. That said, the biggest issue for women – and many men – is sheer confidence. You have to be a bit of an irrational optimist and really sure of yourself to start a new business.

If I were to start my own business today, what is the first thing I should do to take action? - Where do you start?

 No matter what type of business you’re planning to start, the first thing to do is write the business plan. The business plan is a living document and something that you will refer to throughout the lifecycle of your company. It’s also where you to start to think through the different levers and assumptions about your business. Once you have a business plan in hand, it can give you the confidence to start putting all the other aspects in order.

What was the worst piece of advice you have gotten?

 No advice is really bad advice unless the intent of the advice given is ill-will. But it’s important to know where a person is coming from when they give you advice and to decide if you’ll actually use it. Generally speaking, I like hearing from people and hearing different perspectives. Even if I don’t necessarily think the advice is helpful at that moment, it can help me expand my thinking.

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Who has always been your mentor?

 My mom has been a huge mentor for me.  She’s taught me to stand up for myself, work hard, and to take care of people.

Do you think the entrepreneurial spirit is innate or can it be learned over time?

I think most of what an entrepreneur does can be learned, but there has to be a small spark that does seem to be innate – or at least fostered from a very young age. The spark is having confidence in your decisions, a clear vision, and being able to manage the stress. But like everything in life, there are lots of skills that an entrepreneur can learn that really do help with all aspects, even the confidence, clarity and stress management part. 

What keeps you motivated when everything seems to be going wrong?

There are two things that keep me sane when things are going wrong: 1) The people with whom I work. We have an amazing positive team of problem solvers within our company and among our partners. Having people you can lean on and who can help brainstorm and address any challenges is key; and 2) Focusing on our end users. Hearing directly from people who you are helping can keep you motivated and focused on the end goal.

Everyone has their two-cents, how do you decide whose advice to listen to?

I try to think about where the person giving advice is coming from. We all have a point of view that shapes what we focus on and how we see the world.

What is your favorite gadget or app that you cannot live without?

I am obsessed with my Bose headphones. I wear them walking to work and on the airplane. It lets me catch up on news and podcasts and creates a little bubble where you can recharge.

At what point did you know you would be successful?

I’m hoping to know that soon!

If you could give your former self one piece of advice that could have saved you many mistakes what would it be?

At the risk of sounding cliché, I’d say, “just do it”. Be bold and confident in who you are, ask questions, don’t be afraid to look stupid, and never assume you can’t do something if you just don’t know “how” to do it yet.

What is the key to building your own voice and brand?

I think you have to first be authentic in who you are. Never try to be something you aren’t. But then really refine your message and brand and repeat it often to everyone in your organization and in all of your materials. In our case, it’s about solving complex problems with simple, effective solutions. It becomes a touchstone that we can come back to whenever we start to lose our way or get overwhelmed with all the potential opportunities and challenges.

What are you most proud of?

I’d have to say that I am most proud of being a mother to two young children who are turning into fantastic human beings. On the work front, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’re moving the ball forward in terms of expanding contraceptive options, increasing access, and helping women stay in control of their reproductive health.

Your favorite quote?

 “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

Connect with Leslie:

Twitter: @Leslie_Heyer