Taking the stress out of the pill

By Patrick O’Malley

Six o’clock in the evening on one of those arctic Dublin nights where you can feel the wind piercing through your jacket and the icy rain cascading down the back of your neck. I was off to meet two blokes who told me they’d created a website that meant that girls would never forget to take their oral contraceptive pill.

I’d been reluctant to make the meeting because it was about a subject that didn’t really affect me and, to be honest, I didn’t understand that much. Oral contraception or “the Pill” is one of those things like tampons and Beiber that girls do and I don’t. But less than two minutes after meeting the creators of safetext.ie, Liam Ryan and Chris Rooney (students from TCD and UCD respectively) I realised not only how simple the whole thing could be, but also how big a part of women’s lives this was.

Over 250,000 Irish women currently use oral contraception and of these around two thirds forget to take their pill at least once a month. So what? Well, based on recent statistics, taking the pill just thirty minutes late reduces effectiveness by 7.7 percent. Taking this into account, women who take their pill late, or forget it all together, spend nervous hours and days plagued by what the consequences might be – something which blokes are oblivious to, and something which safetext.ie promises never need happen again.

Signing-up to the service takes about five minutes and is totally free. You click on to the website, type in the standard internet registering info (name, email address, mobile number) after which you receive a verification code sent to you in a text. You type this number in, input some information (what medication you take, when you usually start) and then a “personal calendar” pops-up telling you when you should be taking your pill. In the following days you then receive a free text at the time you decided reminding you to take your pill.

This sounds all well and good, but surely there are some problems. Perhaps most obviously, couldn’t women just set an alarm on their phone?

“There are several problems with this approach”, responds Ryan, “We surveyed over 500 women of which most said a text message would be a better reminder. The physical act and almost excitement of opening a text makes it more effective and each text includes a joke, quote or fact which makes girls want to open their texts and engage with the service”.

Another benefit, co-founder Rooney suggests, is that text messages negate any embarrassment that women might suffer if their alarm goes off. “When a girl’s phone alarm goes off at eleven in the morning in a cafe, everyone’s thinking only one thing and it’s awkward”, he says. “Receiving a text normalises the whole thing, and with Safetext you can chose to receive your texts from anyone in your contact list meaning that even if a friend or parent is going through your phone they wouldn’t know”.
Ryan is keen to impress another selling point of the service which reminds women to pick-up their prescriptions a few days before beginning to take their pills, saying “We spoke to a nurse who said that all too often women come in at very late notice meaning they might not get their medication on time”.

The service has proved a hit with the 500 plus women who have already registered since the site went live in September, and also drawn praise from several industry pundits culminating in safetext.ie being voted “Most Innovative Website” at the Irish Web Awards and the “One To Watch” at the much coveted Eircom Spider Awards. But the future hasn’t always seemed so bright for the two cheery students who say the experience has taught them more than anything they’ve done before. The website began as the brain-child of Ryan, whose discussions with his sister made him realise how big an issue oral contraception is for women and how big the gap in the market was (a survey of 500 women carried out by Byrne and Rooney showed that 80 percent of women thought it was a good idea).

With the idea firmly in place, the duo entered and won the TCD Dragons’ Den competition, earning themselves a €1375 grant which, when supplemented with a bank loan, allowed them to set-about creating the site itself.

What advice would the duo impart to other young entrepreneurs? “If you want people to take you seriously, you have to get serious yourself. Write a detailed business plan explaining your strategy, costs and projections”, says Ryan. “People will always tell you that you’re mad, or that it can’t be done, so perseverance is key. Above all, believe in your idea.”

The outlook for Ryan, Rooney and safetext.ie looks bright. Next year they will roll-out the service internationally, and as a result the website has huge earning potential if they start charging for, or advertising, on the site.

For the foreseeable future, however, the service will remain absolutely free. With this in mind, there’s no reason why women shouldn’t check-out safetext.ie. You never know, it might change your life.