Being an expectant mom can be frightening, as can mothering an infant or toddler. The answers don't come automatically, and while there's no shortage of books and websites (and advice from grandparents) about how to parent at every stage, finding satisfying information often proves a lot harder than imagined.
There are online social groups that deliver some of the social and emotional support that new parents need, no matter where they live. There are many dozens of mom communities on Facebook, for example. However, it's because there's room for improvement on this theme -- big groups can feel isolating, bad information abounds -- that Oath Care, a young, four-person San Francisco-based startup, just raised $2 million in seed funding from XYZ Ventures, General Catalyst, and Eros Resmini, former CMO of Discord and managing partner of the Mini Fund.
What is it building? Founder Camilla Hermann describes it as a subscription-based mobile app that's focused on improving the lives of new mothers by combining parents who have lots in common with healthcare specialists and moderators who can guide them in group chats, as well as one-on-one video calls.
More specifically, she says, for $20 per month, Oath matches pregnant and postpartum moms in circles of up to 10 based on factors like stage of pregnancy, age of child, location and career so they can ask questions of each other, with the help of a trained moderator (who is sometimes a mother with older children).
Oath also pushes curriculum that Oath's team is developing in-house to members based on each group's specific needs. Not last, every group is given collective access to medical specialists who can answer general questions as part of the members' subscription and who are also available for consultations when individualized help is needed.
Hermann says the pricing of these 15-minute consultations is still being developed, but that the medical experts with whom it's already working see the app as a form of lead generation.
It's an interesting concept, one that could be taken in a host of directions, acknowledges Hermann, who says she was inspired to co-found the company based on earlier work developing a contact tracing technology created to track outbreaks like Ebola in real time.
As she said yesterday during a Zoom call with TechCrunch and her co-founder, Michelle Stephens, a pediatric clinician and research scientist: "We've fundamentally misunderstood something really important about health in the West; we think that [changes] happen to one person at a time or one part of the body at a time, but it always happens in interconnected systems both inside and outside the body, which fundamentally means that it is always happening in community."
For her part, Stephens -- who was introduced to Hermann at a dinner years ago -- says her motivation in co-founding Oath was born out of research into childhood stress, and that by "better equipping parents to be those positive consistent caregivers in their child's life," Oath aims to help enable stronger, more intimate child-parent bonds.
It might sound grand for a mobile app, but it also sounds like a smart starting point. Though the idea is to match mothers in similar situations at the outset to help bolster theirs and their children's health, it's easy to imagine the platform evolving in a way that brings together parents in numerous groups based on interests, from preschool applications to autism to same-sex parenting. It's easy to see the platform helping to sell products that parents need. It's easy to imagine the company amassing a lot of valuable information.
Indeed, says Hermann, the longer-term vision for Oath is to create rich data sets that it hopes can be used to improve health outcomes, including by identifying health issues earlier. Relatedly, it also hopes to build relationships with health systems and payers in order to increase access to its products.
For now, Oath is mostly just trying to keep up with demand. Hermann says the "small and scrappy" company found its first 50 users through Facebook ads, and that this base quickly tripled organically before Oath was forced to create a growing waitlist for what has been a closed beta until now. (Oath is "anticipating a full launch in late summer," says Stephens.)
That's not to say the company isn't thinking at all about next steps.
While right now it is "laser focused on building out the most exceptional experience for this specific cohort of users in this specific period of time of their lives," says Hermann, once it builds out many more communities of small trusted groups with "high engagement and high trust," there is "a lot you can layer on top of that. It's virtually limitless."