Urska Srsen on her plan to get Bellabeat users ready for anything

The co-founder and CPO turns over a new Leaf
Meet the Boss: Urska Srsen

When the Bellabeat Leaf made its debut in 2014, the all wood, leaf-shaped, period and lifestyle tracking wearable didn't prove a hit with typical early adopters. Croatian co-founders Urska Srsen and Sandro Mur instead captured an entirely different group of connected self customers.

"Mature women, typically aged 25 to 35, and not mature in age but in terms of knowing what they want," describes Srsen, who serves as Bellabeat's CPO. "They're conscious of their health and they might be into yoga or thinking about planning a family."

As the Leaf was originally part of a trio of devices, alongside a pocket-sized ultrasound and a smart scale, aimed at pregnant women, it's no surprise that young women wanted more than just fitness and sleep stats from a tracker.

Read this: Our in-depth Bellabeat Leaf Urban review

The likes of Misfit have successfully appealed to women as a mainstream wearable but acknowledging the unique design and reproductive health features, how has Bellabeat sold to people who might not think they're into wearable tech? "That's our secret," she says. "Our users really believe in our products."

The first Leaf added menstrual cycles, fertility tracking and meditation exercises to the standard fitness tracker features list. Now, alongside the launch of its new Leaf Urban device, Bellabeat is giving its 350,000 users a new way of making all this data useful: stress tracking.

Edgy but eco

Sticking with the new device for a moment, the $129 Leaf Urban, and its predecessor, look and feel like nothing else in wearable tech. Srsen is actually a sculptor by trade, feeling the need to say "sorry, I talk a lot about materials" as she describes how the team tried to make the original, all wood Leaf water resistant. In the end it wasn't possible without compromising the material.

"With the Leaf Nature, we wanted to break this cold and clunky surface of tech and give it some more warmth," she says. "We went completely out of the box with natural wood and stainless steel. Now, we have an alternative - a wood and eco-plastic composite - that still satisfies our need to explore new materials and is as eco-friendly as we can be."

The eco credentials of the first Leaf were certainly appealing to the health conscious, yoga practising women who bought the first product. Srsen describes the new design as "edgier" and more of a fashion statement, plus the smaller, lighter tracker is of course now the more practical choice thanks to the water resistance.

Let's talk about stress

This new device is going up for pre-order soon and it's one that should broaden Bellabeat's appeal further. But the real headline is the company's move into stress tracking, or more specifically stress preparedness tracking.

If you're in a stressful situation, you know it. You don't need a device to tell you that.

According to Srsen, this is a more useful tool for making practical adjustments to how stressed you are. "You can't avoid stressful situations and, of course, if you are in a stressful situation, you know you're in a stressful situation," she says. "You don't need a device to tell you that. What you need out of a wearable is that it shows you how to prepare, and not just shows but also motivates you."

What a device like the Leaf can tell you, without the need for any extra biometric sensors meaning you have to wear it only on your wrist and tightly, is how ready you are to deal with stress. Bellabeat believes its proprietary algorithms, which combine activity, sleep, menstrual cycle and meditation data, can predict your emotional state. The in-app visualisation doesn't give you a real time picture of your stress response but a daily view of your wellbeing.

"It shows you how your own behaviour influences your ability to control situations in which you are stressed," explains Srsen. So, for instance, the shape representing your potential stress levels will move towards the sleep icon if you went to bed late or didn't get enough sleep. And yesterday's result is also displayed so you can see how you're doing in comparison.

That can help you spot long term changes you could make - and the app and weekly report will make suggestions too. But meditation is seen as a key way to minimise stress that day. "If you haven't been sleeping well and you haven't been active too much because you're busy, you're on your period or you're having PMS, those are the parameters that maybe you can't influence instantly. But maybe you can help yourself in that same moment by doing a quick meditation exercise."

The connected woman's future

One omission which I spotted as Srsen was talking me through the app screens of the new stress tracking feature: food. This overview approach can already be seen in, for instance, Under Armour Record which pulls in MyFitnessPal food data alongside fitness and sleep stats.

People went from steroids to organic juices

"Food or liquid intake is an important aspect of your wellbeing," says Srsen. "What is problematic is the tracking of that. Bellabeat's philosophy is that we develop tracking that can be automatic so it's not burdening to the user. When you have to manually insert something, that's already a conscious action."

Still, Srsen teases future food and water tracking features for Leaf users keen to get a true 360-degree view of their health and mood: "This is something that we've been thinking about and we have something in development that could potentially solve this problem."

The overall vision is to create a system that allows women to track every aspect of their health within one app. Future devices that "track different aspects" will be added to the Bellabeat platform and one day the app could even mix human interaction, for instance, caregivers, with artificial intelligence.

Wrapped up in the idea of conscious actions, such as manually inputting meals, is the co-founder's view that wearable tech is heading away from the ritual of opening up an app to check your progress and digest your data.

"I see a shift of the whole experience of quantified self products to less conscious use of a device and more natural consumption of information," she explains. "This is what all wearable tech companies are trying to figure out."

Bellabeat's co-founder also sees her company as part of a shift from fitness to health and wellbeing, taking the mind and body together. It's a trend that we're seeing more and more with the rise of stress tracking and emotion sensing wearables.

"Before, it was the fitness space that was on the rise and this is what companies like Fitbit and Jawbone were part of," she says. "So, 23 year-olds jogging all day and being pumped up. People went from steroids to organic juices. Now, this shift has happened where everything leans more towards wellness, a more holistic approach. There's this rise of meditation apps like Headspace as well as wellness wearables using biometrics or data. I feel that Bellabeat came about at the right time, we're part of that group."

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