The inspiring journey of Frendo, the endo app, scheme, and community

An endometriosis diagnosis, eighteen years in the making, led Founder and CEO of Frendo, Dearbhail Ormond, to embark on a journey of discovery that, ultimately, led to her transforming the lives of women worldwide.

This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

According to the World Health Organization, endometriosis affects around 190 million women and girls of a reproductive age. It is a chronic disease which can deeply impact the lives of sufferers, and, as yet, there is no cure for it – only the ability to control the symptoms.

However, the inclusive Frendo platform is shaking up women’s health by waking the world up to women's healthcare. It is a platform that is raising awareness of endometriosis and offering hope and support to those grappling with the disease and other related conditions.

Meet Dearbhail Ormond

Dearbhail Ormond isn't just an entrepreneur. She's a woman on a mission to make a difference.

With a background in marketing at KPMG, Australia, and roles at CancerAid and the Australian Olympic Committee, the ambitious founder’s career started on a completely different trajectory. However, life had other plans for her, and her personal battle with endometriosis led her down a new path – one of highs and lows, but ultimately one of empowerment and of positive change.

"I always knew I wanted to do something of my own. But my health threw a curveball into my career," Dearbhail candidly admits.

After having three surgeries for endometriosis, she decided to return to her roots in Ireland.

The idea

Frendo's inception can be traced back both to Dearbhail's own struggle with endometriosis and to her realisation that there was a glaring absence of robust support systems for those fighting the condition.

“I was feeling really isolated, and I couldn’t find supportive and positive communities. There were Facebook pages, but it was more doctor[1]bashing, and there weren’t really those communities that have positive tools, and that's really how Frendo came about."

Initially envisioned as a social network, Frendo underwent a transformation when Dearbhail zeroed in on a pressing issue faced by countless women – the long delay in diagnosing endometriosis, which is, on average, between seven to 11 years. However, Dearbhail’s own diagnosis took between 18 to 20 years. Determined to bridge this gap and make a difference, Frendo's mission pivoted to focus more on early detection and support.

The technology

Frendo is not just a health app, it’s a platform with a focus on tackling the unique challenges posed by endometriosis and related conditions. The app employs the power of technology to enable users to log and articulate their symptoms effectively.

“My symptoms will differ in the morning from what they are in the afternoon. And GPs aren’t necessarily very familiar with the symptoms. So having something that articulates the symptoms to the doctor is what I wanted to build.

This articulation is made possible by using AI. The app doesn't just passively collect data, it actively encourages users to make helpful choices with personalised insights – reminding them of past successful treatments and interventions, which allows the individual to take charge of their health journey, encouraging them to create a positive and healthy routine.

An ecosystem of empowerment

One of the initiatives of Frendo is the ‘Frendo@Work’ support programme. This programme goes beyond individual health management and extends to the workplace. Employers can use it as an employee benefit, showcasing their commitment to supporting individuals affected by endometriosis and related conditions.

The programme is aimed at promoting employee well-being and productivity, equipping employees with the tools to facilitate challenging conversations with managers and colleagues about their health conditions. Working with one of the world’s largest SaaS providers, Frendo@Work is enabling medical and financial institutions to offer their employees the benefits of self-care tools and supportive work environments to ensure the health and well-being of sufferers is being met.

“Managing my illness impacted my studies and my career.

“I was always career focussed and driven, I didn’t want to miss time or fall behind. I wanted to be building a community with my team and hitting goals. However, I struggled to communicate the depth of my crippling pain and severe fatigue at times with those I worked with. What I really wanted was to be able to communicate properly with my peers and find the tools to be able to work around the illness, improving my quality of life so that I could be productive, continuing to achieve for myself and for my team.

“I created the Frendo@Work workplace programme with this in mind. I know if I had this when I was in the workplace, I would have felt hugely appreciative, valued, and eager to achieve the best results for the organisation and myself.”

Frendo places a strong emphasis on user privacy. The platform collects minimal data, and all of the information is stored within Europe. Although Frendo currently refrains from data sharing, there is a future potential to aggregate and anonymise data in order to improve treatment pathways and insights, allowing the user to build up a detailed picture of their condition, whilst also building knowledge and understanding of how the condition affects women.

Funding, challenges, and triumphs

The journey of Frendo, like any entrepreneurial odyssey, has had its share of challenges, with Dearbhail initially bootstrapping the project before later accepting private investments.

While being a female founder hasn't posed significant hurdles, the topic of endometriosis itself proved to be a challenge. Although Dearbhail attests that people are now seeing the value and opportunity in Frendo.

“I think a female founded, patient-led product is quite a strong position. But I would say the endometriosis discussions are a challenge.

Dearbhail also acknowledges that the solitude of entrepreneurship can be trying. Nevertheless, Frendo's achievements have been extraordinary. From being voted the best health tech app to spearheading initiatives with the Department of Health in Ireland, Frendo is at the helm of reshaping the discourse around healthcare systems and women's health.

Making a movie

In an exciting collaboration, Frendo is joining forces with ‘Below the Belt,’ an influential film project aimed at raising awareness about endometriosis.

“It’s a really exciting piece for both of us because Shannon Cohan has directed and produced incredible pieces of art and work that’s had bills changed in the US as a result, but action now needs to happen, and that’s really exciting for us.”

The Frendo journey is a testament to the power of innovation, determination, and a passionate mission. Dearbhail Ormond's vision and unwavering commitment have given rise to a platform that is reshaping the landscape of women's healthcare.

With its resolute support and dedication to early detection, Frendo is poised to make a lasting impact on the lives of countless women across the world, and as Frendo continues to expand and evolve, it stands as a beacon of hope and empowerment in the field of women's health, fostering a sense of community and understanding.

“There's a lot of interest in Frendo, and we’ve had some very interesting conversations – it's certainly more than an app now.”