Lessons learned from 12 experiments with 3,315 teens

Hello Real Talk community,

We've been busy! We are preparing for our next build phase to finish out our Innovation Next grant and have been prototyping and experimenting with teens across the U.S. to gather feedback about our current beta app. In fact, in the first quarter (Q1) of this year alone, we conducted 12 experiments with 3,515 teen users. Please see the infographic below for results and lessons learned.

Real Talk Q1 2018 Prototyping & Experiments (1).jpg

Now that we know that publishing 3 stories per day improves retention and engagement compared to publishing 1 story per day, we will focus our efforts to improve our story submission process so that we can crowdsource more content to support this increased rate. 

In the month of March, females submitted 59% of the stories in our app, males submitted 38%, and non-conforming/non-binary teens submitted 3%. Among the stories submitted, 39% of them referenced a LGBTQ+ experience like the story below. 

In the end of 6th grade I realized I was attracted to both Male and Female. It scared me at first and I thought it was wrong to think that way since kids who had come out prior to when I did were always bullied about it. I kept it a secret until the end of the summer when I decided to tell my cousin. I want to tell my cousin because she is in high school and I knew that she would be understanding. I pulled her aside and took her into the backyard where no one was. I told her, “I have something to tell you.” She replied, “Okay what is it.” I said straight up, “I’m bisexual.” She said, “Oh really? I thought you were completely gay tbh.” We both laughed and she hugged me and said, “Does anyone else know” And I replied, “No. And I don’t plan to tell anyone anytime soon” she nodded and zipped her mouth. We are extremely close and I am completely out and happy as can be that I didn’t wait until I was older. -- Male, 13

In the next few weeks, we look forward to building out and testing new functions in our app. We'll be in touch again soon as we look for teens to provide us with feedback on these new updates. As always, please reach out to Liz (liz@myhealthed.org) if you have any questions or comments about this blog post. 

Many thanks!


Liz, Vichi & Cristina

Liz Chen
Real Talk users read 7 stories per session

Hello Real Talk community,

We’re proud to say that Real Talk is in all 50 states and the District of Columbia within the U.S. -- and this includes the 26 states without mandated sex ed in schools. Currently, the states with the greatest number of users are California, Texas, and New York (TX and NY don’t mandate sex ed). Plus, Real Talk is in 53 countries across the globe! Since last month, we have again doubled our number of downloads! The average user session lasts 4 minutes and 27 seconds and users view an average of 7 stories per session.

Group 2.png

We’ve been prototyping around our app’s story submission experience to improve it. In order to make it better, we set out to learn why teens choose to submit stories in the first place. We want to understand these underlying motivations so that we can design a story submission process that is both delightful and that aligns with what teens want. In order to learn more from our teen users, we sent a short, two-question follow-up survey to those who had submitted stories the previous week. One question specifically asked teens why they submitted a story and here were some of their responses:

  • “I needed somewhere to vent about the issue I had had that week. Real Talk gave me an anonymous safe and secure environment to do that.”
  • “I felt that real stories from real teenagers can be more effective in helping then articles made by adults who haven’t lived the experience.”

  • “I wanted to help people like me going through the same situation.”

We are excited to create a community where teens feel safe and supported as they tell their stories and help other teens know they’re not alone.

This past month, we were featured in Swaay in an article featuring women-run apps that are changing sex education. We also launched our first social media campaign with partner organizations including Power to Decide (StayTeen), bc4u, Sex, Etc. and YTH.org to spread awareness about Real Talk. We are very grateful to our partners for sharing their lessons learned about social media marketing these past few weeks and look forward to further experimenting with this moving forward.

Soon, we’ll be looking for new teens (ages 13-15) to join our Teen Advisory Board (TAB). Since we collaborate with our teens remotely, our TAB members can be anywhere in the country. Do you know a teen who would be interested in making Real Talk better and spreading the word about the app? If yes, email Liz at liz@myhealthed.org with the subject “Real Talk TAB nomination” and she will send you quick next steps. Thank you in advance!

All the best,

Liz, Vichi, and Cristina

Liz Chen
Real Talk users are in 49 states and 40 countries!

Hello Real Talk community,

We’re excited to share that Real Talk has been downloaded more than 2,000 times, reaching users in 49 states across the United States and 40 countries; the countries with the most users outside of the U.S. include France, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. We’ve more than doubled the number of downloads in the last month and will be exploring additional marketing strategies in the coming weeks beyond our current Instagram ad campaigns (see example below).


Teens continue to share their personal stories with us through the app and we pair stories with high quality resources from credible sites including TeensHealth, Sex, Etc., Amaze.org, and Planned Parenthood. Here is one of the stories that was submitted this week:

How do u say no to society? Okay so I’m a part of the LGBTQ community. So me and my gf were at the mall and we were walking around holdings hands. I felt kinda weird because she’s my first gf. So anyways we were walking and this old man out of no where says ew. I started to freak out inside so i stopped holding her hand. That same day we went to a school dance and a slow song came on and we started dancing. While we were dancing I felt uncomfortable because I thought people were judging me because I was dancing with a girl. The thing is no one knows that I’m bisexual and I feel like people are going to make fun of me because of it. So that night after the dance we went home and she texted me that she had a great time and that after the slow dance she wanted to kiss me. I replied with “I’m glad you had a great time. I’m just not ready for the whole public thing yet.” I felt awful because she wants to be a “public couple” but I’m not ready yet. I just want society to be okay with love. It doesn’t matter what race, gender or sexuality you are. -- Female, 16

I just want society to be okay with love. It doesn’t matter what race, gender or sexuality you are.
— Female, 16

We will continue to monitor the search results in our app so that we can source relevant stories to publish. We are seeing trends for what kinds of topics are in high demand and are working to have sufficient stories available for all of these in-demand topics. Some of the most commonly searched topics in Real Talk include relationship, acne, puberty, and periods.

In the next few weeks, we will be hosting our first annual MyHealthEd, Inc. board retreat in Chapel Hill, NC and working with teens to prototype ideas for new features in our next build phase. Please reach out to Liz (liz@myhealthed.org) if 1) you work with teens who might be interested in testing out some new features OR submitting stories to be included in the app or 2) you work with teens and are willing to help us spread the word about Real Talk (we’ll provide the materials/social media posts). We look forward to working with more teens across the country!


Liz, Vichi & Cristina

Liz ChenComment
1000+ users and happy holidays, y'all!

Hello Real Talk community,

Thank you to our 52 supporters for celebrating #GivingTuesday with us! After revamping our website and running our short Facebook campaign, we were able to raise $3,126 to assist our efforts to reach 5,000 users by Valentine’s Day 2018 through Instagram marketing efforts. As of this week, Real Talk has been downloaded more than 1000 times -- hooray!

This month, the Innovative Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs (iTP3) project (the sister program to the Innovation Next accelerator) came to Tarboro, North Carolina to run a design thinking workshop with the Rural Opportunity Institute from December 11-15, 2017. Vichi helped to coordinate this week-long workshop with four community organizations (Project Momentum, Michael’s Angels Girls Club, Northeast Carolina Prep School, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Tar River Region). The teams received a combined $80,000 in additional funding to continue prototyping their innovative program ideas. Check out some of the action shots below.


Now that we have a story submission section in our updated beta, teens are sharing their own stories about puberty, bullying, and relationships. Here is an example story that was submitted via our app:

My best friend at the time and her boyfriend had been arguing for a while and they kept breaking up and getting back together. I knew she didn’t even like him anymore, she was in love with someone else. I comforted the ex and we started dating. I really liked him but she started drama and said I was being a douche by dating him. She constantly puts him down and it’s not really fair for him and it’s not true about half the things she’s saying. She made all of our friends choose sides; me or her. I lost most of my friends and that really sucked. I haven’t yet decided what I want to do. It’s been about a year since it started and I’m not even with that guy anymore but we haven’t talked about it because she thinks she did nothing wrong. She’s yet to try to solve it, and I’m not going to approach her if she thinks she’s in the right. -- Female, 14

This past week, our Real Talk team was featured in Yahoo Lifestyle. In the new year, we will continue working with teens across the country to learn as much as we can from them. Please let us know (by emailing Liz at liz@myhealthed.org) if you have any teens we should include in our pilot testing. Happy holidays, y'all!


Liz, Vichi & Cristina

Liz Chen
Access to sex ed makes an excellent holiday gift ;-)

Hello Real Talk community,

We hope that you had a great Thanksgiving holiday! We celebrated in New York, Massachusetts and D.C. and can’t believe that we’re only weeks away from the winter holidays. In the coming months, our goal is to bring Real Talk to 5000 teens in the counties across America with the least access to sex ed by Valentine’s Day 2018. And we’re ready to start now!

As we approach #GivingTuesday, we ask that you check out our updated website.

In November, we launched several app updates to our Real Talk beta app (download here). The updates make the beta faster and you can now submit your own story and share the app with friends. Hundreds of teens from over 22 states and more than 11 countries have accessed our app and their feedback continues to help us improve the app experience. In particular, we want to thank Deborah Levine, Andy Milne, and Laura Steenburgen for working with us to reach teens through their organizations and schools in the past few weeks. Do you have a group of teens who you think would be interested in trying out Real Talk as part of our pilot study? Please email Liz at liz@myhealthed.org for more information.

Since our last blog post, our Real Talk team has also been featured in the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list (in the Social Entrepreneurs category), The Daily Tar Heel, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s blog, and VICE Broadly.

In the coming weeks, we will work with teens from near and far to learn as much as we can from them before the holiday season. Please let us know (by emailing Liz at liz@myhealthed.org) if you have any teens we should include in our pilot testing!


Liz, Vichi & Cristina

Liz ChenComment
"Guys have breast buds too..." and a request for pilot study teens

Heyo Real Talk community,

The past month has passed quickly and we’re excited to share updates from our Fast Forward Demo Days, our workshop at the American School Health Association annual conference, and a few radio highlights.

On September 26th and 27th, we unveiled our beta version of Real Talk to attendees at Fast Forward’s Demo Days in San Francisco and Redwood City. Google.org, thanks for being a new Real Talk supporter! While in the Bay Area, Cristina also demoed our app for abc 7 news and Vichi delivered our three-minute pitch...twice (check out her pitch here).


On September 30th, Real Talk was featured on NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! segment, highlighting our use of emojis and how we make parents’ lives easier. Then, on October 2nd, Liz and Vichi recorded a radio interview with YOUR HEALTH ® that aired this past weekend about the release of our beta app.

Later in October, Liz and Cristina traveled to St. Louis, MO to present at the annual American School Health Association (ASHA) conference where we connected with health educators, school nurses, school administrators, health department officials, and nonprofit leaders. Workshop attendees tried Real Talk for themselves and then were asked to complete the following sample activity for teens that they could use in a classroom setting:

Instructions: In the Real Talk app, search for “breast buds” and “bra”. Read the stories that come up and click on the links that take you to additional resources on the topics. When you have completed this, answer the following questions:

  1. A bra size is made up of numbers and letters. What do the numbers stand for? What do the letters stand for?
  2. What causes gynecomastia? How long does it take for pubertal gynecomastia to go away?

Try it out! While we spend the majority of our time collaborating with middle school students, we welcome feedback from adults like you, so email us at founders@myhealthed.org with questions or comments about our beta app.

In the next few weeks, we plan to release an updated version of our beta app that includes improvements (bug fixes, increased speed through pagination) as well as new features (share the app, submit a story). Over the next few months, we will be conducting controlled pilot tests of our beta app with teens through partner organizations and schools. We want to gather feedback quickly from teens so that we can continue to improve our beta ASAP. Do you have a group of teens who you think would be interested in trying out Real Talk as part of our pilot study? Please email Liz at liz@myhealthed.org for more information.

Again, thank you for your continued support and we will be in touch once our update is available through the App Store!


Liz, Vichi & Cristina

Liz ChenComment
Real Talk Launches in Beta to Increase Teens’ Access to Sex Education Through Text-Based Storytelling

With $400,000 in philanthropic seed funding, Real Talk launches the first ever app for improved middle school sex education through text message-based storytelling

September 26, 2017 (Chapel Hill, N.C.) – Today Real Talk, a mobile app that provides critical sexual health information to middle schoolers through real stories by real teens, launches in Beta on iOS. Real Talk delivers crowdsourced stories about healthy relationships, puberty, and sexual health in a revolutionary format: text message conversations.


Real Talk launches at a critical time: 37 states do not require medically accurate sex education in schools, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just cut over $200 million in funding for teen pregnancy prevention, which will result in even fewer sexual health resources available to teens.

Real Talk’s educational, youth-derived stories are reviewed by public health professionals before publishing, and are presented as text message conversations in the app. Teens feel most comfortable learning about sexual health in a private setting - like their phones - and feel better when they know others are going through the same situations. Users can support others in the app through emoji reactions, search for topics relevant to them, and access links to high quality sexual health resources online if they want to learn more.

As an 8th grade student at KIPP Gaston College Prep in Gaston, North Carolina, Demonte Edwards said, “Some people really don’t have the confidence to talk to your parents about it. So this is a good place you can come to to get advice.”

Years of research and hundreds of interviews with middle schoolers informed their strategy. After successfully pilot testing with students in North Carolina, the team is ready to expand through a public beta launch. This will allow more teens to access the app and provide feedback to develop better content and more robust features. Results from this beta launch will help Real Talk hone in on the most important features as they continue building out the product over the next several months.

“Having lived and worked in areas with little to no access to sex education, I’ve seen first hand the impact this has on youth,” says Cristina Leos, a co-founder of Real Talk. “With only 50% of teen mothers receiving a high school diploma by the time they turn 22, this was an issue we couldn’t ignore. Real Talk presents sex education in a way that resonates with middle-school students, by meeting them on their phones and showing them they are not alone.”

Real Talk was founded by a team of women - Cristina Leos, Vichi Jagannathan, and Liz Chen - and to date has been supported by prominent organizations like the Office of Adolescent Health (Grant number: TP2AH000023-02-00), The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the Aetna Foundation, and Fast Forward, with a total of $465,000 in funding. Real Talk’s parent organization, MyHealthEd, Inc., is dedicated to improving youth health education through technology.

For more information, visit www.realtalkapp.com.

About MyHealthEd, Inc. MyHealthEd, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving youth health education through technology. MyHealthEd, Inc. was founded in 2016 by Liz Chen, Cristina Leos, and Vichi Jagannathan, in efforts to increase access to sex education in low-income and rural communities. The organization is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For more information, visit www.myhealthed.org.

Media Contact: Vichi Jagannathan, Co-Founder Email: founders@realtalkapp.com Phone: (845) 702-6802

Liz ChenComment
Story Preview and Plans for Beta Release

Hello Real Talk community,

As we get ready to release our beta version of Real Talk in the Apple App Store in September (just in time for our Demo Days as part of the Fast Forward accelerator), we’ve been engaging with teens and others in the sex ed world to figure out how sex ed can be improved, especially in a world where technology is readily available. Recently, we were interviewed by POPSUGAR for a piece on how sex ed in schools is failing kids. Real Talk was featured in addition to other great resources like Amaze.org and Sex, Etc. With federal funding cuts to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), thousands of teens across the country will likely lose access to comprehensive sex ed through normal channels like schools. Now more than ever, there is a need for Real Talk and other digital resources, to reach teens where they’re at -- on their phones.


Here at MyHealthEd, Inc., we’re committed to elevating the voices of middle school students. We have convened our inaugural Teen Advisory Board for Real Talk with volunteer middle school students who have decision-making power with regards to app design and content. We also collect and curate stories written by real middle school students from around the country. Check out a few of the submitted stories below:

Previous marching season, it was my first season ever marching since I'm a freshman. I made first chair, and this boy that I started out disliking was my rival, since we were both the best. Well, we ended up getting close. We were lowkey a thing, because we'd always hold hands, cuddle, and go everywhere together. He told my sister that he liked me, and that I was one of the only people he'd cry for if I died. I told him how I liked him in December, over Christmas break. He told me that he knows it sucks liking someone and them not liking you back, and then when I told him that I get that he likes someone else he said "How would you know whether I liked you back or not?" I'm not sure if the reaction was healthy or not, but I know it confused me. Even now I still like that boy. We're best friends, and things are still confusing. He gets mad if I call other boys cute and if I walk with other people, and I go over to his house like every other weekend. I just feel clueless, not knowing what we are. -- Male, 13

Well, my period cramps are so severe I have to get medication from the doctor. It makes me break out all along my forehead. i am going through puberty a little later, but for the most part I am on track. Everyone seems so on top of their health and routines and I am DEFINITELY not. The cramps suck because they make me cry but the acne on my forehead makes me extremely self-conscious. I've heard that there are face washes that I'll try to make my skin less oily so imma gonna try that. -- Female, 13

We’ll be working hard in the next month to prepare our beta version of Real Talk for an initial release in September. We look forward to sharing the news when we’re available in the Apple App Store!

Best, Liz, Vichi & Cristina

Liz ChenComment
Real Talk: Welcome to our journey

Hello Real Talk community,

Eighteen months ago, we embarked on a journey to bring high quality comprehensive sex education to middle school students in low-income and rural communities of color across the country. In January 2016, we were named finalists in the Innovation Next accelerator of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. In the months that followed, we gained design thinking skills from IDEO, talked with hundreds of middle school students, and incorporated as a new nonprofit, MyHealthEd, Inc. Now, we are in the midst of developing our Real Talk app. We plan to have our beta released to the Apple App Store later in 2017.
















In the past year and a half, we have been fortunate to garner support from many partners, including The National Campaign, InnovateHealth Yale, The Aetna Foundation, and Fast Forward. In an effort to streamline communications with our funders, stakeholders, supporters, and users, we have decided to start this blog. Through the blog, we plan to share updates, solicit feedback, and welcome new ideas.

If you are receiving this inaugural blog post, that means that we have crossed paths along this journey or that you have expressed interest in the Real Talk app. Either way, thank you for your support and we look forward to connecting with you soon!

Liz, Vichi & Cristina

Liz Chen