All posts in “telemedicine”

The Pill Club raises $51M as VCs find new opportunities in women’s health

Through telemedicine and direct-to-consumer sales platforms, startups are streamlining the historically arduous process of accessing contraception.

The latest effort to secure a significant financing round is The Pill Club, an online birth control prescription and delivery service. Consumer-focused investor VMG Partners has led its $51 million Series B, with participation from new investors GV and ACME Capital (formerly known as Sherpa Capital), and existing investors Base10 Partners and Shasta Ventures. The Pill Club declined to disclose its valuation.

Launched in 2016 in San Carlos, California, The Pill Club couples healthcare services with at-home delivery, reaching customers in all 50 states. With a team of doctors, nurses and patient care coordinators, the startup operates its own pharmacy and is licensed to prescribe medication in 35 states. With the new funding, which brings its total raised to $67 million, founder and chief executive officer Nick Chang said he plans to scale the business 50 percent and expand its prescription service across the entire U.S.

“At the end of the day, our company is about empowering women,” Chang told TechCrunch. “What does that mean? It means empowering our patients to make their own healthcare decisions and making reproductive healthcare more common — something to not be shy about or worried about.”

Chang, who has spent his career in medicine and holds an M.D. from Duke University, previously founded Ganogen. The business, which sought to facilitate patient’s access to organ donors, ultimately shut down but was a catalyst to The Pill Club’s formation, as were experiences from Chang’s youth.

“I [grew] up with an older sister who was on birth control since she was 14 for menstrual regulation,” Chang said. “She really felt embarrassed to pick up the medication and to talk to anyone about it and that was really insightful for me. There are so many hurdles in accessing birth control besides clinics being around.”

Some 67 million women between the ages of 13 to 44 live in the U.S.; 19 million of them live in contraceptive deserts, or areas that lack reasonable access to public clinics. The Pill Club wants to eliminate those deserts, as do other companies in the digital health arena.

Digital health has remained one of the hottest destinations for VC investment. In 2018, investors put about $4.5 billion into U.S. companies in the sector, a 17 percent increase year-over-year, according to PitchBook data. Telemedicine startups garnered a record $1.25 billion in funding in that timeframe thanks to large financings for industry leader Oscar, a health insurance startup that raised $540 million in 2018 alone; as well as an $88 million Series A for newcomer Roman, which offers a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction.

Startups focused on women’s health, meanwhile, have continued to garner more attention from VCs. These companies, including The Pill Club and comepetitor Nurx, have not only benefited from the rapid rise of telehealth, but also from a societal shift sparked in part by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers’ attempts to limit women’s access to birth control.

“People want to talk about this,” Chang said. “With so much happening from Hollywood to politics … it’s really got some people to say ‘ok, we really need to talk about what we are prioritizing as a society.’”

In addition to accelerating the expansion of its 260-person team, The Pill Club plans to use the investment to explore launching more services within women’s healthcare and to broaden the educational content it offers its customers.

“This is just the beginning of a much broader and bigger movement,” Chang said.

Birth control delivery startup Nurx now offers an at-home HPV testing kit

Telemedicine startup Nurx — once dubbed the “Uber for birth control” — has launched a direct-to-consumer Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing kit. The addition means its customers can test for the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and a cause of genital warts and cervical cancer in the comfort of their own homes.

The Y-Combinator graduate is backed with about $42 million in venture capital funding from Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures, Lowercase Capital and others. It launched in 2015 to facilitate women’s access to birth control across the U.S. with a HIPAA-compliant web platform and mobile application that delivers contraceptives directly to customer’s doorsteps. Nurx’s telemedicine platform ensure its users can communicate with doctors and are provided the resources necessary in choosing the correct method of birth control.

The HPV test is free with insurance, aside from the $15 shipping and lab processing fee, and $69 for those without insurance. Beginning today, the kit is available to all current Nurx users and will be fully rolled out to new customers in 2019.

In addition to birth control and the HPV test, the company also ships PrEp, a once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV. Nurx’s expansion beyond birth control is part of the company’s goal of helping people take control of their health, especially the millions in the U.S. who live in “contraceptive deserts,” or areas where there is no reasonable access to a public clinic.

“Our mission here is to leverage telemedicine to change public healthcare,” Nurx co-founder and chief executive officer Hans Gangeskar told TechCrunch. “We are building a full-stack primary care telemedicine platform at an unparalleled cost.”

The HPV testing kit is only approved for women over 30 and is not a replacement for a Pap smear, which collects a sample of cells from the cervix to check for abnormalities. Still, the kit, which requires only a vaginal swab, is able to assess for 14 high-risks of HPV that lead to cervical cancer. The company says the test will be a game-changer for women who are not regularly able to get Pap smears or who have not had access to the HPV vaccine, like women who live in rural areas and those without health insurance.

Nurx raised a $36 million round with support from the Clinton Foundation in July. As part of the deal, Chelsea Clinton joined its board of directors. The company has used that investment to incorporate the HPV testing kit, as well as to expand into several new markets in 2018. 

Nurx is currently available in 22 states, including the District of Columbia.

Keeps parent company Thirty Madison raises $15 million to fight male pattern baldness

Thirty Madison, the healthcare startup behind the hair loss brand Keeps, has brought in a $15.25 million Series A co-led by Maveron and Northzone.

The company provides a subscription-based online marketplace for men’s hair loss prevention medications Finasteride and Minoxidil. Keeps sells these drugs direct-to-consumer, working with manufacturers to keep the costs low.

On Keeps, a subscription of Minoxidil, an over-the-counter topical treatment often referred to as Rogaine, is $10 monthly. A subscription to Finasteride, a prescription drug taken daily, is $25 per month.

It’s an end-to-end platform that is the single best place for guys who are looking to keep their hair,” Thirty Madison co-founder Steven Gutentag told TechCrunch.

Keeps is tapping into a big market. According to the American Hair Loss Association, two-thirds of American men experience some hair loss by the age of 35.

You may have heard of Hims, a venture-backed men’s healthcare company that similarly sells subscriptions to hair loss treatments, as well as oral care, skin care and treatments for erectile dysfunction. Keeps is its smaller competitor. For now, the company is focused solely on haircare, though with the new funds, Thirty Madison plans to launch Cove, a sister brand to Keeps that will provide treatments to migraine sufferers.

The company was founded last year by Gutentag and Demetri Karagas with a plan to develop several digital healthcare brands under the Thirty Madison umbrella.

“Going through this process myself of starting to experience hair loss, I was not sure where to turn,” Gutentag said. “I went online and looked up ‘why am I losing my hair,’ and if you search on Google, really for any medical condition, you usually walk away thinking you’re going to die … I was so fortunate that I got access to this high-quality specialist who could help me with my problem and I was in the position to afford those treatments but most people don’t get that access.”

Keeps also provide digital access to a network of doctors at a cost of roughly $30 per visit.

TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos wrote last year that “it’s never been a better time to be a man who privately suffers from erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or hair loss” because of advances and investments in telemedicine. Since then, even more money has been funneled into the space.

Hims has raised nearly $100 million to date and is rumored to be working on a line of women’s products. Roman, a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction, raised an $88 million Series A last month and is launching a “quit smoking kit.” And Lemonaid Health, which also provides prescriptions to erectile dysfunction medications and more, secured $11 million last year.

Greycroft, Steadfast Venture Capital, First Round, Entrepreneurs Roundtable, HillCour and Two River also participated in Thirty Madison’s fundraise, which brings its total raised to date to $22.75 million.

Sequoia backs Maven, a virtual health clinic for women

Despite the increase in women in the U.S. workforce and public pledges from several high-profile CEOs to close the gender pay gap, women, especially working mothers, often find themselves without the resources necessary to succeed at work.

Maven, a digital health startup and benefits platform focused on improving access to healthcare for women, has emerged specifically to help businesses help their female employees.

Maven has garnered the support of Sequoia Capital, a household name in Silicon Valley and a venture capital firm that has seldom backed female-focused businesses. Today, the company is announcing a $27 million Series B co-led by Sequoia and Oak HC/FT. Existing investors Spring Mountain Group, 14W and Female Founders Fund have also participated in the round.

As part of the deal, Sequoia’s Jess Lee and Oak’s Nancy Brown will join Maven’s all-female board of directors.

The company was founded by Kate Ryder, a journalist-turned-venture capitalist-turned-founder. Before joining Index Ventures as an early-stage investor in 2012, Ryder was a reporter at The New Yorker and The Economist.

During her time as a VC, digital health and telemedicine were the nascent sectors to watch. Professionally, Ryder realized the huge market opportunity, meanwhile, personally, she was reminded of the major lack of resources for women at work.

“A lot of my friends started having kids while I was working in venture capital, so I started hearing about the difficulties of having kids or postpartum depression,” Ryder told TechCrunch. “It’s not like you as a woman get educated on what all this is while you’re in school.”

In 2014, Ryder left her VC job to create Maven . Her goal: become a one-stop shop for working women starting families. Since launching the company, Ryder herself has become a mother of two.

“You go through this enormous life experience; it’s hugely transformative to have a child,” she said. “You do it when your careers is moving up — they call it the rush hour of life — and with no one supporting you on the other end, it’s easy to say ‘screw it, I’m going home to my family’ … If someone leaves the workforce, that’s fine, it’s their choice but they shouldn’t feel forced to because they don’t have support.”

Maven partners with companies, including Snap and Bumble, to provide employees access to its women’s and family health provider network. The platform connects users to OB-GYNs, pediatricians, therapists, career coaches and other services including resources for families interested in adoption, IVF or maternity care.

Users can also video chat or direct message healthcare practitioners using the Maven app.

Along with the Series B financing, Maven is announcing the launch of a breastmilk service, Maven Milk, which it says is its next step toward closing the resource and care gap for working mothers.

Erectile pharmacy app Roman raises $88M to launch ‘quit smoking’ kit

Roman is a rocket ship, and I’m not talking about how it sells Viagra and Cialis. Less than a year after launching its cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction with $3 million in funding and a five-person team, Roman has grown to seventy team members and a revenue run-rate in the 10s of millions — up 720 percent since January. It’s sparked over a million patient-physician visits, phone calls, and text conversations through its telemedicine portal for getting diagnoses and prescriptions.

And now Roman is ready to expand beyond men, so it’s dropping the ‘Man.

Today, the newly renamed ‘Ro’ unveiled its next product, Zero, a $129 ‘quit smoking’ kit. It contains a month’s worth of prescription cessation medication bupropion and nicotine gum, plus an app for tracking progress and learning how to stay motivated through hunger, nausea, and cravings. Pre-orders open today.

“Erectile dysfunction medication is a knee brace. It helps you to walk again but the goal would be to not need a knee brace” says Ro co-founder Zachariah Reitano, who started the company because he lives with ED himself due to a heart medication side effect. “Some people will need ED medication but we’re hoping that a lot of people, through lifestyle changes or quitting smoking, won’t need us any more.”

To get the word out about Zero to women and men alike, as well as build a physician’s electronic medical record system, Ro has also raised a jaw dropping $88 million Series A round. It was led by FirstMark Capital and joined by SignalFire, Initialized Capital, General Catalyst, Slow Ventures, Sinai Ventures, Torch Capital, BoxGroup, and Tusk Ventures. Initialized and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and FirstMark managing director Rick Heitzmann will both join Ro’s board to steward this massive infusion of capital.

Roman board member Alexia Ohanian sporting a Roman Zero hat while cheering on his wife, tennis star Serena Williams

“The plan for the money is to continue to build out our own pharmacy” as well as “a lot of the backend infrastructure that we call ‘Ro’ that will allow us to launch these other products and verticals over the next two to three years, including women’s health products, Reitano tells me. Ohanian writes that “The only thing that exceeds Ro’s execution to date is their vision for the future of healthcare. Unlike other companies in the space, Ro is full-stack and is actually rebuilding the health care experience from the ground up, which means they are able to deliver unrivaled care for patients across the country.”

Ro’s Zero kit

Until recently, 80 percent of Viagra sold online was counterfeit. That not only made it awkward to buy medication for erectile dysfunction, but also dangerous. Yet that number is starting to drop thanks to the explosion in popularity of Roman, as well as fellow direct-to-consumer men’s health startup Hims. “Roman doesn’t lend itself to the typical Instagram unboxing experience, but we get a lot of one-to-one word of mouth” Reitano says with a chuckle. SEO has also been key to revenue growth, as its the first organic search result for ‘buy Viagra’.

One of the thing that’s helped has been me sharing my story [he’s dealt with ED since he was 17], and this ‘check engine light’ concept” that views erections as indicators that a man’s body is in working order. Roman even built a somewhat-silly app called Morning Glory to help men track morning erections. Roman’s whole experience is designed to make patients comfortable with a fundamentally uncomfortable topic. “The fact that this stigma exists is why people don’t talk to their doctor or their partner” Reitano says.

Roman co-founder Zachariah Reitano

Now Ro wants to take the same clear-eyed approach to helping people quit smoking, starting by getting you to chat with its “telehealth assistant” to get paperwork sorted before you speak with a Ro doctor. The startup says that of the 37.5 million people in the US who smoke, 70 percent want to quit and 50 percent try to quit each year, but only 3 to 5 percent are smoke-free after six months. But with medication, nicotine replacement therapy like gum, tapering down smoking before stopping, and counseling, the quit rate drastically improves to 33 percent after six months.

You get all that from Zero’s kit for $129 per month, compared to $120 on Amazon for just the nicotine gum. Reitano admits that “the margin actually is not fantastic to start. Let’s say it’s slightly below what a typical commerce purchase would be.” But the idea is that if Ro and Zero can help someone quit smoking, patients will turn to it for more of their online pharmacy needs.

One barrier for Ro is that it currently doesn’t accept insurance for its $15 telemedicine appointments, Roman pills, or the Zero kit. Eventually it wants to accept FSA cards for tax-favored spending in hopes of reducing the cost for some patients, but otherwise Ro will require people to pay out-of-pocket, restricting it to wealthier segment of the population. Reitano admits that “In any space that’s incredibly competitive and highly regulated, there are things out of your control. In our control, there’s an incredible opportunity to make sure we take advantage of the infrastructure we have.”

Reitano concludes, “Honestly, I hope we can live up to what we want to build.”