The North American contraceptive pills market generated $4.1 billion in revenues in 2018, according to Fortune Business Insights. Yet, of the 62% of women of reproductive age using contraception, only 28% use the pill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the most common form of contraception though not by much. A surprising 27% use sterilization.
Sophia Yen, MD and associate professor of adolescent medicine at Stanford School of Medicine, didn't understand why more women were not using the pill. The Affordable Care Act has patient-friendly reimbursement policies for oral birth-control pills. Before the Affordable Care Act, it was incredibly frustrating to see Viagra being covered, but not the pill, said Yen in an article in Her Money. "Somehow, a 70-year-old man's need for an erection was more important than the young woman who didn't want to get pregnant."
She discovered that one reason women skip taking their birth-control medication is they don't have it on hand. In doing her own research in 2016, she found that women said they didn't have time to go to the pharmacy.
What may seem like an obstacle to one person is an opportunity for someone else. In 2014, Yen discussed this with her friend Perla Ni, a serial entrepreneur. These days, everything comes in the mail. Why not birth control pills, they thought? When they tested the idea by running ads on Facebook and Google, they discovered that 60% of women didn't have a prescription.
As a doctor, she could prescribe birth control via a telemedicine platform. Women would complete an online questionnaire that included their latest blood pressure results. If they hadn't recently seen a doctor, women could go to a local pharmacy, fire station, or anyone who is a trained Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
By March 2016, Yen, Ni, and Elliott Blatt, a software engineer, developer, and serial entrepreneur were ready to launch. They intended to make women's lives easier and named the birth-control delivery service, Pandia Health. Yen became the CEO. Pandia has a dual meaning. Pandia is the Greek goddess of light and the full moon and its syllables mean "every" for Pan, "day" for Día.
For women who have insurance, the service is free. The 30% of their clients who don't have insurance pay a $20 annual fee to cover the cost of writing the prescription and $15 per monthly pack. For those who can't afford the costs, Pandia has partnered with a nonprofit, Center for Policy Analysis. The Pandia Health Birth Control Fund was created to provide financial assistance to women in need of access to birth control.
"We expect the need to grow during the pandemic [for financial assistance]," says Yen. Pandia delivery is available in all 50 states but, if you need a prescription, it is currently only available in California, Florida, and Texas. The team is working on rolling out prescription writing services to more states.
Women are the primary decision-makers in purchasing consumer products. Pandia is also currently testing, including samples of other products along with the monthly pill pack. This could be an additional revenue stream.
Telemedicine is showing its enormous value in the age of COVID-19. "This is not the time to go to your pharmacy for non-urgent medications," said Yen. 'You don't want to be standing in lines near someone who is sick and might cough on you." For students who have returned from college, their prescriptions can be transferred to a Pandia partner pharmacy. "Over the past few weeks, we've seen customer acquisition numbers triple," said Yen.
To grow, Pandia was going to raise venture capital. Recognizing how tough this is going to be in the wake of COVID-19, Yen is grateful that she was one of the five women who won a no-interest loan from SheEO. Once a year, SheEO raises a fund of about $500,000 from what it calls activators. Activators, such as myself, make a tax-deductible donation. SheEOdistributes the money to five female social entrepreneurs who are chosen by the Activators. SheEO doesn't just provide money. It provides training, emotional support, and connections to follow-on capital.