Dr. Sophia Yen
Conversation with Dr. Sophia Yen, CEO & Co-Founder, PandiaHealth.com
Delivering Birth Control to Your Mailbox
December 12, 2018
1. What is your business?
At Pandia Health we provide online doctor’s visits, our partner pharmacy fills birth control prescriptions, and we mail the prescriptions to our customers. We are the only woman- and practicing reproductive health physician-founded and led company in the birth control delivery services space.
If the customer does not have a current prescription, our process begins with asking customers to fill out a health questionnaire. The survey has all of the same questions your doctor would ask you in her office. And then if Pandia Medical Group’s doctors deem birth control safe for the customer, they write prescriptions in California. If women don’t have a preference or history, then our doctors choose the prescription that best suits the customer’s needs and health history. After the new prescription is written, we do a six-week follow-up questionnaire to see how things are going.
For all 50 U.S. states, we can transfer prescriptions to our partner pharmacy and fill them or the customer’s doctor can send the prescription directly to our partner pharmacy. We’re able to fill prescriptions for the birth control pill, patch or ring.
For some, the need for on-demand and mail order birth control is obvious, but for others, it is less understood. There are many issues with birth control accessibility in the United States, and because of how healthcare insurance is set up in this country, there are many reasons accessing birth control can be problematic. U.S. healthcare insurance restricts when you can pick up your prescription—e.g, you can only go within 7 days of running out of medications. If you go early, the pharmacy turns you away.
Another example of how hard such a seemingly easy thing can be actually quite circuitous is the situation for one of our customers who live in California. Her mother lives in Texas and holds the insurance policy. Our customer needs her birth control delivered to California, but her mother needs her hypertension medicine delivered to Texas. The rub is that most pharmacies can’t hold two delivery addresses in their database. So, every month, the birth control gets sent to Texas, and the mother mails it to California. If anything goes wrong in this chain, the customer doesn’t get her medication.
At Pandia Health, we ask the customer: Where are you? Where do you need the medication sent? And we send people their prescribed medication. Set it and forget it. We call this Pandia Peace of Mind.
Pandia Health is a result of my passion to support women. I also co-founded SheHeroes which was born from the fact that we wanted parents, teachers, and after-school programs to be able to quickly find women CEOs, doctors, supreme court justices, engineers, programmers, roboticists and others to show kids. SheHeroes.org provides free online videos targeting 3rd to 8th graders showing them that women can be whatever they want to be as long as they work towards it.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
Pandia Health exists because in 2012 and then again in 2016, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology announced that birth control is safe and should be over the counter. They cited research that showed that by answering 20 questions and measuring their blood pressure once a year, women are perfectly capable of deciding whether or not birth control is safe for them.
By training, I am a pediatrician specializing in teenagers and young adults, and most recently I was a Clinical Associate Professor in Adolescent Medicine at Stanford Medical School. Through my practice and academic research, I realized there was an opportunity to dramatically improve women’s experience with pharmacies and bring birth control to women “wherever they have internet and a mailbox.”
Three years ago, I gave a talk for doctors discussing the conundrum of why women do not take their birth control. That’s when the issue of the pharmacy came up: many people don’t realize that insurance restricts when a woman can pick up her prescription and how cumbersome and stressful that can be. As I thought through the issues, I realized that every woman has to go to the pharmacy one week out of every four for 20 or 30 years. That’s a lot of unnecessary stress for something that could instead be delivered by mail.
Also, in many communities, there’s sometimes “slut shaming” that women are even on birth control. And sometimes men don’t understand why women are on birth control. There are millions of reasons why a woman can be taking “birth control.” It can help with painful cramps, heavy bleeding, acne and more serious conditions like PCOS and endometriosis.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
I was inspired by the idea that everything comes in the mail now. If we can get every want and need delivered to our doorstep, why are we still going to the pharmacy on specific days?
At Pandia Health, we calculated that women spend 10 weeks of their lives going to and from to the pharmacy and waiting to pick up a prescription. Pharmacies have zero incentive to get you out quickly, as the more time you spend there the more random stuff you might buy while you wait in line or for the prescription.
4. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?
It’s no secret that being a doctor, woman, older, and a mother can be seen as negatives in the venture capital community, so I’ve got all these “strikes” against me. Ultimately, though, I find strength and purpose in those labels. Providing birth control for women should be a doctor-led, woman-led enterprise, and ultimately what hinders me in fundraising is actually what makes this company great. I have the credibility, passion, and domain expertise as a doctor, mother, and woman.
The hard work was worth it, and we recently closed our seed round. I am thankful for my lead investor, Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures. He really believed in this idea, the company, and team. The Stanford StartX Fund committed to investing 10% to every round through series A, and the remainder of the capital came from Allectus Capital and angel investors.
5. Who did you speak to for support as you were working on the idea/launch?
I have an amazing co-founder, Perla Ni, who connected us with many of her startup and venture capital friends. She has been a catalyst for Pandia Health.
A few startup communities were incredibly helpful. StartX is a great community of company founders who are so helpful and kind. Springboard Enterprises is a non-profit accelerator in New York that is made up of high-power and connected women, ally men, and companies. They are always so positive, and the group connected me with opportunities to present at South x Southwest and an alumnae introduced me to one of my major investors. Women’s Startup Lab has also provided a cohort and community of women to bounce ideas and from which I get feedback.
6. What are some of your current challenges?
Pandia Health needs help getting the word out about our services and increasing its user base. Our main competitors are co-founded and run men who aren’t doctors.
I hope that women will choose to support the company run by the female practicing reproductive health physician. Not only am I the CEO and co-founder, but I am also a “member of the club.” That is, I also use Pandia Health’s services. I eat, breathe, live and prescribe birth control.
7. Is your business impacted or helped by government regulations?
Under the Affordable Care Act, all FDA approved birth control methods were required to be made available with no co-pay and no deductible. We started Pandia Health aiming to make our service “free” that is with no co-pay, no deductible. Unfortunately, this administration is threatening to take away this benefit, and they are closing down brick and mortar reproductive health clinics. This will result in a greater need for our services because we can bring birth control to women’s doors.
In order to open a medical practice in certain states, a telemedicine company needs a doctor to physically be in that state. We are aiming to have a champion doctor in each state to help onboard physicians and be knowledgeable of state-specific laws. Some states require parental notification, some require parental consent, and others allow adolescents the right to access prevention and diagnoses.
8. Have there been positive or negative impacts on your family and work/life balance once your business was off the ground?
The negative is obviously that I have less time for my children and husband. My priority right now is the company. It’s like the new baby/child in the house.
The positive is that my kids think it is natural for a woman to be a CEO. A great example was when my second-born chose to be a CEO for her summer camp Jalloween (Halloween in July). She even went around pitching my company to her camp counselors. (A perfect target audience by the way.)
My husband has also been helpful with all the children’s activities and doctors/dentists’ appointments and meals, and I am leaning on him more and more. I am thankful for his support and help. It’s all the little things that you do not realize you put energy into: taking our daughter to Girl Scouts, packing lunches, this and that. It’s so important to have a partner who is willing to help.
9. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
We are focused on building “The Brand Women Trust with Their Health.” We are starting with birth control, but in the next five years, we will be filling prescriptions for acne, wrinkle cream, menopause, and/or depression. We want to find ways to decrease stress and provide peace of mind. Even if we stick to birth control, there is plenty to do, as it is a $4.6 billion industry in the US.
Our other goal is to educate people on the latest and greatest healthcare options to make women’s lives easier. We are involved in the discussion around #PeriodsOptional, and we want to do as much as possible to educate people about Emergency Contraception and generics. Not everyone is aware that generics have the same active ingredients and there is no benefit to paying for a costlier “brand.”
10. Are you willing to serve as a mentor to others interested in your sector?
Definitely. I would love to see more women rising in the entrepreneurial world. I love to give advice to anyone on this journey or anyone who wants to get involved in a business that makes women’s lives better. I am always happy to help others. If people want to connect with me, LinkedIn and Twitter are good ways to reach out.
Date of conversation: October 15, 2018