“For modern women, fertility is so much more than trying to get pregnant right now.”
With the rising conversation around female empowerment, women’s health is becoming an increasingly powerful force in the healthcare industry. According to research released in March 2018 by Frost & Sullivan, the femtech industry has received almost $1 billion in funding over the past three years and is poised to be “the next big disruptor in the global healthcare market.”
Modern Fertility is a key player in this space. The San Francisco-based health startup’s mission is to make information on fertility more accessible and affordable. Its test kits were launched for preorder in August 2017 and are now available to ship. We spoke with Afton Vechery, the cofounder of Modern Fertility, about the gap in fertility education and the importance of incorporating fertility into overall healthcare.
You have said that you are changing the conversation about fertility “from reactive to proactive.” What does this mean?
When we think about what infertility means in the current healthcare system, it’s something that people only deal with when they’re having issues, for the most part. If a woman or a couple are having trouble getting pregnant, they go into an infertility clinic to understand what’s going on. We live in a society that’s very focused on prevention, so the way that women are thinking about their reproductive health is focused on preventing pregnancy, but we’re not actively planning for it.
Modern Fertility is focused on changing the paradigm there, and our first step is taking standard laboratory tests that are done in an infertility clinic out of the clinic, and making them available to women earlier in life, so they can have more information about their reproductive health.
How can we destigmatize infertility and create a community of women who are more open to speaking about this topic?
Our first step is changing the dialogue—making fertility something that is, exactly as you said, proactive rather than reactive. We believe that the first step to doing that is giving this information to women and making them feel they have more ownership and understanding of their own reproductive health and timeline. Today, millennial women are waiting longer than any other generation in US history to start their families. Unfortunately, biology hasn’t changed and we see one in six couples having some type of issue with infertility. We started this company to change that paradigm and make fertility a part of overall health.
Modern Fertility is an at-home test kit. How does it work?
Women come to our website, order a test, and they have the option of either going to a Quest Diagnostics facility in 47 states or providing the sample at home. In both instances, the results are processed in a CLIA-accredited lab, and those results are reviewed by a board-certified physician.
After those results are reviewed, Modern Fertility gets them back and we make them available to women with our personalized Modern Fertility experience. We have customized reports, which are age and result-specific on between one and eight hormones, depending on the type of birth control, if any, that the woman is on, as one part of the overall fertility educational experience. They help women understand the role of age in fertility and many other factors.
We also allow women to join our weekly webinar, which we call the Egginar, where they can ask questions anonymously and get even more information around fertility. We also include the ability to ask further questions with a fertility nurse in our price. We believe that understanding your hormones and having that lens to what’s going on inside your body is information that women are entitled to have.
Which age groups are you targeting with Modern Fertility?
Our test is approved for women who are ages 21 through 40 and we see clustering around different ages across that spectrum. In our reports, we customize a lot of the way that we talk about these hormones in relation to a women’s age. We’ve really invested in building out that science and continuing to move this space forward.
Speaking of science, you have a background in healthcare. What learning did you take from your previous positions to create Modern Fertility?
My introduction to the infertility space was back when I was working in private equity on the East Coast. I was noticing all of these trends in women’s health—women waiting until later in life to have kids and issues with infertility rising—and was leading the diligence on an investment in a network of IVF clinics and labs.
Through that experience, I learned the business side and the science side, but it was really the emotional aspect that stuck with me. It was talking to women, who said “I wish I would have gotten the tests done earlier—it would have influenced how I was thinking about all of this.” I had always been interested in personalized medicine, so I ended up leaving private equity to move out to the West Coast and work on a variety of startups, but it was really a personal experience in actually trying to get these tests done that allowed me to see the lack of education around reproductive health in the healthcare system today.
In my experience, the tests were really hard to get and it was difficult to get them interpreted, but when I did, the information was so impactful in helping me think through my own timeline and the decisions that I needed to make. The kicker on top of that was that I got this unexpected bill for $1,500 in the mail a couple of weeks later. When I was open about my experience with getting these tests done, I started to have friends, friends of friends and then eventually hundreds of women asking me questions about fertility. I realized that this is something that women are thinking about, but they don’t have the tools or the information necessary to make the decisions that are right for them, so we created our first product, Modern Fertility, to focus on testing and make that information accessible to women everywhere.
Making Modern Fertility affordable and accessible was definitely at the forefront of your mission. It currently costs $199—can you tell us a little about how that price compares to, say, going to a clinic?
Today, the women getting these tests done are typically going into the infertility clinics that exist because there’s some type of problem. There are only about 500 infertility clinics in the United States, so the number of these tests that can even be completed is fairly limited.
By switching the whole dialogue, we can pursue a very different and much bigger opportunity. We’re opening up this kind of testing to half the population, and then we’re also introducing this other layer on top, which follows the clinical recommendation of getting hormones tested or retested every nine to 12 months, depending on the woman’s age.
By looking at how these hormones are declining over time, it’s another unique lens into our fertility. Just as every woman has a different metabolism, she has a different fertility curve, and so we’re trying to think about it in an entirely different way. Underpinning that broader mission is the goal of accessibility and allowing more women to access this type of testing.
In addition to the kit, you are also seeing your company as an educational platform which empowers a lot of women once they have the information. Can you speak a little more about that?
The biggest gap in where we are as a company is educating women, educating even some physicians that this type of testing exists, and helping them understand the insights that it can give.
Getting your fertility tested can help you understand your ovarian reserve, which is essentially how many eggs you have left. We’re born with a few million eggs, and this number ticks down to zero by menopause. Dependent on your risks for hitting menopause a little earlier or a little later, your fertile window starts to shift. Understanding where you are in that spectrum can help you make decisions around your broader family planning timeline.
In many cases, your ovarian reserve won’t impact your ability to get pregnant today, but for modern women, fertility is so much more than trying to get pregnant right now. It’s thinking about that broader plan and having information to think about it in the same way as our credit score or our career. When we think about education today, it’s how these tests play a role, but also making fertility something that we understand and talk about.
I think having a transparent discussion and helping women understand where they are, what that means and what to do next is a really empowering dialogue to be a part of.