Founder Feature: genneve
Within the digital health market, we have seen an increase in the number of women’s health products and offerings that are focused around issues such as fertility and menstruation itself, but what about offerings for women as they progress onwards through their lifecycle?
There are 34 commonly recognized symptoms of menopause. This extensive list of symptoms range from irritability, to panic disorder, to gum problems, to electric shock sensation. Many of these symptoms mirror those of life-threatening diseases and disorders. And yet, while menopause is emotionally and physically taxing, it a completely safe and normal biological process that all women undergo.
The management of menopause symptoms introduces a challenge both for women, and their care practitioners. With such a wide range of symptoms, how do clinicians effectively manage and assess menopause? How do care practitioners support menopausal women, and how do these women support themselves? Furthermore, how can women and clinicians understand if their symptoms are cause for medical attention?
Enter genneve, a female-founded health tech startup looking to provide peri- and menopausal women with the resources they need as they live through menopause. Through their telehealth services and extensive library of podcasts, genneve matches women to expert care and advice as they look to understand their menopausal health.
Interview with CEO Jill Angelo
We worked with genneve to interview their CEO/Founder, Jill Angelo, about her journey founding a women’s health startup, as she navigated the male-dominated venture capital and technology spaces.
What was your inspiration for founding genneve? What was your background prior to founding it?
Jill Angelo (JA): I come from the technology industry, and I have 20 years of technology experience, and have just generally always had a passion for women's health. And I happened to be on a sabbatical from my current corporate job at Microsoft. One of my former managers reached out to me and asked where I was at my career, and if I still like was doing things for women and girls from a philanthropic perspective. I said yes. She said, "You know, there's a woman here in L.A. that I think you should meet. She's a former executive from Neutrogena; she's developed a line of feminine care products. And she's focused on women in menopause and midlife. And there might be an interesting business idea here. Why don't you come and meet her."
So I went and met, and the three of us started talking. And one thing led to another, and we thought, "Wow, this is a really underserved population of women relative to menopause and their health changes in midlife that happen associated with that. Let's start a business." And that's how we got going.
How did you come up with the name?
Jill Angelo (JA): We wanted something feminine, bold, modern, beautiful, confident, and we put that into a branding brief and put it out to a group of freelancers via a website. So it was really scrappy. We wanted to be able to own the name and own the URL, and genneve was one of those options that came back to us from that group. And out of all the options, it just really resonated with us. It resonated with the people that we got feedback on it from. And so we took it and went forward.
Can you briefly explain the functions of your product. How does it work and what does it consist of?
JA: So, genneve is a digital health platform for women in menopause. And our whole mission is to increase access to women's health. Our mission is to improve the lives of women as they move into midlife and menopause. And we do that by increasing access to education, to practitioners, and to products.
How many users do you have? What are the demographics? And where are you looking to expand?
JA: So today, obviously the demographics of our group are women in midlife, women anywhere from the ages of 40 to 60 to 65. And those women make up a pretty significant chunk of our population. So actually our audience is global, because we're reaching women. We're a digital company, and technology kind of has no geographical barriers. Today, we are seeing over 25,000 users per month utilizing the services that we provide.
What feedback have you received on genneve from users and the medical community?
JA: So I think overwhelmingly for users it's kind of like, you know, finally someone is addressing a part of women's health that nobody talks about. For users who discover us who've actually gone through menopause they're like, "Where were you?" And so they're quick to share us then with peers or other women that they know are in the transition in life. From medical practitioners as well, for those that see a great need in women's health in menopause they're like, "We love what you're doing. We love the trusted content and the approach that you take to educating women. We love that you're opening up access to menopause specialists, and we'd love to either be a part of it or support you as you go."
How does genneve relate to other women's health applications on the market?
JA: A lot of other women's health applications focus on other phases in women's health. There's a lot of menstrual applications, products, and companies around women's menstrual health. There's a lot of innovation happening around maternal health and fertility, so women having babies, women trying to get pregnant. Very little activity has been done in the post-reproductive phase of a women's life, around menopause. And that's what genneve is squarely focused on.
Have you found yourself welcomed into the female health tech community or a bit of an outlier since you are not addressing fertility issues?
JA: You know, we're one of a kind, for sure, because we are focusing on a sector that most companies are not. But we're definitely welcome, because people see it as a lifetime of health for a woman, and they're glad to see somebody focusing on this audience who's never really had the attention in the past.
What has the experience of raising funds for genneve in a VC landscape that is male dominated been like?
JA: It's challenging. Men don't go through menopause. For those who do experience it through a partner's eyes they get it a little bit more, but it's still an uncomfortable topic. And it's nothing that they've ever invested in, so there's no roadmap or previous successes or failures that they've seen in this space. So it's really hard. We're educating at the same time as we're convincing. And it's really hard to do that with an audience, A) who doesn't experience this personally, and then who has never had any real experience in it from an investment perspective, so it's challenging.
Can you talk a little bit about the recent M event. Why did you have it? Was it successful? Who was there? And will there be another?
JA: So the M event was our first ever attempt at really trying to reach a broad swath of women in a more intimate way through an event setting versus just broadly pushing out content, and services, and products that we do on our platform. And it was a success in my eyes. Number one, when you have people, post event, saying, "Okay, when is the next?" And, “Had I known this would be so helpful I would've brought so-and-so and so-and-so”. That to me is a badge of excellent. We accomplished what we wanted; we created an intimate safe space for women's health education and information exchange. We reached a broad swath, both by having it on-premise and online through our live-stream.
We also created incredible content that was brought to them through trusted health practitioners across a number of spaces, as well as our sponsorship partners who are all companies in women's health bringing different innovations and products and services to women. So, we believe it was a great success, and we certainly will do it again.
Can you talk a little bit about your podcasts, what are they about and why did you create them?
JA: So, the podcasts, much like the content that we publish, are there to bring education to women around symptom-specific experiences they may experience in menopause. Why podcast versus just articles? Consumers like to consume information in different ways, and so we're going to bring to them different mediums whether it is reading it, whether it is listening to it, whether it is watching it. And just like any great media company does, we're experimenting with all sorts of channels, and podcasts are one of those.
What are some of those common fallacies or knowledge gaps you see when it comes to women understanding menopause and perimenopause?
JA: I would say most common that we've learned from the women that we serve is they had no idea that menopause spans so many health changes in their bodies that they will go through. Typically, because we don't talk about menopause, women don't associate a symptom,—like anxiety, insomnia, or even lack of libido—with actual hormonal changes that are happening in their body. There's a reason behind why those things are happening. It’s not just in their head. It’s not just a psychological thing; there is a medical reason. And helping them understand why that's happening and actually connecting them with practitioners who will listen and also provide them with recommendations and solutions versus kind of saying, "It's just in your head or you have to deal with it" is really what we strive to do, and that's where - that's probably one of the biggest myth and fallacies that we're addressing.
I'd say the other one that we have yet to make a lot of advance on but we're working on, is the whole fear around hormone therapy for women as they go through this change in life. There's a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt around hormone therapy of all kinds. And there's different ways to think about it for different profiles and medical histories out there that no one has talked about or women are very uninformed about. And so we're trying to tackle that myth as well.
What about the fact that it starts sooner than most women think?
JA: Yeah, it does. I think that's a great point. Symptoms or the onset of symptoms is starting sooner in women's lives, not only because of environmental, with increase stress, and how we live our lives now. But also, I think, sometimes the symptoms that start early are so subtle that they just kind of get overlooked. And if women started to address them, whether it's vaginal health changes, whether it's their love or desire for sex, whether it is the anxiety or the sleeplessness that they might be experiencing as a mother that is just continuing to mature in her life. We think that if we educate women earlier in life they can start to mitigate this sooner. And have a higher quality of life and not get to a point where they're devastated or thinking they're going crazy or its hurt their family and their relationships and now there's nothing - there's not much more you have to do.
What are next big three milestones for genneve?
JA: Next big one right now, we're testing our telehealth access to improve access to menopause specialists. We launch that publically in 2019, early 2019. That's big milestone number one.
Big milestone number two is to grow that audience. We want that to be successful and getting the word out. We've got a huge marketing launch associated with that, and we want to continue to build out that telehealth practice. That's, in my mind, milestone number two.
Gosh, milestone number three would be around continuing to improve how we can keep the problem-solution conversation going with the women that we serve. It's not like you just come to genneve, you read some content, and then you leave and you don't come back. We want to establish an ongoing relationship with her.
And how we do that, by providing her with self-help resources, by providing her with access to a practitioner, by suggesting products that address the symptom she's experiencing and continue that dialogue. Figuring out how our technology as well as our community—our notion of community—can address that, is a big milestone number three.