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Genneve CEO and founder Jill Angelo, left, and Shannon Perry, director of Media and Marketing, on the street interviewing women for a video for their website. (Genneve Photo)

A startup that launched two years ago to sell lubricants and provide information for menopausal women is expanding to become the first U.S. telehealth provider for women in their 40s and 50s experiencing this hormonal change.

Seattle-based Genneve will begin alpha testing its telehealth service in five markets next month and plans a broad release in January 2019.

“The lack of access to providers trained in women’s menopausal health is a real problem,” said Jill Angelo, Genneve founder and CEO.

A national shortage of ob/gyn healthcare providers leaves many women uninformed and anxious about the effects of menopause, she said. In her market research, for example, Angelo learned that women were sometimes going to the emergency room when they mistook hot flashes for heart attacks. And every month, some 4 million people search Google for information and advice about menopause’s hormonal changes and effects, which can include vaginal dryness, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.

So Genneve plans to offer a telemedicine service for women in search of one-on-one, personalized care, charging $45 per appointment.

“Making experts accessible to women is something women will pay for when they need it,” Angelo said.

Jill Angelo, CEO and founder of Genneve. (Genneve Photo)

Genneve provides a free assessment for women to identify their menopause-related symptoms. The website also features articles, podcasts, videos and webinars featuring original content and addressing physical health, sex and mental health concerns related to menopause. And Genneve still sells its own line of products to treat some symptoms of menopausal changes.

Angelo started Genneve after working at Microsoft for nearly 15 years in marketing and media. While on sabbatical from the company, she reconnected with Mich Mathews, a former Microsoft manager, and Jacqui Brandwynne, a former Neutrogena executive.

The trio identified the lack of resources for menopausal women and decided to try selling feminine-care products for this market. The mission expanded as the women realized the broader need for health care. The company now has seven employees; Brandwynne and Mathews act as advisors.

There are other companies selling menopause-related products, said Angelo, and Tia Clinic is offering telemedicine services for younger women, but no one is combining the two.

Angelo is confident that Genneve can be a valuable resource for women, but can the startup help breakdown some of the taboos and the “ick factor” around a life transition experienced by all women who reach a certain age?

“I think we can make some inroads in transcending that,” Angelo said. That’s thanks in large part to the MeToo movement and increasing openness around topics of assault, equal pay and sexism.

There is a shift, she said, towards women raising issues “we haven’t talked about in the past.”

We caught up with Angelo for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Genneve is an online clinic for women 40 and older. We offer educational content, telehealth access to physicians and healthy products tailored to the health changes women typically go through in midlife and menopause. Women start by taking our Menopause Assessment, and based on her answers, our technology provides her with personalized health information, products and health practitioners specific for what she’s going through. Rather than waiting months to see an ob/gyn in a traditional office visit, we offer a convenient option that brings greater access to the kind of care women in menopause need.

Inspiration hit us when: Not being in menopause yet myself, our trio set out early-on to do some research. We reached out to 1,500 U.S. women and asked them what they needed as their hormones starting changing in their 40s and 50s. Their No. 1 answer was: start the conversation. I can’t even count how many women commented that they had no clue about what was going to happen when they entered this stage of life. Coming from a marketing and storytelling background, we immediately started interviewing health providers — ob/gyns, nutritionists, physical therapists, sex therapists, mental health professionals, health coaches — to bring trusted information to women everywhere.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’re funded with a combination of angels, bootstrapped funds and selling a line of feminine-care products one of our advisers brought to the business. We’ve got skin in the game, the feminine product sales have been a scrappy way to keep the business alive and modestly growing (not to mention converting customers), and the angel funding has given us moments where we can advance our technology or experiment with our go-to-market to grow our audience.

In January, Genneve plans to offer telehealth services to women concerned about menopause. (Genneve website)

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Listening to our customers and earning their trust. Women’s health carries a stigma, and aging itself is not always a popular subject to talk about. So we’ve formed a community forum on Facebook called Midlife & Menopause Solutions and hold monthly webinars with our Director of Health Dr. Rebecca Dunsmoor-Su. And we listen to our 25,000 monthly users who keep searching for answers to the menopause symptoms they’re experiencing. Menopause is not a sexy topic. It’s the one thing in life that every woman experiences, but no one talks about. So we’ve modernized the conversation. We make it fun, honest, non-academic and we even laugh now and then. Most of all, we are building a trusted brand where women can bring their questions and get honest answers. The moment there is a crack in that trust, we’ve lost our north star.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Investing in publishing original content. It’s not cheap, but it’s paid off in a number of ways: 1) it’s a primary traffic driver because we capitalize on the 4 million Google searches each month on menopause symptoms; 2) our content has positioned Genneve as a thought leader in women’s health; and 3) it has created a feedback loop where women respond with their own questions and experiences, which feeds our technology and telehealth innovation.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not hiring fast enough. You need people in it with you everyday, and I’ve spent too much time hiring freelance talent to manage risk. While talented, they don’t always share the same ambition or desire for the long-game that I and my two, trusted team members have.

Genneve generates its revenue from product sales, and is adding telehealth in 2019.

Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? I’m a fan of Oprah — and oddly, I wasn’t until I became an entrepreneur working in a women’s industry. Oprah has this incredible ability to be boldly honest and trusted all at the same time. She can ask the most uncomfortable questions or state the unspeakable in front of large audiences, and it endears people to her even more. She’s fearless when it comes to tackling the untouchable stuff, and I’d love a dose of her spirit everyday in the work we do.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Being a small team, our best team-building activity are the days where we’re in the office together and we constantly interrupt each other with questions, mini-brainstorms and asks for advice. Those days are where we iterate on the fly and feel like we’re progressing at light-speed.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Problem-solving capabilities. Working in women’s health, we’ve come across a lot of censorship in what we can post in a Facebook ad. We can’t even use the word “menopause” in our headline ads. Finding ways around the digital marketing hurdles that plague equal rights for women’s health calls for some creative problem-solving capabilities. Also, being a small shop with limited resources has pushed our problem-solving to a new level when it comes to personalizing content, products and services for women at a quick clip. Plus, you need a passion for all things women’s health, because we’re going to go there.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Don’t hesitate if something isn’t perfect. Get it out there in front of customers, friends, other people. There’s no room for worrying about what people will think of you in starting up a new company. The courageous ones prevail, and I’ve had to learn some hard lessons when I’ve put my own ego first.

Learn more about menopause

On Nov. 10, Genneve is hosting the M event, a conference held at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash. featuring women’s health experts. They’ll address nutrition, hormones, heart disease, sex, menopause and aging. The event, which will be live-streamed, is being sponsored by Swedish Women’s Health and Microsoft Alumni.

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