WHY YOU WANT TO LISTEN:
38 million women are going through menopause at any one time. Talk about a sizeable market with high need to know. And yet, you will hear in this interview about the barriers to entry Jill Angelo had to jump to begin her company: Male investors who go ick, women who don’t want to talk about it (it means I’m getting old), gynecologists who have little training or interest in it. With all those challenges, Jill is trying to bring menopause out of hiding and women out of silent suffering.
Nancy (00:00): Okay, well, welcome, Jill.
Jill Angelo (00:04): Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.
Nancy (00:07): Okay. So you were at Microsoft for 15 years. Were you still at Microsoft when you came across the opportunity that came your way when you saw the product line?
Jill Angelo (02:16): Yeah, I was actually on a three month sabbatical from Microsoft, just taking some time to reenergize and yeah, just kind of reconnect in life. And I left the role that I was in at Microsoft. So I didn't have a job when I left on my sabbatical. I figured I'll work into something new when I'm ready to come back. And during that sabbatical is when I got reconnected with a former manager from Microsoft who then made the introduction to my cofounder of Gennev, Jackie Brandwin who worked to build Neutrogena and sold it to Johnson and Johnson and this whole vision around women's health in the second half of life and menopause really came from her.
Nancy (03:05): And had she started a product line when you met her? Did she already have product out there?
Jill Angelo (03:11): Yeah, she had, coming out of Neutrogena, she worked with Roche laboratories in fact, to create a lubricant for feminine dryness, which was something she saw prevalent. And she'd come through breast cancer herself, so she had experienced it firsthand. She got early FDA approval of this product and then went through kind of a health challenge herself. So the product was sitting on the shelf. And so we built a brand for this product and started selling it.
Nancy (03:59): So the female products weren't even being sold when you first met her. So you, if I'm getting this correctly, which is a wonderful thing for other women entrepreneurs to think about, you were using a female product line, which had lubricants and all this stuff that women need as they get older, you were using that as fuel, financial fuel, to start something bigger.
Jill Angelo (04:35): Yeah. That's a great way to put it. It gave us something tangible to sell, but at the same time, when we started the business, we surveyed 1500 women to understand ... We knew there was more we needed to do for women's health in menopause and second half of life around brain, heart, bone health. And so we did the research in parallel of launching the company and the product so that we could in parallel build the bigger company that we wanted to build. But you're absolutely right. We use the product revenue to fuel the company.
Nancy (05:13): Which is so neat. How did you do that research? Because I'm assuming you wanted to do that research both as kind of proof of concept for what you were thinking about, but also if you needed to raise money or to convince anyone else out there that you had a strong idea that this research would lead to data.
Jill Angelo (05:35): Yeah. You know, and data is powerful-
Nancy (05:40): Data is king.
Jill Angelo (05:40): ... and we need that. It is. And so we, fortunately, we had a connection to a research firm that helped us formulate the questions and even conduct it, find the recipients. So through a personal relationship, which was great, so we could do it very affordably, but then we did the analysis on our own. Our hypothesis was, there's nothing out there for women in menopause, they're suffering in silence. We wanted to learn what they were using. And the insight we got instead was I'm not really using anything. I was unprepared. There's no source of information, just start the conversation. And so from that, we almost came out of that research thinking, Oh, we'll build more physical consumer packaged goods, more supplements, more creams, more lotions. And instead we launched a media platform to start to educate women because knowledge is what these women needed around what happens at this part of life.
Nancy (06:52): Well, I got to ask you about that because when you go back in time, I mean, if you go back centuries there's always been, it was called a sin, it was called another neurostania that women would always be plagued by. But certainly when the women's health movement with our bodies ourselves and all that began, menopause was still seen as that that poor leftover child that no one was addressing. And here we are, you know, 2020 and the description of menopause being under address, both by pharmaceuticals and in conversation is as certainly from everything I've read of what you're putting forth is the same as it's always been. And you kind of wonder what is holding this all back? I mean, what is holding it back?
Jill Angelo (07:49): You know, unfortunately I think it goes all the way back to stigma. We don't even, it's hard to even say the word, some women can't even say menopause or I'm in it, because it's associated not only with the ancient hysteria or just legends of old, but it's also associated with aging and we're in a society that aging is often looked down upon. In addition, medical research. We know generally women's health research has always been secondary. Men make up many more recipients in those studies, even on heart disease or brain health, than women do. So when you look at even research around a part of women's health, that is a stigma and, and it's kind of a bit of a mystery. It's just, you put those two things together and that puts us back at square one around nothing's ever been done. So we are, we operate very archaically when it comes to women's health and menopause. And so what we're trying to do at Gennev is change the way women do menopause and define what that is. And we're figuring that out as we build the company.
Nancy (09:12): Well, you just said your company named Gennev. Can you talk about that name? How did you come up with that name? What does that name mean?
Jill Angelo (09:22): So Gen stands for generation and nev in old Irish means radiant. And we really see women in the second half of life, like menopause is the launch pad for the second half. You go through it in your 40s and your 50s and maybe your 60s, you've got a whole nother second half of life left. And so when we think about how do we lift up this generation of women that really are the caregivers, are ... More businesses are started and owned by women in their 50s than any other age group of women. They're the influencers of health decisions. They're the holders of money. They're very powerful people. And yet they've never been seen as this generation of very influential women.
Nancy (10:41): You've now identified clearly a major challenge. Then how do you create a solution for it? You had the products, is it ... Did technology, the fact that you'd been at Microsoft, did you think, "Well, maybe there's a tech solution I can bring to this. What can I, Jill Angelo, what do I have that I can bring to the table to help women have a fabulous second half of their lives?"
Jill Angelo (11:14): You know, it has been a learning journey for sure, because, and we still I don't think have cracked the code, but what we've done is every step along the way with this business, we have listened to women. So as I mentioned, we started with personal care products, lubricants, hygiene products for specific to hormonal change symptoms in women. We added an education platform. We added a community because any change you go through in life, you know, pregnancy infertility, Alcoholics Anonymous, communities form around those moments to help you go through that change. Same way for menopause. So we started a community. And then when we heard from women that they were either getting the brush off from their doctor, or they just weren't being listened to in healthcare world. They didn't know who to go to. We were like, "We've got to improve access to healthcare, to providers that actually are trained on this part of women's health."
Jill Angelo (12:14): And so we added the telehealth and telemedicine. So now we have a team of OBGYNs, primary care physicians, as well as health coaches who are also registered dietitians, all working in a telehealth capacity to help figure out how do we not only bring relief to these women, but even, me, from a technology and a business standpoint, how do we use the data that we're tracking and learning about these women to almost become more predictive and to make it more, this is such a business term, but turnkey so that every woman that goes through menopause, she knows, "Okay, the first step is I have to take an assessment." Second step. I've got to talk to a Gennev coach that then is my traffic cop to determining, do I want to take a medical and prescription route? Do I want to take a natural and lifestyle route? Do I want to work with a naturopath?" The interesting thing about menopause is every woman's unique and different. There's no one size fits all. So it makes it challenging.
Nancy (13:15): Yeah. And that could be what you just said about it not being one size fits all. Could be to give the medical community benefit of the doubt, that it is a complex issue. I mean, it's both physical, psychological, and as you say, it's almost different for every woman. But when you talk about turnkey, are you thinking that over time, you'll be able to come up with X number of profiles that so that women will go down chute two to go to that profile and chute five to go to that profile, you know, with variations, but that there probably are X number of profiles of how we go through this.
Jill Angelo (13:56): Yeah. You nailed it. That's exactly a great way to think about how we're doing this from making it more turnkey. Today we have on our site, what's called the menopause assessment and it's free for any woman to take. It's a-
Nancy (14:12): I took it.
Jill Angelo (14:14): Okay, great, and coming out of that, we provide you with a type, a menopause type. And what we've done in our medical team is try to create a bit of a journey through menopause and then profile which symptoms you will experience when, and there's a lot of overlap, but we've tried to put type one, type two, type three, type four, type five across that journey so at least we can help women understand two big questions that they always have. "Am I in menopause? And where am I at?" And if we can start to define that and create profiles, then we hope that we can start to get more kind of programmatic or specific about how we help her.
Nancy (14:59): Well, that's neat. So you would ultimately maybe become What To Expect When You're Expecting of menopause. Does that mean if, once I take the assessment, as I said, I took the, it's not a quiz, but you're answering questions. You then submit it. And then you get a, which is neat, you get a televised profile back, you get someone talking to you. Then will emails, or do you then get an alert that tells you, "Okay, in the next month your hair's going to fall out" or whatever it might be is that what will happen?
Jill Angelo (15:37): You know, down the road, we'd love to become that specific and predictive. In that kind of televised response you get a video of our chief medical officer talking a little bit about the type that you are in. And then what we're working to do is get you connected right away, at least through text, with a healthcare provider who can start to provide more of that directive around. Okay. Here's some things you should be expecting. Here's some things we recommend. Bringing as we get to more secure data, that's obviously anonymized where we can use that to do those regular texts or alerts to a woman so that she can be aware of what's coming, or at least know, "Hey, this is normal. There's not something crazy wrong with me, or I'm not going crazy." You would be surprised at the amount of women who come to us and say, "Just tell me I'm not going crazy."
Nancy (16:35): Oh, no. I wouldn't be surprised. I think that's what women say to one another.
Jill Angelo (16:37): Yeah. So we want to minimize that and normalize it first. And then we can help her find the solutions for relief that she needs.
Nancy (16:46): Well, besides, which I'd like to come back to the telehealth, which is obviously huge. And you're part of a big trend of making doctors and health information and advice available online, is to talk about the gynecologist community, because that's part of the, if not the problem, certainly the challenge. And I looked up statistics that what, in the '70s, it was like less than 9% of the gynecologists were women. Now you've got more women than men being gynecologists, but having been on your site, I realize that's not the end of the issue. It's being trained in menopause, which is still very low on the list when they're at med school and what you and an organization that's out there has done, the North American Menopause Society is to begin certifying people, doctors, in understanding and knowing how to treat menopause, because it seems to be a, it's not even a lost art. It's not even there. It hasn't been there, that expertise. So that's part of what you got on your engine app. Is that correct? That you've got people who are specifically trained in menopause?
Jill Angelo (18:14): Yes. Yes. And when you said even the percentage of training in an OBGYN's education on menopause is still quite small comparative to everything else that they're trained on. We seek out those individuals that not only have, our OBGYNs and are certified by the North American Menopause Society, but also have practiced it because it takes experience understanding the diversity of women and their experiences going through it. We want to create the menopause specialist, society or community of practitioners. Because again, it's been so little, underfunded, medical research next to none. And again, when you think about even OBGYNs, we have a shortage of them in the US in general, the average age is 55 years old. And so we're retiring them faster than we're bringing new ones in. And again, new ones, again, starting from scratch, small amount of menopause education, probably not certified yet. And so we've got to start to build that pipeline of menopause specialists to support the vast population of women in menopause.
Nancy (19:29): How do you do that?
Jill Angelo (19:31): Right now, it's starting with, we've got to ... It's always a supply and demand, kind of issue. Obviously there's 38 million women in the US in menopause. And yet again, because it's something we haven't talked about and it's shameful, they don't seek out treatment. So then you're like, well, there isn't a demand because women aren't seeking it out. Well, they're suffering in silence. So there's a multifaceted issue here where we've got to raise the problem and normalize it amongst women. So women are demanding care. And then at the same time, we've got to make that care available. And hopefully the two rise together and it's a rising tide floats all boats.
Nancy (20:09): And some of it really is a matching exercise because in getting ready to meet you. I read about this woman at Northwestern who went to their medical school there and said, "I put forward a proposal to open up a menopause clinic." And the guys went like, "Nobody will come." You know, they poo-pooed it. Anyways, somehow she prevailed. And of course it was overwhelmed. I mean, it's completely booked. The market was there. They just needed a place to go to. So how do you let the women of the world know that you are there to get to?
Jill Angelo (20:56): It's part, and this is where the business and the marketer comes out in me, because that's my background. A, PR and media. We we've got to just earn our place in creating that dialogue over and over and over again, that repetition and being where women are reading and consuming information. That's our priority number one. It's not always the most ... You don't see the results from that like immediately it's a slow build, but it's a significant build. The number one reason ... we get a lot of traffic to our platform or our site through search. And for a long time, it was because women were searching on symptoms and they'd find our content and our educational content. Now the majority of search traffic is coming to us because they're searching on Gennev. So that tells me PR and media and starting that conversation is starting to work.
Jill Angelo (21:54): Number two, it is going to where women are. Like this podcast and other media properties are starting to really, for women, in their 40s and 50s and 60s, there's a new awakening. I think across brands, across media, across communities that are starting to stand up and pay attention to this category of women. And the more that we can partner with organizations that are reaching them, that we've got to work together. We can't do it alone.
Nancy (22:29): Jill. Absolutely. I mean the more that I was out there Googling about the subject, there are some good groups out there fighting the good fight. And I kept thinking, it's like the cancer moonshot. If we could just get all the people who are working on menopause together, maybe finally, we could make some progress.
Jill Angelo (22:53): Yeah, yeah, it is. And when we even look at there's a lot of grassroots communities-
Nancy (22:58): Oh, do you remember Red Hot Mamas?
Jill Angelo (23:00): Yes, yes.
Nancy (23:00): Speaking of grassroots community, which they started in, I believe 19, early 1990s, by the way, everyone's you hear that it's called Red Hot Mamas. So it was a bunch of women who said "Help."
Jill Angelo (23:13): Yep. Yep. And it is, and there's now so many Red Hot Mamas groups, in social media. And our mission always is ... We exchange opportunities to be on each other's podcasts. We have to, like in many times, those kinds of communities are the grassroots. They are building relationships. Whereas Gennev is the platform for services and products and education. And if we can bring those two complementary models together, I think we can really make a profound impact on women's health and menopause and serve a lot more as a result.
Nancy (23:47): Well, I really hope ... That would be my dream is that you create all of you together create really a hub, a network that puts all of this together and you can click right through. Now, how did you, okay, you've got a women's platform, women's products. How do you go out and raise money mostly from guys? How did you do money raising?
Jill Angelo (24:15): It was probably, that's probably the most painful thing I've ever done in my career. It's built character in me that I didn't know existed. And there were a lot of tears too. I wasn't just pitching a business idea. I was educating people on what menopause is and then why it matters. And then, oh, by the way, there's a huge business opportunity. Like menopause is big business. It's a large population of women and they have money. They're spending power and they have a need. They're in pain. And so it took a long time to educate. I got a lot of, "Well, let me talk to my wife." I even got from some women, "This isn't a very sexy topic." You know, you've kind of got the ick factor.
Nancy (25:02): The women said that? The women said that to you.
Jill Angelo (25:03): Yeah. So it was, so I had to find the right people, my investment partners now are, they are funds. They are VCs. They are female partners in those funds. And they are like my go to team on a almost daily, weekly basis. They are in this for the fight, just as much as I am. And I just couldn't have landed the better partners than what I have right now.
Nancy (25:31): And how much money have you brought in?
Jill Angelo (25:35): So total we've raised about five and a half million last fall. We raised four million of that five and a half. And you know, before the world changed over the last two months with the COVID crisis, we've been planning to go out for our next round in Q4 of this year, which would be a series A round. We're watching the market and thankfully we're in a strong cash position and we're using this time to just double down and work really hard to ensure that we can support as many women as possible, as well as really lean into this tele-health moment of redefining how we get our healthcare.
Nancy (26:17): Let's talk about that, the telehealth, because I think there's some people, if not many people who think "Telehealth, can I trust telehealth? That's someone I don't even know. They're coming through my screen or I'm hearing them through my earphones who I trust is the doctor I can see. My local doctor." But as you've said, and this category, particularly the local doctor may not have the information expertise to help you. So the need really lends itself to telehealth. So can you tell us about telehealth and why we should trust it? And where it's headed?
Jill Angelo (27:08): On our site, just because telehealth has been so new, we've got kind of a landing page that certain people see that kind of say, these are all the conditions and all the prescriptions we can actually do through telehealth. Physical examination is not necessary. So there's part education. But I think right now, what this moment of shelter in place and everyone communicating via video is doing is, is it's helping people learn how to trust video, communication, and connection and see that "Oh, it actually works. It actually works to sustain relationships and/or build new ones or get work done, or even educate my children. It works. And I kind of like it. I don't have to get in my car. I don't have to leave my house. I'm scared to leave my house."
Jill Angelo (27:59): I think we're heading into a period where we're going to be nervous about exposure in so many places, let alone a clinic in a hospital. And so I think what people are realizing is maybe the first step in every healthcare exchange will be remote. And then you figure out what the next step is, if it's lab testing or if it's a physical exam, but I think going forward, there's going to be always an initial, no matter what the condition is, remote appointment, that really helps you vet your options or you get referred that way versus actually having to go to the physical office of the physician.
Nancy (28:42): I think that's really interesting. You were reminding me that back in the early days of the internet, women, the great consumers were terrified to try any shopping online. They kept saying, "Oh, my credit card is going to be stolen. It's never going to come, whenever I order." They were so reluctant because they're conservative in a good way of wanting to keep the family safe and the economic safe. And then there came a point when that kind of, we just went over the cusp and women began to barrel into, to online shopping. And I think your description of what is about to happen with telemedicine telehealth is really spot on. So I think you're right, that there were really be a revolution on that score. And you're also saying, which I think is huge is that you can get prescriptions via these practitioners online, which is, that's right. Isn't it Jill, that you can get prescriptions?
Jill Angelo (29:49): That's correct.
Nancy (29:49): Which is huge.
Jill Angelo (29:51): It's huge. For example, for women in menopause with hormonal change hormone therapy, which now there's so many applications, there's patches, there's creams, there's ingestibles, but there's different and more safe ways to localize it across the body for women who can have it and who can benefit from it. That does not require an examination. It requires a dialogue, what we're doing here, and you can do that via telemedicine. It requires a dialogue. It requires family history. And so often what we hear from women is, "I just want a conversation with someone who gets me." And so even on our telehealth platform, we have 15 minute appointments and we have 30 minute appointments guess which type of appointment is much more popular. The 30 minute. Women want the time to have the conversation with a medical provider. And it just shows how important that is not only in addressing this part of women's health, but in building that relationship and rapport and then getting to a real prescriptive solution for her.
Nancy (30:58): That's very neat. And lastly, is this by design or did it happen accidentally? I used to always say that you're the best business you could have is one that was a three legged stool that you had three sources of revenue, so that when one stalled you'd have at least two still operating. And your front door, now it's emblazoned with three sources of revenue. You've got your products, which is what you started with. You've got your telehealth, the sessions you were just talking about the 15 minute or the 30 minute, and then talk about your third, the third door you have.
Jill Angelo (31:36): Yeah, we introduced a membership called Health Fix. We heard from a lot of women that really wanted help with lifestyle change. They didn't necessarily want to take a medical route or take get prescriptions, or they wanted someone to really help them adjust nutrition, exercise, manage sleep, help them deal with their stress and even just keep them accountable. And so we started Health Fix, which is a membership program where you work with the health coach who's also a registered dietitian. We also have exercise physiologists and the best remedy or the best approach to menopause. We're finding now for women is when you need the doctor book an appointment, but your ongoing sustaining partner through this is your health coach and your ... we even call them menopause coaches. And it is, it's fascinating to see the women that dip into all three. I've got my coach for accountability. I've got my doctor when I need her and to check in and get refills on my hormone therapy. And I've got the over the counter products, the supplements or the lubricants that I need for the symptoms to bring me relief. We certainly, as we think about those three revenue streams as a business, it's really fascinating to see how they work together and also how they cover for one another as well throughout the month.
Nancy (32:59): Well, congratulations on what you've done. And I truly hope that this dream I have of this beautiful constellation of all these services and all the women who are out there and a few good men who are trying to change the landscape for as you say all those women who were going into their second half of life, it's time. Lord knows it's really time. So thank you, Jill.
Jill Angelo (33:28): Thank you. Thank you for having me.
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ABOUT OUR GUEST:
Jill Angelo is the CEO and founder of Gennev whose mission is empower women to take control of their health. Gennev is the first-ever online clinic for women in menopause and offers telemedicine access to OBGYNs, menopause health coaches, wellness products and free education. Prior to running Gennev, Jill had a 20-year career in tech, with 15 of those years spent at Microsoft in executive roles such as Chief of Staff to the CMO, Director of Global Media, and Product Management for Emerging Markets. Jill recently joined the Board of Directors for Special Olympics of Washington. Named as one of Inc. Magazine’s 2016 Most Impressive Women Entrepreneurs, Jill is a driving force for bringing effective health solutions, information and resources to women in the most vibrant years of their lives.