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Peanut, a social networking app for women, initially found traction connecting women in the earlier stages of their motherhood journey. But over the years, the network expanded to support women through other life stages. Now, that will include menopause, as well — a life stage that will impact nearly half the world’s population at some point, but where opportunities there are few online communities where women can connect and learn.
“We’ve been thinking about this life stage for a long time, in terms of how it is so underserved,” explains Peanut founder and CEO Michelle Kennedy. “By 2025, there are going to be a billion women who are in menopause at that moment…and yet, when you think about what is there and accessible in terms of community, social [networking], and support — there’s literally nothing,” she says.
The company saw the opportunity in this market by observing what women were already discussing on the app, Kennedy says.
Although the app had historically skewed towards younger women just getting started with marriages and family, there were a number of women who had undergone surgical or chemically-induced menopause because of something like breast cancer or some other medical condition. This had put them into early or premature menopause, and they began to discuss how that was impacting their life — particularly as younger parents. There were also women who felt like they may have begun to experience menopause but were having their concerns dismissed by their doctors because they were too young. They wanted to talk about their symptoms with others who were going through the same thing. Others, meanwhile, were older and entering menopause, and were in search of community.
To address this market, Peanut is expanding with the launch of Peanut Menopause, a dedicated space in the app where women can meet others who are at a similar life stage — whether that’s other premenopausal, menopausal, or postmenopausal women.
Women can join groups, ask questions, and get advice, or even join live audio conversations hosted by experts, through Peanut’s newer live audio rooms feature, Peanut Pods. And they can use the app’s matchmaking feature to discover other women who are also in their same demographic, where they can chat using messaging or video.
Kennedy notes that the topic of menopause is something women have historically kept quiet about, often suffering in silence due to the lack of resources available to them when it comes on online networking and support groups.
“Men are never going to build this for us, so we have to build it for ourselves,” she says. “We have to build what we want and what we need.”
The expansion may bring a broader group of women to Peanut. Today, the average age of the Peanut user is around 32, but the menopause-focused communities may attract women in the 49-plus age demographic, in addition to those who are going through the experience at a younger age, for other reasons.
Unfortunately for Peanut, not all investors see the opportunity in addressing the needs of menopausal women. In fact, on a recent phone call, Kennedy said one investor seemed dismayed about the expansion, noting they had really loved “the younger age demo.” Kennedy said this comment blew her away.
“They are women who are at a stage in their life where they probably have more disposable income,” she said of the new demographic Peanut is now including. “They are more considered users, in many respects. They’re not as flighty. They don’t have 30 apps on their phone, and the ones they have on their phone they’re really invested in. It’s just astonishing to me that someone in the investment community would make a comment like that,” she adds.
Peanut is not yet monetizing its users and doesn’t intend to do so using ads Instead, the company’s plan is to eventually introduce the freemium model where women will pay to unlock a set of premium features — a model that worked well in the dating app industry, where Kennedy has roots as the former deputy CEO at dating app Badoo and an inaugural board member at Bumble.
The feature is the latest in a long line of expansions over the years — including Q&A forums, Peanut Pages, Peanut Groups, and recently, Peanut Pods — that have helped Peanut evolve into an online community that serves over 2 million users. The Peanut app is available as a free download across both iOS and Android, while a preview of its communities are available on the web.
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When it comes to health issues like menopause, fertility, pregnancy, and even early parenthood, the data tells us that people typically turn to search engines and social media for advice to ask about symptoms or concerns they have. They tend not to go to a medical practitioner, in the first instance. The suggestion, therefore, is that there is plenty of room for startups to fill that gap This is effectively the verticalisation of the model first pioneered by startups like KRY, Babylon Health, and Ada Health.
Peppy, a B2B digital health platform addressing just these concerns, has now raised a £6.6M/$10M Series A funding round led by Felix Capital, with previous investors including Outward VC, Seedcamp, and Hambro Perks, also participating.
Peppy is a little like a ‘Babylon Health before you need Babylon Health’. The company says it provides expert-led support to individuals before they need to see a doctor.
Founded in London in 2018 by co-founders Evan Harris, Max Landry, and Mridula Pore, the startup address major life and family moments: menopause, fertility, pregnancy, and early parenthood.
It offers its services to a corporate customer base, which then incorporates Peppy into its employee health programs, enabling it to acquire some large employers in the UK and grow – it says – by 20 percent month-on-month for the past 12-months. Customers include BNP Paribas, Santander, DFS, Wickes, NHS trusts, the University of Sheffield.
The startup is pushing at an open door: Women of menopausal age are the fastest-growing demographic in the UK, and most say their work is negatively impacted, but – and here’s the crucial bit, they’d rather not talk about it to their line manager. Peppy says this is one of their biggest selling points into companies, which can now address the problem and help employees back to work more easily.
Just as with other telemedicine products, there are features such as access experts via a secure mobile app, with instant messaging, group chat, video consultations, live events, evidence-based articles, videos and programs. Furthermore, users can join a community of people who are experiencing similar challenges.
Mridula Pore, Co-Founder of Peppy, said: “The pandemic has shown us that employers can’t just talk about supporting their employees’ health and wellbeing anymore, they have to take action. More and more leading businesses are turning to us to provide the support their people really need – not a one-size-fits all solution, but support that is trustworthy, personalized, and delivered by experts. We’re still at the surface of what is possible for Peppy.”
Susan Lin, Investor at Felix Capital, said: “Since Felix started, ‘aspiration for a better life’ has been a core theme and we believe in the strong opportunity for digital health and wellness solutions to improve this. Peppy is at the forefront of three huge market trends and we believe is positioned to become a category-defining brand. First, massive growth in targeted employee benefits, driven by increasing awareness of the importance these have in boosting morale, productivity, and retention. Second, demand for much more convenient ways to access healthcare, which has been further accelerated by COVID-19. And finally, a need for much more personalized solutions, especially in critical life stages such as menopause and early parenthood.”
Speaking to TechCrunch, Pore expanded on the problem: “Today, people’s alternative is to go to their GP/MP. They may be lucky, have a GP who knows a lot about the issues to offer the support the patient needs. We know that a lot of women aren’t getting the support they need, they suffer, they struggle, they’re embarrassed to talk to their manager about what’s going on. They muddle through and they’re worried about being fired because for ‘women’s problems’. Some women quit. All the surveys suggest that people either switch their working arrangements, make different decisions or quit. It’s a big headache for employers, and we know the same thing happens for new parents.”
She added: “We’ve seen a real tidal change, especially in the last two years and I think COVID has massively accelerated companies putting menopause policy into line manager training. But none of those really address what the individual needs are because ultimately they still go to their GP and they’re back at square one. And so what we’re doing with Pepe is giving them access to our nurses and counselors on our programs, so they can get informed, educated on what their options are, medical and nonmedical, have the information they need to be able to go and seek out the right options for them, try them and they get that support over months, because we know that it will go up and down over time and you know everyone’s health journey evolves.”
She told me that the tech solution means Peppy allows people to connect to human experts “through the way that suits them in a personalized way and convenience so they can get child support, they can get video consultations, they’ll get content that’s tailored for them, they can join in live sessions on topics that are relevant for them. That can be anything from the basics of menopause, to your sex life. You can do it on your own time, in short bursts, or if you need it, for a 45-minute phone consultation.”
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The Cusp, a newly launched startup offering telemedicine services for women in perimenopause and menopause, is launching an at-home hormone test service that slashes the cost of in-office visits and lab tests.
Women in California can order the test at a cost of $159 for a telemedical consultation and test, versus roughly $500 for having the same test and lab work administered in a clinic, according to the company.
Unlike other, commonly-prescribed hormone tests The Cusp bases its still-to-be-clinically-validated test on new research that a key hormone measurement can help predict the time to menopause. The company is currently working with researchers to help the broader medical community validate these findings.
Although the test may not be clinically validated, the company said that its use of “menopause specialists” with specific training in issues surrounding perimenopause and menopause can provide a more complete diagnosis of a woman’s current state and what is likely to come next based on both clinical and laboratory data.
“Menopause is very stigmatized and midlife care is a highly underserved market. We launched The Cusp to provide women with a new model of care during this stage of life so women can optimize their health,” said The Cusp, chief executive, Taylor Sittler. “Our focus begins with perimenopause treatment as early care can lead to healthier outcomes.”
The company said that the test is best for women experiencing early signs of perimenopause, typically between the ages of 42 and 50.
“Throughout my career I’ve been focused on the intersection of women’s health, menopause, and breast cancer. It was shocking to me how little information is out there for women, so I worked with national committees helping establish guidelines for managing menopause symptoms and sexual functioning in cancer survivors,” said Dr. Mindy Goldman, Director of the Gynecology Center for Cancer Survivors and At-Risk Women Program at UCSF, and a physician working with The Cusp. “I’m thrilled to be a part of The Cusp, as we are on the front lines providing women with comprehensive diagnostic tools and personalized care so that menopause can be faced head-on and managed with a multi-pronged approach that can include medical interventions, naturopathic solutions, and/or hormone replacement therapies.”
The company is already providing care to roughly 75 patients already and is growing its membership rapidly. With its recent launch, The Cusp has joined startups like CurieMD, Elektra Health, and Geneve, which are all focused on providing medical services to women in perimenopause and menopause.
To date, the company has raised $4 million from investors including HomeBrew, Village Global and individual investors like Katie Stanton and Megan Pai.
Sittler, a co-founder of Color Genomics, sees an opportunity in applying new diagnostics tests and technology to treating women as they enter menopause.
The Cusp charges an initial $210 for tests and the first three months of care and then an additional monthly fee of $72 per month.
“Being able to provide these personalized solutions that involve proprietary technologies. We would love to get into newer treatments… once we get a few zeros to our member number… there’s an initial advantage that we have in terms of the integration we’ve already done and the advantages that we have,” said Sittler.
London-based femtech hardware startup Astinno has picked up an Innovate UK grant worth £360k ($450k) to fund further testing of a wearable it’s developing for women experiencing a perimenopause symptom known as hot flushes.
The sensor-packed device, which it’s calling Grace, is being designed to detect the onset of a hot flush and apply cooling to a woman’s wrist to combat the reaction — in a process it likens to running your wrists under a cold tap.
The aim is for algorithmically triggered cooling to be done in a timely enough manner to prevent hot flushes from running their usual unpleasant and uncomfortable course. While the bracelet wearable itself is being designed to look like a chunky piece of statement jewellery.
The femtech category in general has attracted an influx of funding in recent years, as venture capitalists slowly catch up to the opportunities available in products and services catering to women’s health issues.
But it’s fair to say menopause remains a still under-addresed segment within the category. Although there are now signs that more attention is being paid to issues that affect many hundreds of millions of middle aged (and some younger) women around the world.
The team working on Grace has built several prototypes to date, per founder Peter Astbury. He says some limited user tested has also been done. But they’ve yet to robustly prove efficacy of the core tech — hence taking grant funding for more advanced testing. At this stage of development there’s also no timeline for when a product might be brought to market.
Astinno and Morgan IAT, its commercial partner on the project, have been awarded the Innovate UK money via a publicly funded UK SMART grants scheme (the pair are getting match funding via the scheme, with the public body putting up 70% and Astinno and Morgan IAT funding the other 30% of their respective costs).
Loughborough University — Astbury’s alma mater — is also involved as a research party, and is being funded for 100% of its grant costs.
“Several prototypes have been created so far, mainly by myself having received electronics and design training as part of my degree at Loughborough University,” says Astbury. “Shortly after leaving university I also briefly worked with an electronics company who helped to refine some of the components within the Grace product.
“Morgan IAT has the crucial technical role of developing a number of prototypes in conjunction with Astinno. This includes both hardware and software development, building many more advanced prototypes that are being tested, refined and then tested again.
“We’re working with three researchers from Loughborough University which brings together industry leading expertise in menopause psychology and physiology. Based at the National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine, the researchers are using their fantastic lab facilities to test Grace, meaning that everything we’re doing is being validated by professional research. Once this step is complete, we’ll have more of an idea regarding product release time-frames.”
Astbury founded the startup last summer — but had begun work on the concept for Grace several years before, during his final year at Loughborough, back in 2016.
“As a member of Loughborough’s business incubator, ‘The Studio’, I was awarded an enterprise grant which helped to fund the business. I have also been putting my User Experience design skills and expertise to good use, contracting for start-ups and larger healthcare companies on a part-time basis to ‘bootstrap’ development,” he adds.
The idea for the wearable came after Astbury conducted user research by talking to women about their menopausal symptoms and hearing about their coping strategies for hot flushes and the night sweats that can be induced.
“A woman was telling me about her symptoms and how she coped with them until now. She would wake up ten to fifteen times each night due to her night sweats. Each time, she would go to the bathroom and run her wrists under cold water which helped the flush to subside. Looking into this method in more depth, it became clear that cooling an area of skin can indeed be extremely effective and there are lots of women that use this technique,” he explains.
“During a hot flush, your brain mistakenly thinks that you are becoming too warm and causes your body to lose heat. This results in sweating, a reddening of the skin and shortness of breath. The skin, however, acts like your body’s thermometer, passing information to your brain. By applying cooling to the skin at the right time, we’re harnessing the body’s natural temperature regulation system. The brain receives signals that you are cool and, in turn, the body reacts in a way that is directly opposite to a hot flush.”
“The real key to Grace is accurately and reliably pre-empting hot flushes (the automated nature of the bracelet) so that cooling can be applied at the earliest stage possible,” he adds. “We’re doing that using a specific line-up of sensor technology and algorithms all working together but I’m afraid the details of that can’t be disclosed publicly yet.”
Astbury says he was keen to get grant funding at this stage of product development to avoid dilution of the business, given VCs would require their chunk of equity.
“One of the best things about Innovate UK for a science-based start-up like Astinno is that it doesn’t contribute to the dilution of your business,” he notes. “By the end of a successful grant project, a company becomes a much more attractive investment from the perspective of both investors and the start-up. I have had discussions with multiple angels/VC’s and will maintain those relationships, however a grant was the best option for us at this stage.”
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