What does Uber and birth control have in common?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our morning coffee chat with you that is all about the weekend, what to expect this week, and some funding rounds you may have missed. I’m subbing in for Alex Wilhelm today, who is deservedly out on vacation. You can find me on Twitter @nmasc_, and Equity on Twitter (turn on those notifications!) @equitypod. 

Biden and world leaders are congregating at the NATO summit, which kicks off this week. Also, the Dublin Tech Summit is happening on Thursday with yours truly, other TC folks, and many entrepreneurs making a virtual appearance.

Now, onto the news!

  •  The weekend: The seat next to Jeff Bezos as he launches into space just got filled for $28 million. Also, Elon Musk tweeted about how Tesla might start accepting Bitcoin as a payment once at least half of it can be mined using clean energy. The comment sent Bitcoin up more than a few percentage points, hovering at $39,173 at the time of the recording.
  • This morning: The FT reports that Flagship Pioneering, which is responsible for incubating and launching Moderna, has raised a new venture capital fund at $3.4 billion. Flagship isn’t your traditional VC. It forms teams around problem areas and brainstorms solutions, incubates the most promising ones, and then eventually spins out and finances those companies.
  •  Funding rounds: Byju’s got a check from UBS and Zoom founder Eric Yuan, making it the most valuable startup in India. The company is now valued at $16.5 billion post-money. Plus, The Pill Club has raised an extension Series B round with former Uber exec Liz Meyerdirk newly at the helm of the company.
  • Finally, please take the Equity Listener Survey. We want to make the show better for you, so spending a few seconds filling out our survey and we will be very grateful.

And that’s all. Be kind with yourself this week, and take more than a 5-minute lunch because true glamour is being present and chewing slowly.

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The Pill Club takes on primary care with $41.9M in fresh funding

In January, former Uber executive Liz Meyerdirk took over as chief executive of The Pill Club. The company, which offers an online birth control prescription and delivery service to hundreds of thousands of women, had hit record revenues, crossing $100 million in annual run rate for the first time in its 4-year history.

She found the bridge between ride-sharing to healthcare to be smoother than some might expect, saying that she focused on how to apply technology “to logistics for an everyday use case, [to know] how that simplifies your everyday life.”

Now, six months into her new job, Meyerdirk announced that her company has raised more capital to capitalize off of the momentum in women’s health right now. The Pill Club announced today that it has raised a $41.9 million Series B extension round led by Base 10. Existing investors including ACME, Base10, GV, Shasta Ventures and VMG participated in the round, as well as new investors including Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi and Honey’s George Ruan and iGlobe.

The extension round comes over 2 years after the company announced its initial Series B investment, a $51 million financing led by VMG Partners. After reportedly being valued at $250 million, the company declined to provide its latest valuation, other than saying that the extension was an up-round.

When a customer joins The Pill Club, they are given a medical questionnaire and a digital form to input personal information. The company gives them a sense of how much the service will cost, and if the price works, it connects them to a nurse either live or via text.

“In a happy case, you can see a nurse immediately, “ she said. “Obviously if it’s midnight, we haven’t figured that out yet.” The nurse walks though different options, since, Meyerdirk added, “contraception is not one size fits all.”

Once a customer makes a decision, The Pill Club can then prescribe birth control for pick-up at a nearby pharmacy, available within two or three days.

The Pill Club launched in 2016 with an at-home delivery service of birth control. Between 2016 and January 2021, it launched in 43 states plus the District of Columbia. It has added 5 new states in the past six months, and plans to get to 50 states by the end of 2021.

The company makes money from a nurse visit fee, insurance reimbursement for prescription drugs, and cash patients who aren’t covered by insurance.

The chief executive views a big part of its value proposition as embedding with existing insurance plans of its customers, including Medi-CAL and Family PACT. In the last three months, 16% of The Pill Clubs’ new patients were on Medicaid.

“You’ve got companies like Oscar [Health] that are reimagining health insurance, and you’ve got Ro, Hims and Hers, who are [taking] cash as a primary…way to serve..patients,” she said. “That’s fantastic for those who can afford it, but for us, because so much of our value system is around access to equity, we believe everyone should have the right to get access to birth control.”

The company believes that it has to work within the system of insurance to have true innovation.

“Telemedicine that ignores the reality of insurance is always going to have a limited piece of the pie,” a spokesperson from the company said said. “Cash-only systems simply aren’t a product built for a scale. A truly innovative healthcare platform exists within the realities of the system.”

By women, for women

Long-term, the Pill Club wants to replace the old model of going to a primary care provider for annual visits with ongoing care for women.

“I’m generally healthy [but] I actually do have questions on mammograms…colonoscopies, or anything,” Meyerdirk said. “And being able to have a person other than my mom” to talk to that doesn’t require a trip to the doctor or urgent care, is the gap that The Pill Club wants to fill.

“We think it’s too good to be true, when we actually get what we deserve,” Meyerdirk said when describing women’s health. Part of her goal going forward is to think bigger, beyond contraception, and figure out how The Pill Club could bring a digital refresh to other areas of women’s health.

In March, the company launched a dermatology pilot, and also expanded its 2020 period care pilot. A portion of the new capital is earmarked toward launching new services for its members.

The Pill Club also shared the diversity metrics of its 350-person staff as part of its announcement.

The Pill Club has 72% of employees identifying as women, and 28% of employees identifying as male. The executive leadership similarly sees predominantly women, with the ratio being 62.5% women and 37.5% male. As for racial diversity, the overall company identifies as 33% white, 19% Asian, 16% Hispanic or Latino and 14% Black or African American, with 13% of employees declined to identify.

“We’re by women for women,” Meyerdirk said. “It’s very, very different when you’re by men, for women.” Her appointment came as The Pill Club’s founder and former chief executive officer Nick Chang, stepped down from day to day operations. He didn’t take a board seat, but does still have shares in the company.

Liz Meyerdirk, chief executive of The Pill Club.

The wave of prescription, for-delivery medication is only getting bigger, with The Pill Club joined by startups such as Nurx and Simply Health, and bigger corporations such as Walmart and Amazon.

“The idea of creating more choice and flexibility across healthcare is long overdue,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have great options when they consider who can best address their daily needs.”

The Pill Club is donating 5,000 units of emergency contraception

Eleven million women in the U.S. live more than an hour from an abortion clinic, a number expected to increase as facilities close up shop following new restrictions on women’s healthcare in several states.

Planned Parenthood and other leading nonprofits continue to put up a good fight while private “mission-driven” companies in the burgeoning women’s health tech sector are all talk and little action. But a new effort from The Pill Club, an Alphabet-backed birth control and prescription delivery startup, may lead to change in the nascent sector.

The Pill Club has partnered with Power To Decide, a nonprofit campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancies, to dole out free emergency contraception to women in need. Together they’ll distribute 5,000 units of a generic form of Plan B, a pill taken after sex to stop a pregnancy before it starts. For the next three months The Pill Club will also match all donations up to $10,000 made to Power To Decide’s Contraceptive Access Fund, which helps low-income women access contraception. Anyone can sign up now to receive free units.

The Pill Club’s decision to share resources with a nonprofit comes as several states this year have imposed new laws restricting or outlawing abortion procedures. Alabama, for example, earlier this year passed a Senate bill banning abortion in the state. Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and others have also OK’d new restrictions on abortion.

The Pill Club

This is The Pill Club’s first effort to donate emergency contraception to populations in need, as well as its first partnership with a not-for-profit entity. Co-founder and chief executive officer Nick Chang says the startup thought long and hard about how it could be most helpful to women in this political climate.

“We thought, what can we do to support women in these states in ways that other companies may not be able to?,” Chang tells TechCrunch. “This is the moment where private companies can really go out and benefit women in ways that may not be supported in other avenues. Since we have the means and ability to do it in ways that are more convenient and private, it’s our opportunity to drive access and support.”

Founded in 2014 and backed with more than $60 million in venture capital funding, one might argue The Pill Club should have forged partnerships like this from the get-go. Curious what efforts other well-funded birth control startups were making to support women in 2019, especially women in contraceptive deserts who are likely unfamiliar with the new line of consumer birth control brands, I reached out to The Pill Club’s competitors Nurx, a fellow birth control delivery company, and Hers, a line of women’s healthcare products owned by the billion-dollar startup Hims.

Both companies emphasized the fact that many of their customers live in Southern states, or the region most impacted by new limitations to abortion care, but didn’t mention any new efforts to increase access, like partnerships with nonprofits or donations. Hers provided this quote from the company’s co-founder Hilary Coles, which didn’t answer my question but did make clear the company is thinking about serving contraceptive deserts:

“At Hers, our mission is to provide women with more convenient and affordable access to the healthcare system,” Hers co-founders Hilary Coles said in a statement. “Approximately 3.5 million patients go without care because they cannot access transportation to their providers and 19.5 million women have reported not having access to a clinic that provides birth control specifically. That’s simply unacceptable. Closing the gaps caused by geographic barriers between patients and their doctors was one of the primary challenges we set out to address when founding Hers. We’re proud to be a resource for women nationwide, including those who live in contraceptive deserts who may not otherwise have access to the care they need. It’s crucial to Hers to be part of the solution in alleviating the pain points women experience within the healthcare system.” 

It’s not the responsibility of these companies to improve the political landscape of the U.S., but with $340 million in private capital shared between them, the trio does have a unique opportunity to innovate, share, collaborate and influence. After all, that’s what’s so great about healthtech; it brings new, innovative solutions to an industry characterized by antiquated systems and slow movers. For once, Silicon Valley’s “move fast and break things” mantra may be appropriately applied to a facet of healthcare. Women need sustained access to contraception and abortion care. Fast.

“This is the time when private companies can step in,” Chang concluded. “We can come in and help out and it’s our responsibility to do that.”