Many have tried but few have found the right formula to offer medical laboratory tests directly to consumers. Direct-to-consumer lab testing as a robust business model has been an elusive goal. But now one entrepreneur wants to crack this market and just attracted $50 million in venture capital to fund her idea!
Outsiders often establish industries. This was the case when Jeff Bezos created Amazon in 1994. The online retailer transformed the way books were sold and, subsequently, established a massive new retail market.
Along the same lines, Julia Taylor Cheek, Founder and CEO of EverlyWell, a well-financed digital health company based in Austin—hopes to build a similarly disruptive business in the clinical laboratory industry.
Cheek is increasing her company’s outreach to consumers by putting some of the company’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical tests on store shelves at CVS and Target.
A former consultant and Harvard Business School graduate, Cheek raised $50 million in financing to expand EverlyWell’s digital platform. According to a news release, “Just two full years into operation, EverlyWell is reporting 300% year-over-year customer growth and a world-class consumer Net Promoter Score (NPS).”
Sound familiar? Dark Daily reported last year on Cheek’s appearance on Shark Tank, where she secured $1 million from Lori Greiner, one of the television reality show’s participating entrepreneurs. Ever since then, many in the media have compared Cheek to Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. It’s a comparison that Cheek does not appreciate.
“I think it’s a representation of sexism in our space. There are 15 other companies that have popped up in blood testing and you don’t hear anyone comparing Theranos to those male-founded startups,” she told Inc.
However, Dark Daily believes Cheek may be missing one basis for the comparison with Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes intended for Theranos to serve consumers with lab testing, and let consumers order and purchase their own medical laboratory tests. Cheek is talking about the same primary business strategy of letting consumers purchase their own lab tests.
Armed with this additional financing from investors, EverlyWell intends to expand services and develop new partnerships with retail pharmacy chain CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) and for-profit insurance company Humana (NYSE:HUM).
The news release notes, “The company has also expanded its product line to offer 35 panels, including first-to-market tests in fertility, vitamins, peri- and post-menopause, and high-risk HPV. In addition, EverlyWell has launched an end-to-end care model for consumers, now offering an independent physician consult and prescription, if appropriate, for select STDs and Lyme Disease testing. All of this is included in an upfront price before purchase.”
EverlyWell Intent on Bringing Medical Laboratory Tests to Retail
Earlier this year, EverlyWell made nine lab tests available in more than 1,600 Target store locations, MedCity News reported. This may suggest that retailers are intrigued with direct-to-consumer lab testing.
Cheek reportedly established EverlyWell after becoming disenchanted with medical laboratory tests that she felt were not well explained and too costly under high-deductible health plans.
Just two years on, EverlyWell reports “hundreds of thousands of customers and tens of millions in sales.” The company plans to add additional staff on top of its existing 70 employees in anticipation of the new funding, Austin Business Journal reports.
“We are building a consumer brand, which means we have to be where people shop. We need to be in places like CVS and Target to really allow for broader distribution and name recognition,” Cheek told the Austin American-Statesman.
What Draws People to EverlyWell?
EverlyWell offers home health test kits, priced from $49 to $400 that people can order without a doctor’s prescription and pay for online. Users take their samples (saliva, urine, or a pinprick of blood) with provided lancets and cotton swabs, MedCity News reported.
EverlyWell’s top selling tests are:
- Food sensitivity-$159;
- Thyroid function-$159;
- Metabolism-$89; and
- Vitamin D deficiency-$99.
EverlyWell says it is “first” in direct-to-consumer tests for:
- Women’s fertility-$159;
- Postmenopause-$129; and
- High-risk human papilloma virus (HPV) genotypes-$89.
According to VentureBeat:
- EverlyWell Test kits come with registration information, instructions, collection tools;
- Biological samples are sent by consumers to CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments)-certified labs that partner with EverlyWell;
- Results are generally completed within 10 days depending on type of test and business volume;
- A physician reviews the test results;
- Reports on test results are electronically accessible through smartphone apps and online web dashboards.
“Lab testing is arguably one of the most important steps in preventing and managing illness but has been largely ignored by digital health companies. EverlyWell is successfully navigating an entrenched industry to offer consumers an opportunity to take charge of their own health,” said Eric Kim, Managing Partner at Goodwater Capital (which led the financing), in the news release.
“We’re building the definitive technology-enabled healthcare platform that consumers deserve and have already come to expect in other areas of their lives,” Cheek told VentureBeat. “As high-deductible plans become the norm, consumers are becoming discerning buyers who look for seamless, digitally enabled experiences.”
Learning from EverlyWell
Of course, pathologists and medical laboratory professionals will watch to see if EverlyWell can sustain its rapid rise in popularity with healthcare consumers. In particular, those consumers who prefer DTC testing over traditional clinical laboratory visits and who may be on high-deductible health plans.
The DTC test market represents an opportunity that most clinical laboratories have yet to take seriously. There are many reasons why medical lab managers and pathologists would be taking a “wait and see” attitude. Meanwhile, EverlyWell has $50 million of investors’ money to use to demonstrate the financial viability of its strategy to encourage consumers to purchase their own clinical laboratory tests—and even collect their own specimens at home!
—Donna Marie Pocius