Lessons from Priyanka Jain, Evvy, demystifying the female body through healthcare technology
Priyanka Jain, CEO and Co-Founder at Evvy, radically reinventing how we understand and treat the female body, starting with the vaginal microbiome.
Welcome back to the Pear Healthcare Playbook! Every week, we’ll be getting to know trailblazing healthcare leaders and dive into building a digital health business from 0 to 1.
This week, we’re super excited to have Priyanka Jain, CEO and Co-Founder at Evvy. Founded in 2020, Evvy is on a mission to radically reinvent how we understand and treat the female body, starting with the vaginal microbiome.
Prior to Evvy, Priyanka was the Head of Product at Pymetrics for four years and earned her Bachelor’s degree at Stanford University.
In July 2021, Evvy raised a $5M seed round led by General Catalyst.
Priyanka’s career path:
Priyanka describes a core mission she’s focused on throughout her life: how can I make life better for women?
She worked for many years in the nonprofit world, working with healthcare and education organizations alongside the UN Foundation, and while at Stanford, led Stanford Women In Business and helped students improve on their resume and recruiting process.
Through WIB, Priyanka met the founder of Pymetrics, a company using AI to make the hiring process more fair and effective. Pymetrics ended up raising $70 million, scaling to 150 people, and now works with some of the most amazing largest employers in the world. In the HR space, Pymetrics worked on convincing companies to think about people differently and build algorithms that are fair and transparent.
“Who knew that there was such a large Venn diagram overlap between HR and healthcare— it turns out you have a lot of the same challenges when it comes to data in healthcare where you have a bias training set that was built on middle-aged, mid-sized white men, and you're trying to make that data applicable to people who look like us.
I became really intrigued by the opportunities to bring a lot of those really interesting data principles of fair and transparent algorithms, and how those could be applied in healthcare.”
Especially through the pandemic, Priyanka noticed a trend of women dealing with negative healthcare experiences.
“Forever, we've assumed that women are small men, and so, we'll just make everything smaller, and it's going to work, and obviously, that's not true. And to this day, women are on average diagnosed four years later across 770 diseases.”
Priyanka became intrigued by the idea that there likely were many signals in the female body that would be insightful health markers, but that we currently don’t track because they don’t exist in men. That was the genesis of Evvy: how could they discover and leverage female specific biomarkers that would improve risk prediction, diagnosis and treatment of female specific diseases?
Evvy was founded to serve the unmet needs of 30% of women in the US
Priyanka shares that the vaginal microbiome is one of those aforementioned signals as the cause of some of the most common conditions in women— yeast infections, recurrent UTIs, bacterial vaginosis, aerobic vaginitis, cytolytic vaginosis, etc. Not only are these conditions highly prevalent, affecting over 30% of women every single year, but these conditions are extremely debilitating to physical, emotional, and mental health and highly stigmatized. Vaginal infections have incredibly outdated diagnostics and treatments, as well as one of the highest recurrence rates in medicine.
A microbiome refers to a community of bacteria on a certain part of your body (similar to your gut), and for the vagina, it serves as the structural connection between the outside world full of pathogens and some of the most important internal reproductive organs. The microbiome plays an important role in the local immune system: making the vagina inhospitable for pathogens.
Given the vaginal microbiome’s far-reaching implications on overall health, from IVF to cancer to birth, Priyanka was shocked that there was so much whitespace in this sector of the industry.
Evvy provides an at-home test that helps any woman better understand what’s going on in her vagina.
The test helps women understand how their microbes are related to their overall health goals— have they been shown in research to have associations with positive health outcomes or negative health outcomes? What has research shown to be effective in changing a microbiome that looks like yours? How does your microbiome shift with your behaviors, your partners, your diet?
By tracking how your microbiome changes after certain actions, you can understand triggers and reduce anxiety around behaviors that aren’t causing any issues.
How to use Evvy to understand your body:
Order a kit online on Evvy’s website that comes in the mail, take a Q-tip swab of your vagina, and send it back to the lab.
Evvy does meta-genomic sequencing to produce a highly accurate report, creating an educational experience for you to understand your own personal vaginal microbiome.
Evvy’s certified health coaches can follow up and discuss the test results and action items
You can periodically see reactions to lifestyle changes by taking the test again.
“A lot of conditions in women's health suffer from a lack of comprehensive data. Hopefully, our contribution to the broader women's health space can be a focus on discovering and leveraging those biomarkers that can enable every provider to provide much more precise, holistic and preventative care around a variety of different women's health problems.”
Building Evvy’s MVP
Validate your value proposition with patients and create a low-fidelity MVP
At the outset of building Evvy, the team talked to 50 women who had chronic vaginal issues. The most common thing they heard was: “I don’t understand what’s going on.” This validated that the company answered a big enough value proposition.
Priyanka and her team initially mailed out swabs to specific customers, manually processed the data, and tested different visualizations. They iterated different tests and did the process very manually until they figured out what would truly provide value to people— that final test is what they actually productized and scaled and launched.
Founders— don’t doubt yourselves. Understand your role in the system and you can provide value.
“Even though you aren't a doctor, you can still provide value. How do you partner with doctors? How do you partner with the experts, with the customer, and really be able to provide them both with information and services that make their lives better and easier?”
Priyanka shares that it’s easy, especially for healthcare founders, to feel insecurity about entering the medical sphere. Do your research to become a true expert on the people who are suffering and what they need to bring value to the healthcare providers who don’t have that unique insight.
It’s okay to not always be the expert, but work on providing value for them.
Why Evvy went direct to consumer:
“I'm just such a firm believer that women and people with vaginas have suffered for so long, that it's unfair to start anywhere else. It gets unfair to create solutions for anyone who isn't the person who is suffering, and that that person deserves the data and the insights first, and then we can build for all of the other players in this space.”
Women have a lot of purchasing power and are willing and able to invest in their own health— Priyanka believes that while there’s a lot of value that providers, payers, and employers would find in what Evvy does, they’re proud to provide value directly to women.
Utilize the power of community, especially on social media platforms.
Priyanka shares that a lot of women’s health conditions have very active Facebook groups, including for vaginal health, with community leaders that have dedicated so much of their lives to providing support and education for others. The Evvy team was amazed at how much the product resonated with these communities and how effectively they spread the word.
Build an experience for your customers, not to collect a dataset.
Priyanka strongly believes founders shouldn’t collect information they’re not directly using to provide value back to the customer. Ask specific questions that, when answered, will lead to a specific insight for the customer. Priyanka shares that right now, Evvy is more focused on providing the right experience to women rather than building a huge dataset.
“We don't sell the solution. We don't sell treatments, we don't sell products, we just are in the business of giving you answers.”
At the seed stage, focusing on mitigating risk for the future is more important than # of customers in the present.
“I always think at the seed stage, your job as a founder is to say, what are the biggest risks to my company succeeding? And how do I derisk them as much as possible?”
Priyanka believes it depends on what you’re trying to prove at the seed stage. If customer acquisition is the biggest risk, the number of customers is a really important benchmark to be thinking about. But if it's whether or not the care pathway improves outcomes, it’s important to understand whether or not the product is working.
To demonstrate that consumers care about vaginal health, Priyanka focused on showing that more comprehensive data can really change outcomes and provide insights that allow women to be more proactive.
“It's really important that as a healthcare company, think about— what is that big risk? How do I mitigate that and not just think about how many customers I have?”
Building the right team
Leverage each other’s superpowers, and lean into them all being different.
Priyanka believes that knowing what your strengths and your teams’ strengths are is essential. With a team that has a diverse set of expertises, they’ve been able to come up with much more creative solutions.
In the healthcare space, Priyanka has built a team with senior scientists, product developers who are experts in the vaginal microbiome, health coaches, content & marketing, data scientists, engineers, and more. She positions the science and research team at the center, as they interface with all the different components that you need to have a true direct to consumer product— everything from content and education, to product experiences, to algorithm based product experiences, to coaching to customer service.
Priyanka believes that consumer healthcare companies face the challenge of scaling knowledge and science so that it can permeate every single department of the company.
You can play a role in the healthcare system without being an MD/PhD — what are you the expert in?
“For every person who's looking at their own healthcare journey and has ideas of ways to solve it, you play a role in the system.”
Whether it’s patient advocacy, policy, the patient journey, Priyanka believes it’ll take a village to change the system. There’s so much need that you can become the expert in arenas you feel are overlooked, bringing that to the system and partnering with the people who are experts where you’re not.
At Evvy, Priyanka believes that one of the most important things has been having an incredible medical and science advisory board: OBGYNs and some of the original researchers of the vaginal microbiome. They’re able to fill in gaps where Priyanka isn’t an expert, and Priyanka is able to help patients understand what they need in a way these experts can’t write.
“Knowing that you don't have to be the expert to play a role in solving these problems can hopefully get more diverse people who've suffered from problems that have been overlooked into the system to solve them, because trust me, it's going to take all of us.”
Exciting opportunities in healthcare
Priyanka is excited about companies innovating in women’s health in many verticals. She’s excited to create a collaborative ecosystem that can stitch together a better, safer, more empowering healthcare experience for women.
“I am so energized by the community of other founders in the women's health space. It’s just amazing how many people like us have looked at our own experiences and said, ‘No, this isn't good enough.’”