Founder Q&A: Why Ro Veteran Rachel Blank Is Launching Allara

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may be a common illness, but getting help frustrates the millions of women who live with it. So Rachel Blank founded Allara, the just-launched platform designed to connect them with better care. Formerly of virtual healthcare platform Ro and cofounder of Rory, its women's health arm, Blank tells D2C FYI what she hopes the start-up will accomplish.

D2C FYI: What convinced you there was a need for this kind of business?

Rachel Blank: I was diagnosed with PCOS about 10 years ago after struggling with some unexplained health issues.

What's most impressive is that my dad was an ob/gyn. So here I am, growing up with the best access to healthcare, yet I still fell into that same statistic that affects most people with PCOS: It took multiple years and multiple doctors to get a diagnosis. It's just a frustrating process.

And afterward, I struggled to find doctors who took it seriously. PCOS is linked to infertility and weight gain, and they'd say things like, “Well, you're not overweight. You're not trying to get pregnant right now. What's the problem?"

But PCOS is serious. About half of women with PCOS develop Type 2 diabetes by the time they're 40. It causes acne. And there are mental-health concerns, too. So there's a whole lot of issues women deal with every day.

D2C FYI: I know you started testing using the name Astrid. What did you learn from that?

Blank: PCOS affects about 10% of women, and I found tens of thousands of people on Facebook groups and Reddit forums, all looking for answers and all sort of fending for themselves. Some had more than 50,000 women. And we know women are open to health through tech -- there are plenty of companies offering great information for fertility and pregnancy care.

So we used the name Astrid to see what appealed to users most. And I was just blown away by the demand. Between Instagram and our waitlist, we quickly got 35,000 names. And it became clear that women were searching for more help with PCOS. And we've got a solution. I've been touched by all the emails I've been getting -- for many, it's the first time they've felt hopeful.

D2C FYI: So how does the platform work?

Blank: The idea is that it's collaborative care and that it's real-time, on-demand. It combines medical care, nutrition counseling, lifestyle coaching and community support. Our advisers work in reproductive endocrinology, gynecology, nutrition and holistic wellness.

It costs $100 per month, and membership starts with detailed intake visits with both a medical provider and a registered dietitian, including diagnostic blood testing if needed. Patients then get a personalized treatment plan, ongoing check-ins, and nutrition support. Instead of having all these specialists in silos, the goal is to make PCOS care more manageable and holistic.

D2C FYI: Who is your target market?

Blank: Women in their twenties and thirties. This generation wants to take healthcare more into their own hands, and it's about more than just a prescription. But there's a lot of misinformation out there, and that motivated me, too. There are people with no credentials out there telling women restrictive diets will help.

Our website is full of good information, all based on science and research. We're establishing ourselves as experts and authorities, so women know  they can trust our advice.

D2C FYI: You just raised $2.5 million. How are you going to reach these women?

Blank: For us, the huge component is continuing to build out our community. We'll use digital and social channels. And even if women aren't members, they can participate in our private community.

D2C FYI: What's been frustrating?

Blank: Trying to get investors to see that women's healthcare is bigger than people trying to get pregnant, trying not to get pregnant or having a healthy pregnancy.

Women of reproductive age spend more than $500 billion a year on healthcare. And a very small fraction that is fertility care or obstetrics care. We're finally getting to the point where we can zoom out and look at women's health as more than just fertility care.

D2C FYI: What are the goals for Allara?

Blank: Beyond the number of women we're seeing and revenues, I want to create better health for women with PCOS in a connected way. I want them to feel like their healthiest best self, without this disjointed healthcare process.

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