Sophia Yen, MD, is on a mission to make mail-order birth control – all brands from many companies – affordable and convenient. Whether she's wearing a cape made of condoms or spreading the news that it's possible to opt out of menstruation, she's determined to make women’s telehealth more streamlined. She tells D2C Insider why.
D2C Insider: What made you decide to start Pandia Health?
Sophia Yen: Nine years ago, I was talking to physicians about best practices for preventing teenage pregnancy. The top question was: Why don't women take their birth control? The answer is that they didn't have it in their hand. A friend and I thought, "We can solve this. We'll just ship women birth control and keep shipping it until they tell us to stop. They’ll never have to run out."
When we started running ads for free birth control delivery, we found that 60% of the people who responded didn't have a prescription. So Pandia Health was born. If you have a prescription and insurance, you pay us nothing. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there is no copay or deductible (unless your insurance is religious.) And if you need a prescription, it's just $30 once a year to use our expert birth-control doctors, with unlimited follow-up questions. We are based in Silicon Valley and currently prescribe in 17 states, where we have doctors, and deliver to all 50 states.
D2C Insider: You compete with companies like Wisp, Hims/Hers and Ro. How does Pandia differ?
Dr. Yen: We're focused on women's health. Hims started with erectile dysfunction, for example, others with sexually transmitted diseases, then added birth control. So, they started with different kinds of doctors.
The other differentiator is me. I come from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UCSF and am a clinical associate professor at Stanford, specializing in adolescent medicine. I've applied my academic mind to birth control. I've ranked all 40 birth control pills in many ways—those most and least likely to make you bleed, give you the munchies, give you zits or cause side effects like breakthrough bleeding. Only our company has this algorithm. And, no offense to the MBAs, they often offer the cheapest pill with the best profit margins. We aim to give people the best pill with the fewest side effects. Then they'll be happy and stay with us.
D2C Insider: There's now a birth-control pill available over the counter. How will that affect sales?
Dr. Yen: Only one birth control pill is over the counter. But there are 40 different birth control pills. There's also the patch, the ring, the IUD, the implant and the shot. Why restrict yourself to one option?
D2C Insider: Over a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, striking down Roe v. Wade. That means something like 25 million women have lost abortion as a backstop to failed contraception. Has that changed birth-control customers?
Dr. Yen: Yes. Immediately after Dobbs, we saw a three-times increase in customers. People with uteri are realizing they need the best birth control possible. What's scary is that many states restricting abortions are also the least likely to offer comprehensive sex ed. It's so important for young people to educate themselves from trustworthy people, not just TikTok. For example, with this over-the-counter pill, you need to take it at the same time each day. If you take it three hours late, it doesn't work, so you need emergency contraception. People need to know that.
D2C Insider: Some companies offer abortion medication by mail in some states. Will you?
Dr. Yen: No. Unfortunately, if one of our doctors loses their license, it takes the entire company down. I applaud those offering medication abortion. If I didn't have this company, I might be one of them.
D2C Insider: You've given a popular TED Talk to get more exposure for #PeriodsOptional. What percentage of your customers want that?
Dr. Yen: We ask, "In an ideal world, would you like to bleed every month, every three months, or never?" It splits 30, 30, 30, with 30% believing that ingrained, '"You must bleed every month." The other 30% say, "Yeah, every three months is fine." And then 30% pick never.
We feel it's important to present the option. Fewer periods decrease the risk of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer. It decreases the risk of anemia. Painful periods are the No. 1 cause of missed school and work. It hampers athletes. It would save people's sheets and underwear. More than half of all women worry about having an accident in public. #PeriodsOptional would decrease landfill. It saves money.
D2C Insider: Pandia is starting to offer products for menopause. What kind?
Dr. Yen: We'll be launching within the next couple of months. We will do evidence-based menopause treatment, from hormonal therapy to topical estrogen.
D2C Insider: How do you approach marketing?
Dr. Yen: About 70% of our customers come from paid Google ads. We've had some issues with Facebook and Instagram once Apple instituted its privacy rules. We're trying to build a presence with organic TikTok. And we're reaching out to colleges, sororities and student health organizations. We're also looking at going to HR departments of large employers. As more offer fertility and abortion benefits, we want them to add birth control and menopause to their portfolios.