Sophia Yen, MD MPH is the CEO and Co-Founder of Pandia Health. She graduated MIT, UCSF medical school, and UC Berkeley with an MPH in Maternal and Child Health; worked as a Clinical Associate Professor in Adolescent Medicine at Stanford; and has a passion for making women’s lives better. She hopes to be the 1st surgeon general to say masturbation without being asked to resign.
Mother of 2 smart and strong daughters and wife of a feminist & supportive husband, she has been a #reprorights advocate and feminist since 13 years old, has served on the board of the California Abortion Rights Action League, Planned Parenthood Golden Gate C4, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. She founded the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women, was a member of Med Students for Choice and is a current member of Physicians for Reproductive Health. She co-founded SheHeroes to show that women can be anything they work hard towards and overcome obstacles. SheHeroes provides free online videos with discussion questions of women heroes a.k.a. leaders in their fields.
Her research includes: emergency contraception (EC) and adolescents, EC and physicians, sexual health websites’ accuracy of information, tampon versus pad use, and video games as pediatric obesity treatment.
Sophie: Pandia Health’s service is so simple yet so important. Why are you one of the first companies to offer birth control deliveries?
Sophia: Pandia Health is the end-to-end solution for birth control access. From online doctor’s visit to medication in your mailbox. I think it a took a woman who had endured 20 years of “pill anxiety” (the stress of having to get to the pharmacy each month) to realize, "Why am I worrying about running out of birth control each month? It should just come in the mail, just like everything else does these days. It should just be delivered."
It was also a perfect storm of laws and regulations. The Affordable Care Act made it so that birth control is “free” (no co-pay, no deductible) so we could create a product that would be “free” to the end user. Also, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists declared that birth control should be “over the counter” in 2012 and again reaffirmed it in 2018.
Sophie: Where did you get the inspiration to found Pandia Health?
Sophia: 3 years ago, I was preparing a talk on “why women don’t take their birth control” and one of the top reasons was that “they didn’t have it on hand.” My friend, Perla Ni, and I thought, “we can take care of that. We will ship it to women and keep sending it to women until they tell us to stop.”
Then when we ran ads for “free birth control delivery.” 60% of the women who responded didn’t have a prescription. Either they had never been on birth control or their prescription expired. I’m a doctor; I can write prescriptions, and thus the telemedicine component of Pandia Health was born.
Sophie: How are you shaking up the birth control model? Are you innovating in any areas beyond delivery?
Sophia: Yes, we have asynchronous telemedicine. You fill out a questionnaire, answering the same questions you would answer in a doctor’s office. You give us a selfie, government ID, blood pressure taken within the last 364 days, and pay a fee. Then, our doctor reviews it and if it looks good, we write the prescription, our partner pharmacy fills it, and it arrives in your mailbox.
Also, because we are founded/led by an academic physician, we are learning from our patients’ experiences and tailoring the medications accordingly. One of our doctors has written ~1,000 prescriptions in the past 2 years. That’s a lot to learn from!
We also offer all customers Emergency Contraception in Advance so that you have it on hand when the emergency happens. And we offer Ella (ulipristal acetate), which is more effective than Levonorgestrel (Plan B and its generics). Learn more here.
Sophie: Tell us about #PeriodOptional!
Sophia: Any woman who is bleeding 1 week of 4 is choosing to do so. We now have the technology to turn off your periods — with hormones. You can use the IUD with hormones, the implant, the shot, the contraceptive vaginal ring, or the contraceptive pill.
At Pandia Health, we are about making women’s lives better. How much better is life without random bloodletting 1 week out of 4? Go to www.pandiahealth.com/PeriodsOptional to learn more. We have a how-to video on top and a more scientific discussion in my TedXBayAreaWomen talk on the bottom. TLDR in the old days, we were constantly pregnant or breastfeeding and had 100 periods in our lives. We now have 350-400 periods in our lives. Decreasing the number of times you bleed decreases your chance of ovarian and endometrial cancer, your chance of anemia, and landfill from feminine hygiene products.
Sophie: Can you recommend some great places for women to learn more about birth control, their options, and reproductive health? What are some of your favorite sites and products in this space?
- Pandia Health’s Youtube channel is great for info on the birth control ring, patch, pill and Emergency Contraception.
- We also have a lot of Q&A that I’ve put together from customers' questions and other sources — Q/A with Dr. Y.
- We have a blog.
- We have a Resource page (longer articles).
- I love bedsider.org, o.school, Planned Parenthood, Go Ask Alice out of Columbia
- Products: Lioness, Dame (both women-founded/led — CEO and CTO)!
Sophie: What’s next? What is your long-term vision for Pandia Health?
Sophia: We are starting with birth control, but we will grow as our customers grow. So next would be acne, prenatal vitamins, fertility, menopause, and wrinkles. We’re hoping to take on all your chronic medications and be the “Brand Women Trust with Their Health.”
Sophie: What do you think is going to be next in FemTech or women’s reproductive health?
Sophia: Well, there are already vibrators, at home STI testing, sex ed, compostable pregnancy tests, cervical mucus testers, and ovulation predictors. What we need is more research/technology for menopause. There are at least 3 initiatives going on there but I'm not sure whether they are research/tech vs. services. We still need better birth control — the hormonal IUD doesn’t turn off periods as well as taking the pill or ring continuously. The hormonal IUD, ring, and implant only have 1 progestin out of the 10 different types of progestins out there. Women need options and choices!
Sophie: What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered founding Pandia Health?
Sophia: Being a woman, older, a doctor, a mother — all of these are seen as disadvantages in the startup world. I sometimes wonder if I would have gotten Pandia Health funded earlier/more easily if I’d had a 23-year-old guy pitch. But those same “disadvantages” are what make Pandia Health more likely to succeed.
It takes a woman to truly understand the pain point and feel personally motivated to make this happen for the women around her and after her. Also, women have networks that men don’t have to get to women customers. And it’s time for women to rise. We have women helping women (or at least I hope women will start to ask "Who founded this company? What is his/her motive? Was it a woman?")
Older — my Rolodex is better than a 23-year-old’s.
Doctor — domain expertise. I live, breathe, eat, and write birth control. I can answer questions about birth control half awake.
Mother — I’ve had people say, “Oh, you can’t be as productive because you have kids.” Actually, kids have taught me that there are LOTS of hours in the day — evenings and weekends. I look at people without kids and think, “What are you doing with all those extra hours in the day?” Once your youngest is 5 or older, then you get back to full productivity or even more because now you realize how much time you have!
Sophie: Care to share any lessons learned?
Sophia: Getting funding: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will find help in places you didn’t expect. It may be that far out connection that actually turns up the great investor.
Startup world: get everything in writing. Even then, you could bullied or lawyered out. Six-month cliff before vesting.
Sophie: Do you have any advice for women founding companies in the women’s health space?
Sophia: Make an analogy that your investor will understand. E.g. “the embarrassment of buying condoms is akin to the embarrassment of getting birth control in the small town pharmacy.”
Let’s work together! There are lots of women founder communities. Let’s help each other rise.
Springboard Enterprise and Women’s Startup Lab are 2 women-only accelerators. I also went through StartX (Stanford’s startup community) which has LOTS of women and minorities.
Portfolia, Golden Seeds, and Astia are a few women-focused angel groups.
Sophie: Why should women choose women-founded or women-led companies when they have the option?
Sophia: Given 2 equal options, help your fellow woman out! But also, the woman-founded/led company is going to be better for women because we understand the consumer and the pain point and we are working really really hard! We are passionate!
Sophie: Lastly, how do you take good care of yourself? Do you have any self-care rituals or favorite products?
Sophia: I do Pilates once a week. I love getting massages. I watch “happy TV” like SuperGirl, Fresh Off the Boat, and Blackish. I love Trevor Noah — he has a set on the pussy that is actually very strong! You gotta watch it!
Products — PerriconeMD, Kiehl’s pineapple and papaya scrub, NARS coverup, Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer, Clinique moisture surge, and prescription tretinoin (we will be offering this in the near future at Pandia Health).
About the author:
Anne-Sophie Bousset ("Sophie" to English-speaking friends), is a freelance marketer and community builder. She helps companies build their brand, attract clients, and build a community around their product. Her favorite things include sunshine, yoga, reading, and lazy Sundays in with her cat, Phelps. She can be found on Twitter @Sophie_Bousset.