Site sells Rx to Gen X, Y or shy
Hims offers generic Propecia, Viagara to the Instagram crowd
Every man in Dylan Nelson’s family is bald. His dad, uncle and both grandfathers: all hairless. The
28-year-old headhunter from Newport Beach, Calif., started suffering the same fate when he was
23. He tried Rogaine but found it pricey and ineffective. Then he saw a cheeky ad for Hims, a startup that sells mail-order kits of prescription drugs. Nelson asked his neighbor, a dermatologist, what she thought. The drugs Hims was offering were the same ones she prescribed to her patients but cheaper.
Two months in, they seem to be working. “I’ve been cutting my hair every 10 days,” Nelson said.
Hims is one of a crop of new direct-to-consumer, hipsterbranded startups selling prescription drugs to men through the internet. But where others like Keeps or Roman focus on one health issue (hair loss and ED, respectively), Hims wants to build a brand that serves men with many different ailments, from erectile dysfunction to acne.
Launched in November 2017, Hims makes it possible for men to get a prescription after a quick consultation with an online doctor. The meds are provided by a network of pharmacies and mailed out in clean, discreet boxes to avoid embarrassment or shame.
Hims is riding a confluence of trends: the loosening of telemedicine laws in most states, the expiration of Pfizer’s Viagra monopoly and men’s growing willingness to talk about and pay for health and beauty. Andrew Dudum, Hims’s 29-year-old founder and chief executive, vows to The Hims website sells drugs to fight hair loss, erectile dysfunction and cold sores, plus a variety of other products.
create a $10 billion-plus health care company. “We’re the front door of the doctor’s office,” he said. “We are completely different from anything in the health care system.”
It’s a bold plan, but Dudum and his team of disrupters will have to tread carefully. After all, they aren’t selling mattresses or razors. They’re selling prescription drugs with potential side effects. And some experts say telemedicine, a global industry worth an estimated $19 billion that’s credited with bringing health care to underserved populations, could make it easier for people to get prescriptions that aren’t warranted.
Lindsey Slaby, a marketing consultant who’s done work for Target, Equinox and Microsoft, applauds Hims for trying to make it easier for men to talk about hair loss, ED and other ailments. But Slaby said the company’s sometimes glib marketing could gloss over the downsides of pill popping. “You just don’t feel like you’re
seeing a lot of the fine print,” she said.
Dudum doesn’t have a medical background. He’s your archetypal San Francisco startup guy: direct, optimistic and oozing California good vibes. He’s best-known in tech circles for founding Atomic, a small venture firm that starts its own companies and is backed by Silicon Valley titans Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen.
Dudum had been researching men’s health, looking for a way into the market when his sister berated him about his nonexistent skincare regime one night over dinner. She grabbed his credit card and bought $300 worth of “French stuff ” on the spot. The cost and the confusion over what exactly he was getting pushed Dudum to start Hims as a transparent, one-stop shop for men who don’t want to deal with late-night Google searches or sheepish trips to the store or doctor.
Hims has raised $97 million from investors like Institutional
Venture Partners, Forerunner Ventures and Josh Kushner’s Thrive Capital. The latest round valued the company at $500 million, according to data firm PitchBook. Hims said it pulled in $1 million in revenue in its first week, a rate that’s only grown since then.
Besides ED and hair growth drugs, Hims sells skin-care products, a cold-sore remedy, scented candles, matches and a limited selection of apparel.
The key to Hims’s success so far is the availability of its two main drugs in generic form.
A Hims prescription of finasteride, a version of Propecia, costs about $30 a month, less than what most pharmacies sell it for. For $44 a month, Hims bundles in medicated shampoo and minoxidil drops, which sell for $30 over the counter at CVS.
The company is essentially building a brand around drugs that Pfizer and Merck spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars marketing. Targeting men in their
20s and 30s, Hims advertising leans sophomoric. Cheeky shots of drooping cacti and eggplants fill New York subway stations, sports arenas (they’re plastered all over the bathrooms at San Francisco’s AT&T Park) and were on TV during the NBA finals.
The Food and Drug Administration requires ads that make a specific claim about a drug’s benefit to disclose possible side effects. Hims said it’s selling a brand, not a specific drug, and doesn’t include the boilerplate language in its ads (which would clunk up the presentation). An FDA spokeswoman declined to comment on Hims ads.
But some experts wonder if finasteride should be prescribed to healthy, young men. The drug was originally developed to help mostly older men shrink enlarged prostates. When it was also found to help regrow hair, finasteride was marketed to younger men. Recent studies suggest that finasteride can make some men have trouble ejaculating or maintaining an erection. A 2017 study found 1.4 percent of men got ED, some of whom had it for 3.5 years or more after they stopped taking finasteride.
Hims said it’s done the work to avoid the pitfalls of telemedicine. The ailments it focuses on don’t require follow-up exams. And the company said more than a third of Hims customers who apply for ED meds are rejected because they don’t meet doctor’s requirements.
“They’re trying to target these fairly universal problems and either help people who wouldn’t get care otherwise or make it easier for people to receive the care that they need,” said Arash Mostaghimi, a dermatology professor at Harvardaffiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital who advises Hims. He argues that startups like Hims will encourage men in their 20s and
30s who typically avoid doctors to plug into the health care system.