Site sells Rx to Gen X, Y or shy

Hims of­fers generic Prope­cia, Vi­a­gara to the In­sta­gram crowd

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Money - By Ger­rit De Vynck and Ellen Huet Bloomberg News

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.

JEROME ADAMSTEIN/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

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