Julia Cheek, CEO of the groundbreaking health care company EverlyWell, believes all people should be doing frequent blood testing, and they shouldn’t have to worry about the red tape of insurance or the complication of making doctors appointments to do so.
“People in this country are entitled legally to get the lab testing they want whenever they want,” says Cheek. “If you were to ask 99 percent of Americans, no one knows they have that right. And so there is this incredible delivery gap.”
Cheek’s platform, which has to date garnered $5 million from venture capitalists and strategic angels, is designed to fill that gap by empowering consumers to order, self-collect, and receive analysis of physician-approved lab results to treat and prevent diseases. Meant as a way to empower the consumer to take charge of his or her own health care and as a means to simplify the lab testing process, Cheek believes her company's introduction to the market is perfectly timed.
“Deductibles have increased 70 percent over the past six years,” says Cheek, whose company is based in Austin, Texas. “Most people are now on high deductible healthcare plans, even on corporate insurance, and most people never meet their deductible. So what you deal with is a completely changing consumer rationale. You are now conditioned to know you are going to be spending money on healthcare. That fundamental change is one of the reasons that the timing is now right for consumer-driven companies to succeed.”
“I can get an HIV test, a pregnancy test and cigarettes at my local drugstore but I can’t get a thyroid test. It’s so frustrating for millions of women who have unexplainable conditions and feel like they are unable to empower themselves to fix the problem.”
The daughter of two lawyers, Cheek attended Vanderbilt University and went to business school at Harvard. It was at Harvard that the bright, focused Dallas native began to think seriously about entrepreneurship.
“When I was at business school at Harvard, an entire new set of opportunities just became apparent to me,” says Cheek. “The people who start companies were actually my classmates and I was no different from them. Had I not gone to HBS I would have never considered the entrepreneurial path as actually a career path.”
After working a few post-graduation stints at the Bush Presidential Center as well Moneygram, where Cheek served as the youngest Vice President in the firm, she found herself feeling sick.
“I had this weird unexplainable set of symptoms over a number of months; aches and pains, drowsiness, fatigue,” says Cheek. “I just felt really off and it persisted. I went to all these different specialists and even with great corporate insurance I still ended up paying over $2,000 dollars for lab testing out of pocket. In addition I would get all this paperwork in the mail, with no explanation of the results, no one calling me telling me what they meant and everyone saying I was fine.”
After countless tests and doctor visits, Cheek finally discovered that her symptoms were a result of vitamin deficiency, essentially cortisol burnout. It was from this experience that her idea for a new company was born. Cheek says she wanted to create a platform that would unite the ease of at-home lab testing (made popular by companies like 23andme) with in-house customer service via clinicians on staff to support customer results, as well as having a way to ingest and display data for consumers in a simple way. Enter EverlyWell.
“You have all these specialists trying to pinpoint major issues and yet they are missing the bigger picture.”
“DNA is such a hot topic in the healthcare space right now from a testing standpoint. There are so many implications from a research standpoint.”
In June 2015, Cheek officially incorporated her company with a small round from one angel investor. She hired a chief medical officer and began building the organizational framework for consumers to remotely test blood and urine and get detailed results all from the comfort of home.
EverlyWell, which works in conjunction with six certified laboratories, launched in beta in June 2016 with three tests; food sensitivity, woman’s fertility and heavy metals, working in conjunction. The site now offers 13 different tests including thyroid, metabolism, men’s health, and breast milk DHA testing, which the company is the exclusive provider of in the US. EverlyWell also offers a gifting feature, which allows for consumers to send tests to another person.
“What we learned from the early users was that women make all the health care purchasing decisions generally speaking," says Cheek. "Our test menu was directed to what women would want and also what they would purchase for their families and partners.”
The company grew from $14K in sales in June, 2015, to $250K in February, 2016.
In terms of insurance, Cheek says EverlyWell tests, which range between $69 to $399, are on par or more affordable than insurance offers (other than cardiovascular and HbA1c, as both can be free depending on the plan), and most definitely more affordable for consumers who are uninsured. Additionally, EverlyWell tests are covered by Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts.
“If you take each test out of pocket and compare it to the alternative it’s almost always signficicantly cheaper or the same,” said Cheek, adding that as an example, a comparable out of pocket fertility panel (EverlyWell’s is $399) can range between $1,500 and $2,000, while food sensitivity (which costs $199 through EverlyWell) is usually well over $1,000.
“Our long-term strategy is to get our prices down so nobody even has to think about insurance because a $30 test is just worth it,” she says.
Although drawing one’s own blood-which is necessary for many of the EverlyWell tests-may seem a daunting task, according to Cheek, instructional videos and tutorials provide clear instructions to take the guesswork out of it.
“To be honest when we launched in beta one of our questions about consumer behavior was how will that [self-drawing blood] go over?," says Cheek. "I’m sure there is a number of people who self select out of the process because they don’t want to do that but it has not been an issue for all of our consumers [who have ordered].”
The platform currently has 8,000 paid customers across 46 states, but none in New York or New Jersey, as direct-to-consumer testing companies are forbidden by state mandate.
"When you think about health care many areas have tried to be disruptive but no one had really touched lab testing. It was still so archaic and such a huge market and no one [figured out] how to completely rethink the delivery model for the consumer.”
Next for the company will be offering a set of four different consumer genomics panels, in partnership with a large genomics company, set for later this year.
“For many years all the VC firms would say consumer-driven health care companies just don’t work. People don’t engage, they don’t care and they don’t spend money and were now proving that has completely shifted.”
To be sure, part of the EverlyWell model that is so appealing in today's complicated world of healthcare is transparency of cost beforehand.
“Unfortunately if the Affordable Care act is repealed 25 million people will be left uninsured,” says Cheek. “We will be a parachute most likely for that population. My goal is to get our costs down as much as possible because we want this to be an affordable solution. We want to get it purchased on every shelf in CVS, that is our vision; the consumerization of lab testing.”
Cheek says she is focused on expanding EverlyWell in specific verticals as well, including B2B and increasing B2C awareness.
“How we view ourselves in this next phase is growing to be the testing partner for many different companies, whether that’s food and nutrition companies or physician networks or through corporate wellness companies that need their covered employee base to be tested multiple times a year,” says Cheek. “Those are all areas where we’ve determined they have no great solution.”
Cheek also plans to continue integrating telemedicine into the platform (it is currently only available for EverlyWell's sexual health panel) via partnerships with virtual physician networks that can deliver services via Facetime or a telephone call.
“Telling a consumer ‘we have your lab results, we’ve approved and authorized your physician consult and your prescription is called in, would be the goal," says Cheek. "That's already the workflow for sexual health so the more we can replicate that the better. It would be completely transformative,”
The Quick 10
- What's the app you most use?
Slack and Instagram.
2.What's the first thing you do in the morning?
This shouldn't be my answer -- but it's definitely first, check my phone and then, ask Alexa for the forecast.
- Name a business mogul you admire.
- What product do you wish you had invented?
Third Love's bras. I love them.
- What is your spirit animal?
- What is your life motto?
No pressure, no diamonds.
- Name your favorite work day snack.
- What's something that's always in your handbag?
My whole makeup bag since I apply it on the go.
- What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
- Desert Island. Three things, go.
My favorite forms of sustenance: coffee, cheese, and wine.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.