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This Entrepreneur Is Transforming Health Care With DIY Lab Testing

People

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.”

Political Issue

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

  1. 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.

  1. Name a business mogul you admire.

Arianna Huffington.

  1. What product do you wish you had invented?

Third Love's bras. I love them.

  1. What is your spirit animal?

Dolphin.

  1. What is your life motto?

No pressure, no diamonds.

  1. Name your favorite work day snack.

Pistachios.

  1. What's something that's always in your handbag?

My whole makeup bag since I apply it on the go.

  1. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

India.

  1. Desert Island. Three things, go.

My favorite forms of sustenance: coffee, cheese, and wine.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.