Ro CEO tells men’s healthcare start-ups to stop making it hard to cancel

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Men’s health start-ups are popular with consumers who prefer to avoid the doctor for sensitive issues such as erectile dysfunction and hair loss. Sign up online, connect virtually with a doctor, and your pills will appear in the mail within days.

While these services take consumers out of the hassle of getting started, canceling is another matter entirely. Some have hidden fees that continue to accrue after cancellation, and others have customers call a representative to cancel their subscription, forcing the awkward conversation they were trying to avoid.

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An executive in space has had enough and calls on his rivals to clean up their act.

“This is unforgivable, especially in healthcare,” Zachariah Reitano, co-founder and CEO of Ro, wrote in a Medium post this week. “The idea of ​​praising the convenience, quality and affordability of asynchronous healthcare while requiring a patient to pick up the phone to cancel a subscription is one of the boldest and most hypocritical business practices I’ve seen. seen in a long time.”

According to ResearchAndMarkets, the global e-pharmaceutical market is expected to generate nearly $73 billion in revenue by 2024, compared to $25.2 billion last year. Venture capitalists have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the direct-to-consumer health market, betting on big returns as virtual medical services enter the mainstream and more people turn to the internet for medicines and supplements.

Zechariah Reitano

Thanks to Roman

Ro (owner of the Roman brand), Keeps, Hims and others have all popped up since 2017 to take advantage of the easing of regulations around telemedicine and patent expiration for Viagra, which is opening up the ED market to competition. Fans of the services say they’re cheaper and more convenient for patients who might not otherwise see a doctor, and they remove the stigma associated with certain medical issues by making users feel like they’re not alone.

To get customers, the new players all compete with each other alongside the old health and drug companies. It is an expensive undertaking, requiring a large marketing budget and upfront costs for research, product development and compliance.

While Reitano admits losing customers once you get them is problematic, he says companies should do their best to keep users happy rather than force them to stay.

“Everyone has to worry about retention or you don’t have a business,” wrote Reitano, who previously shared how his own experience with ED led him to space. “But it’s short-term thinking to do it by making cancellation uncomfortable rather than creating an experience that patients continue to use because they gain value over time.”

Ro, which sells pills for erectile dysfunction, hair loss and genital herpes and also deals with women’s health, is one of the best-funded startups in the category. Reitano didn’t name competitors in his blog post, but he seems to have spurred some companies into action.

Likes is one of them. The company, which specializes in providing hair loss treatments, describes itself as a subscription service with no waiting rooms. Still, it requires customers to call during business hours to cancel in all states except California, where it’s no longer legal to require that.

Make it easier for customers

Alexis Tarlow, general manager of Keeps, told CNBC that the company plans to provide customers with a way to cancel via email, an option she says has been available for months, although an Internet search for a subscription returns: “To cancel your Keeps subscription you can call us from 10am ET to 6pm ET” followed by the phone number.

“As a fast-growing company, we are constantly reviewing our processes to make sure they are now working for our customers,” Tarlow wrote in an email. “Having an open, honest feedback loop with our customers makes it easy for us to know what works and what can be improved.”

Hims, which is often seen as Ro’s closest competitor and has similarly moved into the women’s health space with a product line called Hers, has also been criticized for its cancellation policy. Dozens of users have complained to the Better Business Bureau and online forums like Product Hunt about charges that persist even after cancellation. The company bills ex-subscribers up to $15 a month for what it calls a platform or membership fee needed to cover administrative and operational costs.

Hims told CNBC it has begun to change its policies in recent weeks.

“We heard from our customers that this was confusing,” a Hims spokesperson said in an email. “We recently updated how these charges are applied and they are now explicitly linked to the product at the point of sale. We want to make access to quality care as easy and affordable as possible, and we are always looking to make Hims and Hers better for everyone experienced.”

The industry is facing a lot of headwinds. A recent article in The New York Times said some of the companies “operate in a regulatory vacuum that could exacerbate public health risks.” That’s because while they make it easy to order their medications, they don’t do much to help users understand all the potential safety issues they may face. Opting for online surveys over face-to-face consultations also means that consumers may receive incomplete information.

At the very least, Reitano tries to avoid self-injury, saying that if companies are proposing solutions that are supposed to be better for customers, they should “keep their brand promise.”

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Ro CEO tells men’s healthcare start-ups to stop making it hard to cancel

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