Since launching in November 2017, the men’s health company has connected men with doctors to treat their erectile dysfunction. Gradually, the team noticed that when some men realized their health problem was related to their smoking habits, they started asking for tips on how to quit.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death, and by some estimates, it may take as many as 30 tries stop.
And it’s not a uniquely male problem. An estimated 37.8 million Americans – men and women – smoke cigarettes, and nearly 70% of smokers in 2015 reported wanting to quit. Rather than just focusing on helping Roman patients quit smoking, the team decided to expand to all smokers interested in quitting.
“TThe way you talk to a 35-year-old person who may be struggling with ED is very different from how you would want to talk to a 35-year-old man or woman who is trying to quit smoking,” co-founder Zachariah Reitano told Business Insider .
This is how a second service was created: Zero. The health-focused brand Roman and Zero for men both fall under the umbrella of Ro, which facilitates the connections between patients, their doctors and the pharmacies that provide the mediation.
New York-based Ro said Tuesday it also raised an additional $88 million in a Series A round led by FirstMark Capital, along with SignalFire, Alexi Ohanian’s Initialized Capital, General Catalyst, Slow Ventures, Sinai Ventures, Torch Capital, BoxGroup, Tusk Ventures and Secret Angels. In total, the company raised $91.1 million.
This is how Ro’s quit smoking program works
- Patients can go to Zero’s website and visit online with details about their medical history and smoking habits. That online visit costs $15, which will be refunded if they are not considered a good candidate.
- That visit is analyzed and sent to a doctor, who can help determine which program works best for a particular patient and refer them to another doctor if they need personalized attention.
- Ro then ships a kit containing bupropion (known by its brand name Zyban), nicotine gum, and an app used to track progress.
- All told, the system costs $129 per month, but individual parts of the kit can start at $42 per month. Ro doesn’t have insurance yet, so both Roman and Zero get paid in cash instead of going through an insurer.
Startups like Ro that have a direct-to-consumer approach have been growing like crazy.
Since launching, Roman’s has already enabled a million patient-doctor interactions, Reitano said. Startups spanning everything from hair loss to birth control to contacts have raised tens of millions in venture funding. Hims, a men’s health start-up that has raised $97 million to date, has reportedly attempted to raise another $100 million as part of its move into women’s health.
And the model has had success elsewhere outside of the pharmacy world, such as in the clear aligner market.
“It’s going to be the soup du jour,” said Eric Kim, a managing partner at Goodwater Capital who has invested in companies like Simple Contacts and home diagnostics company EverlyWell. Kim has been investing in direct-to-consumer healthcare companies since 2014, and what appeals to him about the business is that because there’s no physical component — real estate to manage, if you will — the companies can focus on the consumer in a way a physical doctor’s office can’t.
Ultimately, he sees this as a good entry into healthcare.
“What I think these direct-to-consumer companies are good at over time is being at the forefront of your healthcare journey,” Kim said.