Menopause relief delivered: An interview with Anne Fulenwider & Monica Molenaar

Senior Design Strategist
Strategy Director

Smart Design is proud to partner with female entrepreneurs who are transforming women’s healthcare through innovation and design. Today we feature Anne Fulenwider and Monica Molenaar, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Alloy, a direct-to-consumer digital platform that treats perimenopause and menopause symptoms through access to menopause-trained physicians, and hormone prescriptions sent right to one’s doorstep, as well as support groups, webinars, and fact-based information.

They explore how cultural shifts have brought greater focus to perimenopause and menopause, highlighting NIH’s study [1] misinterpretation of hormone therapy safety which hindered women’s health advancements for 20 years. Gen X and Millennial women are also driving progress, shaping a new more informed landscape. Menopause need not be seen as the end of the road, but as a new chapter where women can continue to feel fantastic. Anne and Monica demonstrate how their direct-to-consumer pharmacy is tapping into a huge market – 55 million menopausal women in the US alone – to bring FDA-approved prescriptions and wellness services to an area ripe for innovation.

What is Alloy’s origin story?

Monica: It started with my own personal health drama: I was turning 40 and I was diagnosed with the breast cancer gene and decided to have my ovaries removed to mitigate my risk of ovarian and breast cancers.  According to the medical establishment, it’s like, “great, now you’re done – the end of the road.” Actually, it was just the beginning of going into menopause overnight and realizing how difficult it was to access information, expertise, solutions, hormones, and also how much misinformation around hormones we’ve been living with for the last 20 years. I spent five years trying to feel normal again. And then I met Anne who had built her career in content and storytelling, we were both in our mid-40s, and somehow, I felt like between the two of us, we could figure this out and let other women in on the information as well!

Anne: At Marie Claire [magazine where Anne used to be editor-in-chief] we had ​​been covering all these female entrepreneurs and I started a conference for female founders and female funders. I was just so inspired by all of these women coming into a stage of life, realizing the offerings were not right for them. So when Monica came to me and said I have this idea,  I was like great, I’m in!

Why do you think it's taken so long for companies like Alloy to address these issues?

Monica: It’s very difficult to do what we’re doing, to create a telehealth company that also has an integrated pharmacy. It takes a lot of money and time and it’s regulated. We were kind of naive at the time, but luckily, we had great backers who have acted sort of as co-founders with us from the beginning. We all knew that we wanted to solve menopause, but we didn’t know exactly how we would do it at first. It took us a while to really figure out how we were going to solve this problem. And what we realized is that if you aren’t talking to women in perimenopause and menopause about estrogen, then you are completely missing the boat in getting them the most effective solution for their current symptoms and long-term health.

If you aren’t talking to women in perimenopause and menopause about estrogen, then you are completely missing the boat in getting them the most effective solution for their current symptoms and long-term health.
Monica Molenaar
Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Alloy

Anne: So much harm has been done in the public health of women in the last 20 years by this Women’s Health Initiative study [study by NIH in 2000 that tied hormone therapy to a range of diseases – the study was later debunked for its many flaws] [1] that came out that really buried a lot of this information and access.
But to your point about why now, I think there are three cultural things that are happening as well. One is the ability to start a company, it just wasn’t out in the ether like 20 years ago, and certainly women entrepreneurs just weren’t a thing.

Second, Gen X has entered this phase. We are not digitally native. But we are digitally fluent, we grew up experiencing all of the major phases of life online. So we planned our weddings on The Knot, we had our babies and checked out Baby Center. Now, none of these companies exist anymore, because they’ve been replaced by even better versions of this. But we were kind of the early pioneers of this so I think as Gen X is approaching this phase, we’re really different from the generation above us, and we look for answers online, we’re very frank, and we’re not going to do it the way our mothers did.

Third, the oldest Millennials are turning 40. And they have been the generation that’s questioned every single phase and started companies around this. So I think why did it take this long: there’s the stigma and there’s the science. But in terms of why now, I think there’s a very specific cultural moment that’s happening. There’s all this awareness about and talk and sort of pride in talking about women’s health all the way from your period, to certainly reproductive rights and there’s just such a larger conversation going on about women’s health and how underserved it’s been, that’s happening on the even on the political level.

Are there any statistics or data about women’s health that keep you motivated?

Anne: There are 55 million women in menopause in the US right now, and 1,100 menopause-certified practitioners. [2] And that could be anything, it’s not just physicians, so there are 1,100 people to serve the needs of 55 million women. It’s simply not a feasible equation and needs to be solved by technology.

There are 1,100 people to serve the needs of 55 million women. It’s simply not a feasible equation and needs to be solved by technology.
Anne Fulenwider
Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Alloy

How do you think FemTech will be changing in the coming years?

Anne: I think we’re bursting out of our isolation about the things that have been the cause of so much shame and pain. That, to me, is the most exciting thing. It’s certainly the root of what we’re doing. These groups are coalescing online and hacking their own solutions with good doctors and sometimes outside of the traditional healthcare system. That’s really huge. We also have for the first time, a woman as the head of NIH, and a woman is number two at the FDA. And there are lots of movements on the policy level for women’s health, which is so important. The healthcare system will take forever to turn around, it’s like a giant boat that needs to be turned, but I think we’re really making a dent and that’s really exciting.

What are you excited about for Alloy, what’s next?

Anne: We started with menopausal hormone treatment in its most essential form. But we haven’t stayed there. It’s very important to offer women access to this treatment and to expert doctors. But there are also plenty of other things like topical estrogen that have basically been hiding in plain sight since the 1940s. But access was taken away. So we want to also offer things that provide some sort of joy. It’s not just about getting the bare minimum, it’s about actually embracing this whole phase and doing and getting the things that are going to make you feel fantastic.

Monica: There’s so much to embrace about this phase of life. And once you solve the physical symptoms, then you can get back to living your best life. There’s sort of a wonderful sense of fearlessness at this stage for a woman, when they can take some time back to think about themselves and invest in their own achievements and self-care.

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