Kate Ryder, founder of women's health app maker Maven Clinic

Friends told her stories of tragic miscarriages and infertility. Motherhood cast other friends out of the workplace because they couldn’t get the health services and support they needed. The American healthcare system was failing millennial women like her — and she knew she could fix it.

Kate Ryder is the founder of Maven Clinic, a New York telehealth startup that provides healthcare services to women via a mobile app that has secured $42 million in venture funding. Its mission is to provide millennial women with personalized health information and access to quality healthcare from vetted professionals, without slowing down their busy lives. Maven also offers postpartum services to working moms like coaching, childcare guides and breast milk shipping.

The company provides an online clinic that focuses on women’s healthcare and the family, with the larger goal of keeping more moms in the workforce — today, a whopping 37 percent of women and 43 percent of women with children take a break from their careers, a survey by Harris Interactive shows. The primary reason women leave the workforce is the pull of family, according to an analysis by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce of the Center for Talent Innovation.

Since its founding in 2015, Maven has delivered care to almost 200,000 patients, and currently has more than 1,300 health specialists in its network. On average, 300,000 women a month access free medical advice and family health tips through Maven’s online forums and content.

“I started talking to a lot of women, and it was really clear that … the problems really revolved around access to care and just getting better information in a sea of misinformation online,” Ryder says. By easing those problems, Maven, in “very nuanced ways, tries to help better [the lives of] working mothers and new mothers.”

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Healthcare at Her Fingertips

Ryder launched Maven in April 2015 with a free app, provider network and a plan to earn revenue from both individual users and employers who would offer Maven as part of their employee benefits programs. Maven today provides all of these women with “specialized access to care on demand when you need it,” Ryder says.

For individuals, the Maven app is free to download, and they can post questions on forums and get answers from healthcare professionals for free as well. But they pay a fee for a virtual consultation with a Maven provider. For example, someone suffering from a nasty cold would pay $18 for a 10 minute online appointment with a nurse practitioner who can provide a prescription.

“The transaction is between [women] ourselves and the doctor, not layers of insurance companies and hospitals and clinics,” Ryder says.

Some critics say virtual care creates a disconnect between patient and doctor that is not typically present with in-person appointments. But women like Ariel Sahar, a millennial with no insurance, find Maven to be a useful tool for managing reproductive and overall health needs. Going to the doctor’s office can cost Sahar hundreds of dollars, but about 3 years ago, she found Maven. She says it provides her a less expensive and more convenient route to healthcare.

“It made it so much easier,” Sahar says. “I can’t imagine going to a clinic and then waiting 3 hours … It’s just a big headache. [Maven is] more discreet and quicker and more affordable.”

Offering a Care Team

It’s also useful to have access to 1,300 medical professionals across 18 different specialties who are available for same-day consultations, if needed. Sahar has used the app for birth control consultations and prescriptions and urinary tract infection diagnosis and medicine to treat it. And a few months ago, she talked to a provider about the steps she needs to take to conceive.

Kate Ryder, center in grey, founded Maven Clinic in 2015.
Kate Ryder, center in grey, founded Maven Clinic in 2015.

“We launched with a provider network, and that’s always been our model, a really holistic model with a lot of different types of providers like doctors and nurses and nutritionists and physical therapists, all working in a care team,” Ryder says.

For employers, there is the Maven family benefits program, which provides female employees with benefits that help at all stages of motherhood, from fertility to birth to returning back to work. This program includes services like egg freezing, therapy to treat pregnancy postpartum depression, and return-to-work services like breast milk shipping. 

And at a time when ongoing challenges for women in the workforce are central topics of national conversation, maternal benefit platforms like Maven’s are becoming appealing to companies concerned with keeping women in the workplace and enabling those women to rise to leadership roles.

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“We’re at a really exciting moment right now where a lot of companies are highly focused on the issue of the leadership gap in corporate America and creating more gender-diverse workforces,” Ryder says. “Ultimately, there’s a lot of focus and attention right now on, particularly, the period after having a child.”

Starting from Scratch

Before Maven, Ryder was a business journalist who traveled the world and then went on to work in venture capital in London covering digital health. Around this time, her friends began having babies and going through infertility and miscarriages. Ryder started to see clear problems in women’s healthcare.

She tried to gain more understanding of the problems by talking to women and women’s health providers, such as midwives, doulas and obstetricians. And she came up with the idea for a telehealth service and app that would provide two big solutions: access to specialized information and on-demand care. Convinced she had the right business idea, Ryder began to develop the service and reach out to employers who might want to provide it to workers in their benefits packages.

It may sound like a strange path to go from journalist to VC to CEO, but Ryder says entrepreneurship was in her blood. Both her father and aunt started their own companies, and she grew up watching their successful journeys. When she decided to start her own company, she called on her father for help as she went through the process.

“I grew up close to both of them, so maybe the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” Ryder says. ”It felt very natural.”

Selling Men on Maven

But despite her stint working in venture capital, Ryder faced problems with fundraising early on. Pitching a female health service in this heavily male-dominated world was difficult. One investor even told her that nobody would fund women’s health — or her company — now or in the future.

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“A lot of people didn’t think this was a big market and that women’s health was this niche, side thing,” Ryder says. “That’s totally not the case anymore. I think everyone has … come around to the fact that women dominate healthcare.” After all, women account for 57 percent of spending at doctors offices and they make 80 percent of healthcare decisions for their families, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

So instead, she sought help from other women entrepreneurs and pitched women investors, finding them much more open to the idea. Now Maven has five women, including Ryder, on its board of directors. Two, Jess Lee and Nancy Brown, are partners at the venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Oak HC/FT, respectively. The other two are Lauren Brueggen, a principal at strategic investment firm Heritage Group, and Rachel Winokur, chief business officer at Bright Health, an insurance company that develops health plans with health companies.

“As I’ve raised money for this company, I’ve found women investors who really understand the value proposition and are passionate about the business,” Ryder says.

While Ryder once worried about having enough capital to be able to execute her plan, now she is looking to expand Maven. She is hiring close to 40 new staff members, increasing her team to 100 people next year. With $42 million already raised, “we don’t have to [raise money], if we don’t want to, which is a great position to be in,” Ryder says. “But we probably will because there is a lot of work to do in women’s health.”

Looking to the Future

The issue of women having leadership positions, while also having children, is hitting closer to home for Ryder. Now a mother of two young kids, she is kept up most nights by either crying or coughing, yet she still manages to run a fast-growing business.

Though busy at home changing diapers and reading bedtime stories, Ryder is getting ready to unveil new products for the next year designed to help women and parents in the workforce. She is thrilled about the growing interest and eager to continue to grow Maven on the foundation that she has built.

“It’s all about do we have enough capital to fund our growth,” Ryder says. “Excitingly, the answer is yes.”

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