Life is changing for men for two reasons -- and new startups are on it

Connie Loizos
It's never been a better time to be a man who privately suffers erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or hair loss.

It's never been a better time to be a man who privately suffers erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or hair loss.

Before you roll your eyes, that is a lot of men. They are not the silver-haired septuagenarians depicted in drug advertisements, either. Approximately 25 percent of men with male pattern baldness begin shedding their locks before they reach the age of 21, says the American Hair Loss Association. Another stat that might surprise: According to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 52 percent of men experience erectile dysfunction, with 40 percent of men age 40 affected. As for premature ejaculation, it may impact upwards of one in three men, estimates the Mayo Clinic.

So why are things looking up for this large yet quietly suffering demographic? Two things: changes to telemedicine laws, and expiring patents, both of which are about to make it a whole lot easier -- and cheaper -- to obtain pills and other medications that no one seems to want to talk very publicly about.

Let's take telemedicine first. Thanks to some recently updated telehealth laws, roughly 80 percent of U.S. states now enable companies and health service providers to offer -- and receive reimbursement for -- telehealth technology that does not rely on, or mandate, in-person visits. This is a big deal given that insurers resisted paying for these services for years after their introduction, arguing it wasn't clear what qualified as a telehealth visit or whether doctors should submit telehealth claims for every patient phone call, among other concerns.

Many of these insurers have changed their tune owing to rising demand, including in categories where online questionnaires are essentially as effective as face-to-face visits. They also recognize the benefits of seeing their rural members access services that might be hard to reach otherwise. In fact, in the last year, every state but Connecticut and Massachusetts has made substantive legal changes to how telehealth services are delivered, including, in many cases, making it possible to receive a prescription by answering a short online survey.

It's a powerful shift, especially combined with expiring patents. Why, exactly? Because drugs fall in price -- 60 percent, routinely -- when a drug that was once sold exclusively by the firm that developed it, is sold in a generic form after the patent for that branded drug expires. That's what's about to happen to Pfizer, whose patent on Viagra doesn't expire until 2020 but which struck a deal a few years ago with generic drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals that allows Teva to launch a copycat version of the popular erectile dysfunction drug on December 11 -- less than two months from now.

The opportunity creating by these two trends is not lost on startup founders -- or investors. Just yesterday, TechCrunch profiled one newly venture-backed company called Roman that's beginning to package and send off Viagra, Cialis, and generic versions of erectile dysfunction drugs to customers who fill out information for a doctor to review online.

Another new brand, Lemonaid Health, make it easy to have prescriptions filled online for erectile dysfunction as well as birth control and a range of other issues that people would rather not have to see their doctor about, from acne to sinus infections.

Now another brand, Hims, is today taking the wraps off its similar, but broader-based mission of becoming a men's wellness company, starting with hair products centered around prescription medications that it's making easier, and, it says, cheaper, to acquire.

Order a $40 kit from Hims, for example, and you'll find finasteride, a medication in pill form that's used to treat male pattern hair loss. (Just as Pfizer has enjoyed a stranglehold on Viagra since the late '90s, finasteride was exclusively sold until three years ago by the drug giant Merck under the brand Propecia. Today, other drug companies are selling generic versions of Propecia under different names, and Hims is making it easy to access one of them.)

Customers of Hims will also find in their kit minoxidil, which was formerly sold exclusively by Johnson & Johnson as Rogaine; a DHT shampoo, for keeping hair on one's head; and supplements that promise to make customers' hair thicker, their nails stronger, and their skin smoother.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these kits arrive in the kind of elegant and sustainable packaging that's become a priority for millennials.

Hair loss, as you might imagine, is just a starting point for the startup, which was incubated at a San Francisco-based startup studio called Atomic, and just closed on $7 million in Series A funding from Thrive Capital, Harry's (the shave kit company), Forerunner Ventures, SV Angel, Amity Supply and M.C. Ventures.

As Atomic cofounder -- and now Hims CEO Andrew Dudum -- explains it, his 10-person company doesn't want "people to come here, get a drug, then never talk with us again."

This is a "wellness brand intended to serve our customers for multiple decades," he says. "Maybe you come for hair loss products initially, but you come back for sexual wellness products, then cholesterol wellness products. We want to grow with you as different challenges arise."

If Hims can offer men products men were loath to ask for -- at less cost than they might normally pay for a doctor's visit, or even just a trip to the pharmacy -- all the better.

It's why you should expect more of the same from other startups spying the same opportunity. In fact, users may be overwhelmed soon with companies pushing the male equivalent of a Goop or Glossier.

Given their choices before -- uncomfortable conversations, surreptitious Google searches -- this should be a good thing. We'll see. Stay tuned.