In this episode, we’ll be deep-diving into the world of women’s healthcare and to guide us are the co-founders of Ease Healthcare, Guadalupe Lazaro and Rio Hoe. Ease is a Singapore-based healthcare startup focused on revolutionizing access to women’s health by making it more convenient, affordable, and discreet. From contraception delivery and at-home STD […]

Ease Founders L-R: Guadalupe Lazaro and Rio Hoe

S03E23: Rise of Asia FemTech, Building the Super App for Women’s Health, and The Value of Community and Education in Healthcare with Ease Co-founders Guadalupe Lazaro and Rio Hoe

In this episode, we’ll be deep-diving into the world of women’s healthcare and to guide us are the co-founders of Ease Healthcare, Guadalupe Lazaro and Rio Hoe. Ease is a Singapore-based healthcare startup focused on revolutionizing access to women’s health by making it more convenient, affordable, and discreet. From contraception delivery and at-home STD tests to sexual health consultations, they enable users to manage their sexual and reproductive health from the comfort of their homes.

A little more than a year after launching mid-2020, they’ve already built a community of over 20,000 members, and are on track for 15% monthly revenue growth. They’ve recently announced their seed round with us and launched their mobile app expanding their services for women’s healthcare. Ease has also been featured in numerous publications, including Forbes, Straits Times, Today in CNA. Recently they were listed in Forbes Asia’s Top 100 Companies to Watch.

Highlights and Timestamps

  1. 00:33 Paulo introduces Ease Healthcare and its founders Guadalupe and Rio;
  2. 02:27 How personal experiences in Singapore motivated Guadalupe and Rio to start Ease; “We realized that with technology, we can break down these barriers and revolutionize the ways in which we provide these services for people to access them much more conveniently and discreetly from the comfort of their home.”
  3. 04:02 Realizing the greater demand and appreciation for specialized platforms catering to women’s healthcare needs; “We realized that people are inclined to use specialized digital health platforms like ours in contrast to generic ones who may not have the ability to provide the same level of specialized care and support that we can provide.”
  4. 05:28 Three core factors putting the spotlight on FemTech in Asia and differences between FemTech adoption in Asia and the West; “In Asia, there is a greater demand amongst women for discreet access, judgment-free experiences and education due to the existing landscape, whereas in Europe and the US, the key priorities tend to be centered around affordability and convenience.”
  5. 08:18 What users can expect from Ease’s newly launched mobile app and how it creates a more customized and comprehensive experience versus other apps in the market; “Many trackers in the market allow you to track your period [or] track your ovulation. We wanted to go one step further, which is to actually provide you customized insights…and action plans…to help you overcome those discomforts that you’re experiencing and get you through different kinds of situations.”
  6. 11:11 How Ease’s network built over the past year comes together on their mobile app; “…you get the help you need right away from just a click of the button and access the entire network infrastructure that we’ve built over the past year…”
  7. 12:15 Ease’s value proposition to clinics, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals; “…we always tell partners that Ease really is the main frontrunner when it comes to women’s digital health in Singapore in this modern age. And that’s because we are really leading the transformation of how women’s health services are understood and accessed.”
  8. 13:24 The importance of community building and education for Ease’s business; “Having a community has been key…to scale a business, in retaining people in the community and creating loyalty to the brand because people trust and appreciate you as a brand and as a community.”
  9. 15:23 Ease’s approach to building its team; “Our approach to building a team has always been to hire people who not only have experience, but are also really passionate about the mission and interested in making a change because that’s fundamentally what Ease is about.”
  10. 16:55 How Rio and Guada’s skill sets and backgrounds come together in Ease; “… we knew where our blind spots and our weaknesses are, but also where our strengths are…As a result of that, we were able to very quickly have a vision of how we are going to work together…and build a really great company.”
  11. 18:29 Next Five Years for FemTech and Ease’s role in the industry; “We envision more and more innovations and technologies popping up as time goes by and more angles through which to approach this space, to accompany a woman on her journey in life from adolescence to pregnancy and menopause.”
  12. 20:32 Rapid Fire Round;

About our guests

Ease Founders L-R: Rio Hoe and Guadalupe Lazaro

Guadalupe Lazaro is a co-founder of Ease Healthcare. She is a serial entrepreneur and sexual and reproductive health rights advocate. Prior to Ease Guada worked in business development and consulting from the UK to Singapore. She grew up working for women’s health and women’s rights, being involved with the likes of Red Cross and Amnesty International, and now she’s married her passion for women’s health and skills in UX/UI design, marketing, and brand strategy at Ease.  

Rio Hoe is a co-founder of Ease healthcare. He is a lawyer-turned-founder, holding a law degree from the University of Oxford and graduated as the university’s top student in Medical Law. Prior to Ease he had co-founded a socio-political media outlet in Singapore and worked at leading global law firm Clifford Chance. His entrepreneurship and law genes now come into play at Ease where he manages its finance and operations.

Transcript

Paulo: To start, maybe share with our audience today, why did you decide to start to build a business in healthcare and specifically in FemHealth and FemTech with Ease?

Guada: I can start with that. So we came up with the idea for Ease back in 2019, actually. It was inspired very much by our own personal experiences with facing stigma or barriers when trying to access sexual and reproductive health services in Singapore, from uncomfortable encounters at the clinic including feeling judged or receiving unwanted advice to spending hours just queuing up for a birth control refill. So yeah, [Ease stemmed from] my personal experiences with the space. 

Rio: These experiences made us realize the significant barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services in Singapore and Asia that exist due to the prevailing cultural norms and existing infrastructure that still relies on face-to-face consultations. So people often don’t get the help they need due to the stigma, time, and cost involved. We realized that with technology, we can break down these barriers and revolutionize the ways in which we provide these services for people to access them much more conveniently and discreetly from the comfort of their homes.

Guada: We noticed from the beginning that aside from providing a telemedicine platform and providing our own medication consultations, we wanted to provide a space where people could ask questions and could get information and education. I think we noticed that there was a huge lack of awareness and discussion around sexual reproductive health in Singapore which does stem from the stigma surrounding these topics. So we wanted to provide a platform that’s so much more meaningful and where discussions and solutions can be attained. 

“We realized that with technology, we can break down these barriers and revolutionize the ways in which we provide these services for people to access them much more conveniently and discreetly from the comfort of their home.”

Paulo: That’s great. And you guys have certainly gone a long way since you guys launched the Ease back in mid 2020. So I would love to understand and I’m sure our audience would love to learn more about what has been the biggest learning for you guys so far over the past few months, since you’ve been running Ease and since launching it and now realizing huge significant growth. Maybe share with us if there are any specific scenarios that you have experienced in terms of expanding the growth that users had and the impact that has had on Ease’s customers.

Guada: Although we already knew that there was a demand for these types of services, we were surprised by the level of need, appreciation, and enthusiasm from the public since we rolled out our services. Since our launch, we have been receiving messages every week from users sharing about how their past experiences accessing these services, and how it might have been intimidating and tedious, and how we are changing that, and how they appreciate that. 

So overall I think we’ve learned that people are ready to speak up about these issues. They are ready to find solutions and take control of your health. And that there’s a huge demand for all sorts of women’s health issues to be accessed online. 

A big learning for us was that we realized that people are inclined to use specialized digital health platforms like ours in contrast to generic ones who may not have the ability to provide the same level of specialized care and support that we can provide. So I would say those are the main learnings that we’ve gotten from [learning about] the industry and the needs of women in Singapore and the region.

“We realized that people are inclined to use specialized digital health platforms like ours in contrast to generic ones who may not have the ability to provide the same level of specialized care and support that we can provide.”

Paulo: Those are really great points. And speaking of the journey that you’ve had, I think one interesting aspect of that is that you guys really focused on learning specifically about the experiences of women and couples in Singapore and really catering your solution towards the Asian market. but still finding it relevant globally as well. And we’ve certainly found credence to that. 

And having raised that significant seed round of US$1.3m, I’m curious to know what are your thoughts on the factors influencing this trajectory, which you mentioned earlier in terms of women’s health and Asia, specifically when it comes to venture backed startups and innovation coming out of this space? How does it compare to other markets around the world? What are the biggest takeaways from some of the comparables or some of the similar companies that you’ve seen in other markets? 

Rio: That’s a very good question. FemTech as a whole is an extremely innovative and disruptive space and it will bring a great deal of change to how women access, track and improve health and wellness, especially in Asia. And again, I see so many startups in this space trying to improve women’s lives in different ways. It’s great to see more investors interested in investing in innovative solutions and the great amount of press coverage on this topic, which has raised a lot of awareness about its potential. 

So in terms of the core factors that play a huge part in influencing the trajectory of FemTech and women’s health in Asia, it boils down to three core things. The first is an increase in awareness of the importance of women’s health and also a greater sensitivity to what’s the existing pain points that have restricted access to them. [This is] followed by, secondly, greater access to technology and the ability to understand and adopt technology to access women’s health services and manage one’s health and wellness. And finally, it’s got to do with the rapid economic development and rising incomes across Asia, which has led to a decrease in parliaments to these existing barriers or pain points and a corresponding increase in a willingness to pay for and try out innovative healthcare solutions.

So together, we find that these contribute to the modern Asian society’s willingness, knowledge and means to access women’s health services, fueling innovation and growth in the FemTech space, which explains why this has become such a hot topic and why it’s a growing and exciting sector to be looking into this space. 

In terms of the Asian market versus elsewhere, we do see clear differences in terms of how FemTech startups approach health in Asia versus markets like Europe and the US. So while the products and services are similar, the pain points are a bit different. So for example, in Asia, there is a greater demand amongst women for discreet access, judgment-free experiences and education due to the existing landscape, whereas in Europe and the US, the key priorities tend to be centered around affordability and convenience. At the same time, the branding and messaging and appeal to Asian women is different as compared to elsewhere, bearing in mind the culture defenses. So as you can see there are these common factors that tie these models together, but also very subtle differences that make the deployment of such tech solutions, quite different in these two [markets]. 

“In Asia, there is a greater demand amongst women for discreet access, judgment-free experiences and education due to the existing landscape, whereas in Europe and the US, the key priorities tend to be centered around affordability and convenience.”

Paulo: Given all these subtle nuances, as you mentioned, it seems that you’ve really managed to get into the market and really figure out what users and consumers need in terms of the space. I talked earlier about this really great community that you’ve put together with more than 20,000 members and growing and now you’re really building on top of that. 

Along with the seed round, [Ease] has also launched their app as well which should be really exciting because it’s no longer going to be focused on a specific single service or a single user journey, but there are many more possible applications, now that you have a mobile app involved. So what can users expect from the app, especially things that they don’t get to do with Ease currently or other apps in the same space? 

Guada: So we’re super excited about the app. The app has three key purposes. One is tracking. Second is telehealth, and the third one is guidance. So the app includes features such as contraception tracking, symptom tracking, action plans that are meant to help guide you through specific situations, such as for instance, forgetting to take a pill. It also has daily customized tips that are based on your symptoms. So basically if you [observe], for instance, that you’re bloating, we’re able to provide you tips that are customized to that specific symptom so that you can improve your situation. It has telemedicine features such as video calling with doctors and chatting with their care teams. It has a community forum in which you can interact anonymously. And lastly has sort of achievements that meant to keep you motivated to stay on top of your health. 

So there are a couple of reasons why our app is quite different from other apps in the market. One of them is that it’s actually the most comprehensive contraception app in the market, as it allows you to track any type of contraceptive method, both hormonal and non-hormonal such as condoms, AED patches, rings, injections, pills, etc. At the same time it has an algorithm that’s able to determine your level of protection depending on the contraceptive method that you use. the contraception logs you are inputting in the app and also your symptoms. 

The second reason the app is quite different is that it allows you to not only track a very comprehensive list of sexual and reproductive health symptoms, such as bleeding or nausea or constipation but also track improvements in your health and wellness, such as lighter periods, reduced cramps, fewer acne breakouts, which is able to give you a more comprehensive vision of where you stand in terms of your health and wellbeing. 

And lastly, I think many trackers in the market allow you to track your period, track your ovulation. We wanted to go one step further, which is to actually provide you customized insights based on that tracking and action plans based on that to help you overcome those discomforts that you’re experiencing and get you through different kinds of situations. And also providing you with actual solutions such as, for instance, speaking to a doctor immediately, if you are experiencing a specific kind of discomfort or get your medication delivered within [a few] hours depending on your situation. So the idea is to provide this super comprehensive package of women’s health services and features that are able to improve the women’s health experience. 

“Many trackers in the market allow you to track your period [or] track your ovulation. We wanted to go one step further, which is to actually provide you customized insights…and action plans…to help you overcome those discomforts that you’re experiencing and get you through different kinds of situations.”

Paulo: The keyword here is comprehensive but I think definitely the comprehensiveness of the app also comes from the fact that you guys have already built a certain advantage  or ecosystem already within Singapore. So maybe you want to talk about that and how that also helps your current app launch? 

Rio: A big plus for us is the fact that the app will be integrated with our downstream infrastructure and then includes our existing network of doctors, clinics and pharmacy providers. So this means that you can access all our products and services from your fingertips just as you can do on our existing web platform. So that also means, in fact, if you realize from using the app that you may need to speak to a doctor, obtain medication, or would like further support or guidance, you get the help you need right away from just a click of the button and access the entire network infrastructure that we’ve built over the past year to deliver the health care services to the consumer. 

So all in all, by developing this compelling digital product, it’s able to leverage our existing infrastructure advantage. Through the app we are able to consolidate the different channels through which we can support you on your health and wellness by combining community information, education, healthcare services, and ongoing support all in one place in a seamless and accessible manner. 

“…you get the help you need right away from just a click of the button and access the entire network infrastructure that we’ve built over the past year…”

Paulo: I think it’s pretty clear that the app is just really one way of scaling what you have already achieved and what you’ve already discovered in the market. As they say, don’t build an app, build a business and then scale it with technology.

Another thing that I’m interested in that Rio mentioned is also this whole existing network of doctors, clinics, and pharmacy providers. When it comes to bringing these stakeholders into your network, what is the value proposition for them to work with Ease? 

Rio: When it comes to that, we always tell partners that Ease really is the main frontrunner when it comes to women’s digital health in Singapore in this modern age. And that’s because we are really leading the transformation of how women’s health services are understood and accessed and are en route to developing the most comprehensive women’s health and wellness tech platform, and also supply a huge range of innovative and important products and services for women, not just in Singapore, but the region as well. 

So our rapid growth and transformative vision present this really attractive opportunity for medical industry stakeholders to play a central role in the future of women’s health and benefit from all these rapid changes in this category of health that we are constantly developing, constantly spearheading and constantly creating innovations for the future.

“…we always tell partners that Ease really is the main frontrunner when it comes to women’s digital health in Singapore in this modern age. And that’s because we are really leading the transformation of how women’s health services are understood and accessed.”

Paulo: It’s a really great opportunity for the whole industry that you can create that win-win situation for everybody involved, and bring them forward into the feature. 

Another part of the whole ecosystem that Ease is building apart from the medical side of it is also the whole content education and community that we’ve been mentioning since earlier. I got to watch some of the TikTok videos as well, and they’re really catchy and interesting and importantly, they’re also really educational ranging from, how to detect infections and STDs all the way to how to use a condom, for example. So what has been your approach to building a community around this content? And how does this community help the business? 

Guada: We built Ease as not just a telehealth platform, but a judgment-free space for people to share their experiences, to ask questions and get the help that they need, and we are on a mission to empower with knowledge and create meaningful communities. Our approach has always been creating digital spaces, where we allow the community to share their thoughts and experiences anonymously. Secondly, we’ve been building a lot of content that helps break down medical explanations or scientific concepts and stigmatized topics as well into approachable and lighthearted content that is easily reshareable and allows you to pass on this knowledge to your community more easily. And that generates that domino effect. 

Having a community has been key at least for us, and in general to scale a business in retaining people in the community and creating loyalty to the brand because people trust and appreciate you as a brand and as a community. And they don’t want to move out of it. It also helps with user acquisition as well. It creates excellent word of mouth. And lastly, it helps you improve your services because your community is very vocal about their user experience and what they want to get out of this experience. So they’re able to help you provide that feedback that is very much needed, especially in B2C spaces. So community building and medication have been the key pillars of our. company. I think as we scale, it will be even more part of building that process of growth. 

“Having a community has been key…to scale a business, in retaining people in the community and creating loyalty to the brand because people trust and appreciate you as a brand and as a community.”

Paulo: Definitely when it comes to healthcare here in Southeast Asia, we’re still at that point where a lot of education is involved in building that trust and certainly having that community does all that. And I think the important thing about having that community is that it’s also really fluid, so it could exist on social media and it could exist also in your app as well. 

It’s really about people interacting with each other and speaking of people, it’s not just about your customers and also the community that you build externally, but also the team, the people that you work with. What has been your approach to building and leading a team equipped to scaling Ease’s ecosystem here in this part of the world? 

Rio: Team-building is so crucial to the growth of any startup, and to create capacity to scale and to create very robust offerings in your space. Our approach to building a team has always been to hire people who not only have experience, but are also really passionate about the mission and interested in making a change because that’s fundamentally what Ease is about. It’s about the mission. It’s about the change. It’s about improving the status quo. We believe that people who are passionate about our mission drive the solutions and innovation that help us scale our ecosystem and allow us to proceed to even greater heights as a company. 

In terms of leading the team, we focus a lot on objectives and key results or OKRs. So this strategy works really well for us because we want people to know across the company what the goals are of different teams and what are the key measurable results could be taken into account to accomplish that. And it also gives transparency to what we do, it encourages teamwork, and it keeps people motivated to always be going to the next level. And we’re happy to say that we have [built] a really, really agreeable environment here. Everyone’s really motivated and realigned and what this company is.

“Our approach to building a team has always been to hire people who not only have experience, but are also really passionate about the mission and interested in making a change because that’s fundamentally what Ease is about.”

Paulo: Thanks for sharing that Rio. One of the very special things about Ease is that you two as co-founders really compliment each other. How does that dream team work together? Is it the past experience that you guys have worked together as co-founders and also how have the respective fields that you have worked previously influenced how you’ve built Ease together?

Guada: Sure I can start with that. We embarked on this project together because from past experiences, building out our startups together as founders as well, we knew that we could work well. I think our skills happened to integrate very seamlessly. I’m more on the side of ideation, marketing, branding, innovation, user experience and Rio’s more on the side of tech, legal operations and management. We’re lucky that our skillset is directly tied to our academic backgrounds and past work experiences. So we’re able to apply our knowledge from our [uni] times, and also from our previous work experiences.  

Rio: The whole factor of complimenting each other is super important. So before starting Ease I was a corporate lawyer. Then Guada was a branding and marketing consultant. Right from the start, we knew that we had complementary skills, interests, and backgrounds. We knew what our strengths and weaknesses are, and we knew how to allocate responsibilities. And also we knew where our blind spots and our weaknesses are, but also where our strengths are and where we find ourselves most comfortable. 

As a result of that, we were able to very quickly have a vision of how we are going to work together and how we are going to complement each other and build a really great company. Of course, we’re very happy to see that vision being put into reality with Ease’s growth over the past year.

“… we knew where our blind spots and our weaknesses are, but also where our strengths are…As a result of that, we were able to very quickly have a vision of how we are going to work together…and build a really great company.”

Paulo: I agree. You guys certainly compliment each other. As you mentioned you guys are really innovative especially in this type of healthcare in this part of the world. Can you share with our listeners, how do you envision the women health tech sectors in Asia moving forward in the next five years? And where do you see Ease as a company in this space? 

Guada: Femtech and FemHealth are finally getting the attention they deserve from the public and media investors as industries are powering long-awaited change in women’s health and wellness. We envision more and more innovations and technologies popping up as time goes by and more angles through which to approach this space, to accompany a woman on her journey in life from adolescence to pregnancy and menopause. So it’s just a super exciting space to be in and maybe Rio can share a little bit about how we see it moving in the next couple of years. 

Rio: When it comes to Ease, specifically what excites us the most is the direction we’re going in terms of becoming a leader in the space, providing the most comprehensive women’s health and wellness tech platform, products and services for women in the region. This is a very important, important factor — why do we have [to be the most] comprehensive platform? 

Because we’ve seen people popping out here and there, approaching the topic of women’s health from very specific angles. They’re trying to find sort of discreet stand-alone solutions, but having the right infrastructure to be truly supportive and truly changing access to health care. 

But it’s much more than that. And this is why we aspire to become a one-stop platform that a woman can confidently rely on through different stages of life, whether it is doctor consults, products on her bathroom shelves that support her, or having the information she needs to make different decisions — all of this seamlessly integrated in a single place, addressing all of these various facets of healthcare and ensuring that at every stage of the life we are there for them. That’s a really crucial paradigm shift that underlies the Ease model and it truly is the future of FemTech and healthcare in the world. 

“We envision more and more innovations and technologies popping up as time goes by and more angles through which to approach this space, to accompany a woman on her journey in life from adolescence to pregnancy and menopause.”

Rapid Fire Round

What is the most understated misconception people have about women’s health? 

Guada: That it’s a “niche” space. The market size is actually half of the population! Women have a range of specific health needs at all points of their lives. So it’s actually a lot larger than a lot of people think. But I think with what we were discussing earlier, like how FemHealth and FemTech are getting a bit more awareness, people will start to see the potential for it. 

Rio: That it is a women’s issue – people (especially men), often overlook how much they can and should contribute to this space. Understanding their partner’s needs and wants, and being informed about sexual and reproductive health matters contributes significantly to destigmatizing these topics, promoting more informed decision-making, and having productive conversations with their partner. 

Any advice for early-stage tech founders raising their first round?

Guada: While founder background and idea are important, especially to demonstrate founder-market fit, I personally think it’s quite important especially in the D2C space to keep a close eye on metrics from day one as it is the way to show that you’re not only prepared as a founder and have a great idea but also that you’re great at executing from the start.

Rio: Choosing the right investor is key. Look for investors who are aligned with your vision, able to support you, and bring to the table more than just financial support. You will always face challenges along the way, and so you need to find investors whom, when the going gets tough, you can trust to always be in your corner. 

We’ve all been students once (and always are arguably) — most memorable class you’ve been in?

Guada: Modern Social Thought taught me to deconstruct ideas I used to take for granted and was so valuable in my growth as an entrepreneur as it helps me take a step back from what exists/is known, break it down into different parts and put it back together more creatively. 

Rio: Ethics of Decision-making in Medical Law taught me the importance of information, support and quality medical advice in patient autonomy and well-being, as well as optimal decision-making, and played a huge part in the motivation to create Ease.

What advice would you have for couples or partners working together on a startup? 

Guada: Recognise each other’s efforts constantly and celebrate small and big wins. Don’t take things for granted just because you know each other’s capabilities.

Rio: It is important to take breaks and give yourselves time off as colleagues in order to de-stress and refocus

What do you do to de-stress / take care of your (mental) health? 

Guada: I run! so that I’m actually away from the screen for at least 45mins a day. Has been helping me feel more relaxed and creative as thoughts and ideas usually come up when I’m not working. 

Rio: I play a range of sports – football, running, golf – it allows me to take proper time off and reset, especially after a long day in front of the screen. 

 

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