Erectile dysfunction, hair loss, premature ejaculation – all topics that men don’t like to talk about. Not even with their doctor. Direct Health Direct Health is a platform that has made it its mission to help men with these particular problems and improve their health. Through the use of telemedicine technology, they are able to receive treatment from approved doctors in a discreet, convenient and inexpensive way. Direct Health is based in Munich.
Nico Hribernik, Co-Founder Direct Health, in an interview with Innovation Origins
How did you come up with the idea of founding this start-up? (Was it about men’s fear of talking directly to a doctor about their problems?)
The starting point was recognizing that there are immense divides in ‘treatment gaps’, i.e. the gap between statistically-proven prevalence of a medical condition and the actual consumption of medication, especially where men’s health is concerned. These treatment gaps are different for men than for women, who, since puberty, are more used to visiting a gynecologist regularly and consequently are able to discuss medical issues on a preventative basis. This is mainly due to emotional barriers:
– Admitting to themselves that they have a problem.
– Being prepared to talk to a third person about this problem and seek help.
– Actually going to a pharmacy after diagnosis and asking predominantly-female staff about the medication.
Naturally, these barriers and subsequent ‘treatment gaps’ are greatest (or are at least felt to be) when it comes to socially stigmatized issues such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or similar urological issues. Yet even with very common conditions such as athlete’s foot, herpes or haemorrhoids, men find it difficult to seek help and often leave otherwise easily curable diseases untreated for a long time.
And this is where we want to offer simple solutions:
A purely digital customer experience – from visiting the doctor to dispensing medication.
A strong and positive brand that stands for medical reliability, simple solutions and a positive approach to issues.
What makes Direct Health so special in comparison with other companies?
Our main focus is on the total direct-to-consumer (DTC) customer experience (doctor, diagnosis, prescription, pharmacy, medication), which resolves any emotional barriers described above as conveniently as possible for the customer, while at the same time being transparent, responsible and trustworthy in dealing with medically sensitive issues. We would rather refrain from a sales transaction if it does not proactively address risks and side effects or if it conceals other medical aspects. Unfortunately, we do not see this happening with many fellow competitors, especially when it comes to online pharmacies based in the UK. Every aspect of our work, from publicly available medical information, to anamnesis (medical history) processes and the prescription of medicines, is guided by medical specialists and monitored by a solid medical advisory board. All this is represented by our Spring brand and has been developed sustainably.
How does remote diagnostics work? How did you manage to get the doctors on board?
We offer two ways of remote diagnostics and anamnesis:
1. Questionnaire-based only. Here the information provided by the user is checked, verified and evaluated via a detailed anamnesis form by doctors based in the UK and Ireland. The doctor then decides whether or not to write a prescription. 2. Video consultation: With the ratification of the GSAV by the German government (expected July 2019), we will also offer video-based consultations with German specialists. These consultation sessions can be used by users as an alternative to a questionnaire-based diagnoses as well for personal consultations and second opinions.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
B being able to design a DTC approach within the framework of the comparatively very strict German regulatory system. Which simultaneously manages to guarantee a consistent brand experience across all areas of the customer experience as described above, while still complying with all legal requirements. In our case, this includes our expertise in medication as well.
Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?
No. We know that we are at the beginning of a major revolution in the healthcare industry and that, even if legal hurdles still seem very high at present, sooner or later they will fall as part of the ongoing digitization of society. When these hurdles fall, we as a German or European society must take care that American or Asian digital providers are not the only winners once again. Because for so long, our local legislative bodies have prevented our local start-ups from developing on an equal footing.
And vice versa: What was the best moment for you with regard to the launch? What made you particularly proud?
Seeing the first real user on the platform along with their complete user experience and subsequent positive feedback.
What can we look forward to in the next few years, in other words: What can we expect from you in the coming years?
An ever-growing array of medical conditions which can be treated via our platform and, above all, an expansion of our product range to include forms of therapy that enrich and complete the current exclusively pharmaceutical range.
What is your vision for Direct Health?
That our platform(s) are the number 1 contact site(s) for medically sensitive issues which have simple solutions.
Founders: Nico Hribernik and Dr. Manuel Nothelfer. In addition, there is an extended team of founders consisting of three WHU graduates, Ba-Khai Tran, Noah Leonavicius and Moritz Funk, who, together with the founders of Tag-1, are involved in setting up the company and product. For Direct Health, the two founders come from very complementary backgrounds. Nico Hribernik spent several years working for Procter & Gambel Brand Management in FMCG and luxury goods. Afterwards, he founded his own company for the first time in Asia, including inside the DTC Healthcare sector, and on returning to Germany he was head of branding at FlixBus. Dr. Manuel Nothelfer spent his apprenticeship years at BCG as a consultant before founding his first start-up, Betreut.de. After a merger with Care.com, he brought it all the way to the IPO stage. He then became COO of Auxmoney, which, like Direct Health, operates as a digital platform in a highly regulated market. Before founding Direct Health, Manuel was Chief Sales Officer at ERGO Direkt.
Year of foundation: 2018
Financing: Venture Capital. In January 2019, we completed a major seed capital round led by HV Holtzbrinck Ventures as lead investor. At the same time, we took a number of business angel investors on board, which we selected very deliberately according to their expertise. These are well-known urologists, C-Levels from the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry as well as experienced founders from already further developed start-ups who are active in similar areas to ours.
Number of employees: 25 and rising weekly
Vision: Making Direct Health the number 1 contact site for medically sensitive issues.
Need some inspiration? All our start-ups of the Day are collected here