Office Hours: I’m the co-founder and CEO of Modern Fertility, acquired this year by Ro for $225 Million. I’m Afton Vechery.Featured

Hi everyone!

I’m Afton Vechery, the co-founder and CEO of Modern Fertility.

We started Modern Fertility in 2017 to make personalized fertility information and support more accessible to people with ovaries everywhere. In May of this year, we were acquired by digital health company Ro.

Prior to Modern Fertility, I was in healthcare private equity, ran the strategic operations of various health tech startups, and oversaw the consumer tools division at 23andMe.

During my time in healthcare private equity, I led diligence for investing in a whole network of IVF clinics and labs. I spent time in IVF clinics in New York City talking to countless smart, wonderful women who had never been told that fertility declined with age, or that IVF wouldn’t work for every single person. It was this emotional aspect of infertility that really stuck with me.

Fast forward to when I was at 23andMe, I realized that I was waiting until later in life to start my own family. I tried to get my fertility hormones tested, and to make a long story very very short — the tests were way too hard to track down and way, way too expensive, but ultimately the results were incredibly empowering. The experience led to the idea for Modern Fertility.

Modern Fertility started by taking the same exact laboratory tests that were done in an infertility clinic, previously only accessible once you’ve been struggling to conceive for up to a year, and making them accessible to women proactively, at a fraction of the cost, and in an easy-to-access format. We’ve since expanded to offer our Ovulation Test, Pregnancy Test, cycle tracking app, Prenatal Multi, active online community, and other digital fertility tracking tools. This is all about owning what impacts our bodies and futures, so we can build the lives we want on our own terms.

I’m on the National Leadership Council of the Society for Science and the Public (I could go on and on about the International Science Fair) and I graduated from Wake Forest University with degrees in neuroscience and business entrepreneurship.

Ask me anything about my founder journey, fertility and the future of women’s health, scaling a startup, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @afton!Elphas – please ask @afton your questions before Friday, November 12th. @afton may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
@afton From 2017 to today, what were your biggest fears/roadblocks/setbacks with Modern Fertility that you thought you might not power through & how did you handle them? Thank you!!! 💥
The biggest source of uncertainty has been related to questions about whether we are investing our time and energy in the right places. There is absolutely no shortage of opportunities in women’s health where we see a need for change, and no shortage of inspiration for how we can advance fertility education. This is incredibly energizing, but it is also our greatest challenge. Every day, we make tough decisions about what we won’t pursue, and that’s arguably harder than making decisions about what we do move forward with. Understanding how to effectively prioritize your time, and that of your team, is one of the single most impactful things you can do as a leader.
^ Hi Elphas - Just an FYI that @afton will be answering your questions on Monday, Nov. 15th - so you have a few extra days to get your questions in! 🍁
Hi Afton, thank you so much for doing this post! If you don’t mind sharing — I was wondering how you thought about your own decisions to have a family vs career, and how that’s worked out for you as a startup founder. Any advice for those of us considering this journey? And how has it affected how you built the company, policies and culture at Modern Fertility?Cheers! 🙏🏼 Ruth
I love this question! My career goals and family planning goals are both extremely important to me, but they are on totally different planes. For the past 5-10 years, I have been fully committed to my careers and creating the change we want to see in women’s health. However, I know I personally want to start a family one day, so I also prioritize the ways I can plan ahead now to give myself the best possible chance of building that family later on. I take the Modern Fertility Hormone Test at least every ~9 months (...actually a lot more :) ) to monitor how my ovarian reserve (otherwise known as egg count) is declining over time and check for red flags. I also decided egg freezing was right for me...more on that another time! :) The unfortunate reality is that it can be hard to have everything you want in your career and family at the same time. The best we can do is navigate these trade-offs and decisions with the best personalized information on our side.At Modern Fertility, we have lots of parents on our team — including my Co-founder, Carly! As we’ve grown, we’ve continued to listen to the parents on our team and created open channels of communication for them to get the support they need (especially in COVID times!) and shape policies and benefits. The parents at Modern Fertility were instrumental in designing our maternity leave package and our remote work guidelines. I also learned from awesome moms on the many panels I’ve done and in different women entrepreneurs groups. I’ve been humbled by how gracious they are with their time and willingness to offer advice. When it comes to supporting moms at work, the learning is never done!
Thanks @afton for sharing your insights with us! Following onto the last question I’m also curious about your acquisition strategy. I’m building a medical testing software platform (AI driven medical tests as SaaS for telehealth). With medical tests/devices it can take years to get FDA approval and generate revenue. What stage (pre-revenue, regulatory approval etc) where you at when you started the acquisition discussions?The other challenge I’ve come across is figuring out reimbursement for a healthcare service, especially as value based care becomes more popular than fee for service. How did you go about solving that for your company? (Eg reimbursement/insurance consultants? Direct contact and agreements with insurance companies?)Thanks so much!
Hello @afton:Congrats on your amazing success story and acquisition and inspiring work to change the fertility landscape! I have two questions for you as a seasoned founder:1 - What's the best fundraising lesson you learned?2 - Now that you have had an acquisition, I wonder your thoughts on that experience. Was there anything you did, or conversations you sought out, during your journey that helped position you for success?Many thanks for the time!Amy
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I’ve thought about this a lot, and both of these things feel true: 1) it’s the best point in history to be a woman entrepreneur, and 2) women entrepreneurs are held to much, much higher standards than our male counterparts. In terms of the first, there’s never been more resources for women entrepreneurs — from Elpha to All Raise and women-led funds like Forerunner Ventures and Moxxie Ventures. There’s also an abundance of opportunity — there are plenty of markets with ample white space and pent up demand, largely because the ecosystem historically hasn’t supported women entrepreneurs who are best suited to spot and solve these problems. This is now changing, albeit slowly. While it’s frustrating that women entrepreneurs don’t have as big of a startups ecosystem as men do, it’s encouraging to see the progress and so exciting to see the open opportunities in women-led spaces that have been underserved for far too long.In terms of the second, I think most, if not all, women entrepreneurs will say they’ve experienced moments when they were clearly held to higher standards than male CEOs. This spans from the expectations of you as a CEO in the eyes of employees, others in the industry, and certainly prospective investors. My approach was to build out as much data as possible about the demand in the market, the behavior of our demographic, and fundamentals of our business to make a case that was simply hard to deny.
Hi @afton I second this question, curious to know if there were any reservations you felt as a woman with a company for women. What did you find was the most compelling strategy to raise money/dealing with investors?Thanks for bringing it up @amyvanharen
Thank you for the kind words! There are two fundraising lessons that stand out for me. The first is to use getting a “no” as a learning experience. If an investor passed, I’d press for specifics on more feedback, and use that as an opportunity to build out more data around the demand, behavior, or overall concept. This is actually what led us to open pre-order purchases for our Hormone Test in Fall of 2017. Even though we weren’t ready to launch, we wanted to gather insights about demand. Not only did this pre-order launch catalyze our fundraising efforts, we got a meaningful head start on building relationships with customers. My other key fundraising lesson is about understanding the importance of an aligned vision with a potential investment partner. Ultimately, if you and an investor had different ideas of what success looks like for your company and the best way to get there, the relationship could create more strain than it will provide support. Our investors at Modern Fertility have been fundamentally aligned with our belief in accessibility, clinical excellence, and a woman's right to decide what’s best for her free of any bias or coercion. This means they are on board with the longer term vision, even when these values mean that bringing products to market may take longer, or come at higher costs in the short term. When it came to our acquisition, I applied this same mindset in vetting a potential partner. it was Ro’s CEO Z’s shared obsession with our values that gave me the confidence to move forward with the deal. We both had the same end goal in mind for the future of a patient-centric digital healthcare system, we’d just come at it from different entry points. Ultimately, I think Modern Fertility’s consistency in committing to accessibility, neutral clinical guidance (our internal mantra is “you do you”) and research is what positioned us so well for this deal. There will always be other companies, brands, and approaches, so the intensity with which you stick to your values (even when it takes longer!) will make all the difference in the big picture.
Thank you so much for your incredibly thoughtful response! So many golden nuggets in here and really valuable to hear how much you held to alignment of mission and vision for the future as you grew. Thanks again for inspiring us founders!
What are the questions that are on women's minds regarding fertility right now? Is it more proactive and exploratory — I don't know what my fertility health is like and I'd like to know? Or is it more in reaction to difficulty conceiving? And I'm curious how you tapped into the audience to determine product/market fit. I know fertility can be something that many women keep close to the chest. Thanks for doing this Q&A!
It is all — and I mean ALL — of the above! Women have questions at every single phase. Carly and I, who are fertility company founders, have personal questions at every corner — and we’re supposed to be the “experts.” That just goes to show that you can spend years obsessed with fertility and still be surprised by what your biology might have in store for you. People with ovaries have questions at every stage: “where do I even start now that kids might not be so far off for me?” and “why do I ovulate irregularly?” and “why have I been trying for over six months without getting pregnant?” We need more education and support for all parts of the fertility journey. One way that we’ve been able to tap into our audience is through community. There is something incredibly powerful about being able to talk to “strangers” who are at the same sensitive life stage as you are — it is both freeing and healing. Creating this safe space for community, and encouraging women to come as they are, has been key to supporting our customers.
Such a great point about building community. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks a lot for doing this Afton! As hormones play a significant role in women's health outside of fertility, I would love to know if your company plans to expand to other use cases. If so, I would love to hear your thoughts about how you approach those additional use cases.
So important! This would be excellent.
Absolutely! We believe that fertility is a window into our broader health. We’ve always seen fertility as an entry point — I have PCOS, so I understand on a personal level how hormones impact our overall health. From a business perspective, we believe in starting with what’s hardest and most underserved, (which, in our case, was proactive fertility) and using that as a foundation to build a bigger women’s health ecosystem. There is much more to come from us on this front, but nothing specific I can share just yet! :)
Love the vision! I think we're going to see fertility become an accelerated concern. Does your team explore holistic and natural approaches to fertility or just focus on test accessibility? According to Dr. Group and the Golden secret, his team states that we flush $20,000 worth of stem cells every time one urinates. I would be interested in how your testing abilities could correlate with types of therapies.
@afton I am really interested in this topic as I am graduating to become a Health Coach and Ferttility Awareness Instructor. My goal is to help women in every aspects of their health like nutrition and lifestyle to improve fertility and overall health.
Love it! Ping me if you ever want to chat :)
Sure, that would be great
Hi @afton - thank you so much for doing this Q&A! I'm a Modern Fertility customer :) And have been so inspired by your story as an aspiring entrepreneur myself.My question is...The fertility space is on fire with an unprecedented amount of VC investment flooding into the industry -- where do you think gaps still exist? what types of companies do you think will do well in the current state of the industry?
Thanks for your support! It’s true there is an unprecedented amount of VC going into our industry, but relevant to the problems we have to solve, we are still just scratching the surface! There are gaps everywhere. I am especially energized by the gap in fertility-focused research. There is still SO much we don’t know about how our bodies work when it comes to reproductive health. It’s staggering (and angering) when compared to other much more well-researched areas of healthcare. At Modern Fertility, we are focused on building a better predictor of future fertility so people with ovaries can have more precise markers of their fertility timelines. Certain reproductive health conditions have also been overlooked by the traditional healthcare system, including PCOS and Endometriosis, which each impact 1 in 10 women. They are both severely under-diagnosed, and there’s a real lack of education and support. The companies that will do well will be those that are customer obsessed, truly aligned with women’s best interests, and solving a real differentiated need.There is also a lot of consolidation starting to happen in the fertility industry, and I’ll think we are only starting to witness the tip of this shift. In the coming years, I believe we’ll see a lot more acquisitions and mergers where companies can more quickly create the change they want to see with combined strengths. The reality of company building in healthcare is that it can be relatively slow and long, given the clinical partnerships involved and regulatory hurdles. Often, consolidation is the most strategic move for your company and your customers when it comes to delivering on your vision.
Hi Afton! Thank you so much for doing this Q&A! As you look ahead, what is the most interesting new development on the horizon for women's fertility? What's something that the general public might think is still over a hundred years away that you, given your experience, see in a much nearer future?Also wondering what's next in your founder journey? Will you continue supporting Modern Fertility at Ro in some capacity as you go on to do The Next Thing? I'm really inspired by your journey and just want to thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.
Thanks for the kind words! The Modern Fertility journey is just getting started (as corny as that sounds!) and is poised for acceleration more now that we’ve joined Ro. Modern Fertility is scaling to become Ro’s women’s health division, so all my energy is dedicated to realizing this opportunity and creating the change we want to see. Here is more on how Modern Fertility will grow as a part of Ro and my role as Ro’s President of Women’s Health: new interesting development that is coming sooner than the industry might realize: stem cells for embryos! IVG (in-vitro gametogenesis) will give more people the option for genetically related children via sperm and eggs made from stem cells. This was a highlight from this year’s ASRM (American Society of Reproductive Medicine) conference. This will have an amazing impact for people in same sex couples, who are born without sperm or eggs, or who have lose their ability to produce sperm and eggs because of chemotherapy, genetic conditions, or injuries.
What an incredible accomplishment! I am on my 3 to 5 year exit strategy right now from my software company. We are introducing our cyber security risk management product in the next few weeks which will bump up our revenues and I was wondering if you can tell me about your experience selling your company, specifically positioning your company for acquisition.
I wish I could be more specific with advice here, but we were not expecting to be acquired and were not angling for an exit when the deal came together — we were gearing up for our next round of funding!
Wow! I hope that happens for me too!! LOL
Thanks for doing this. My questions are:1. How did you figure out how to build a physical product. It sounds like you didn’t have previous experience with manufacturing or lab testing. Curious how you figured that out?2. Was it difficult to get ivf clinics to let you visit and to get women to talk about their fertility?Thanks!
Thanks so much for doing this @afton! Have admired your journey for some time and am grateful to have access to ask you questions as a founder building in the reproductive digital health | FemTech space. Question for you: How do you see the key trends in technology like AI, blockchain intersecting with the evolution of digital health (as it applies to women's reproductive health and women's health in general)? Thanks so much!