Imagine you’re a young Millennial prowling for a hookup. It looks like tonight might be your night. But when the magic moment arrives, instead of reaching into your pocket or purse for a condom you whip out a pair of cheap, disposable multi-function STD testers, part of a six pack you picked up at CVS. Reassured of each other’s status, you and your paramour get back to whatever passes for romance these days with your minds at ease.
Eat your heart out Erica Jong, the zipless age is here.
Well, it’s not quite here yet. The product described above is under development by a Boston startup named Boston Microfluidics. Its young founder, Brandon Johnson, is one of a steady stream of local entrepreneurs who find their way to my door, even though I’m not making new investments. I usually send them off with a few words of advice and an introduction or two, but Brandon was persistent. Plus something about the implications of his vision intrigued me.
Perhaps it was because my firm had just written off a $30 million investment when a diagnostics startup we had spent a decade building was destroyed overnight by an adverse ruling from an Independent Medicare Advisory Council (a preview of the newIndependent Payment Advisory Board, better known as the Obamacare death panels). Unfortunately for us, killing off new diagnostic tests has become a favored way of reducing healthcare costs.
Our firm will never return to the reimbursable diagnostic market, a decision that’s being repeated across much of the venture capital industry as funds dry up for startups burdened with this kind of political risk. But over-the-counter tests paid for by customers with cash are another matter. The FDA approval process for those is still the same, usually a 510(k) device approval. When you sell your product for cash there is no need to claw your way to a Medicare CPT code, convince insurers to reimburse, live with 180 day average receivables, and make regular appeals to administrative law judges to get your overdue bills paid. And best of all, no death by an unaccountable advisory panel after spending $100 million proving that your product works, convincing doctors to order it, and investing in clinical trials to build a case for broader reimbursement.
Answering that question requires thinking like a Millennial and not a 50-something. These kids are totally unencumbered by the social mores we Baby Boomers grew up with. They appear to have no shame, no sense of privacy, no modesty, and no concern about their reputations. They treat sex like another form of recreation, like videogames only messier. They want to have commitment-free fun, and they want it now. So subtlety has no place when trying to reach them with marketing messages. For example, there is a new web site called The STD Project dedicated to “breaking the stigma” around STDs. I just clicked on it and was greeted with one of their “Happy Hump Day” podcasts.
My suggestion to Brandon was to get a celebrity like Lena Dunham to pitch his product in one of those ads that go viral on YouTube, then use that as a platform for crowdfunding. You remember Lena, the young actress whose “First Time” ad forBarack Obama turned heads by comparing voting with losing your virginity.
Can’t you just see her making the following pitch:
This sure ain’t your father’s Brylcreem commercial.