Under The Hood: Laine from Evvy

Year 1 learnings in changing women's health. A conversation with Laine, co-founder of Evvy.

Under The Hood: Laine from Evvy

Welcome Laine! Let's start with a rough timeline of when you came up with Evvy to where you are today. How long has that time span been?

Evvy was founded about a year ago on the simple insight that there is so much we still don’t know about how to best care for women and people with vaginas — after all, we weren’t required to be in US clinical research until 1993.  For my co-founder Priyanka (pictured above, left) and I (pictured above, right) both of our north stars have always been: how can we better serve women where they’ve historically been overlooked, especially due to systemic bias and stigmatization? And female health — and more specifically vaginal health — certainly checks that box. 

Almost everyone with a vagina will deal with a UTI, yeast infection, BV, or another vaginal condition in their lifetime — and many of us recurrently. But cultural taboos around vaginal health mean that we often go through our care journey alone, and with deep embarrassment.  I've personally experienced recurrent infections for years, but I've always just been told to deal with it. I’ve had doctors dismiss my symptoms and triggers, and to tell me to just take more and more antibiotics. I just thought it was something that was never going to go away.

We built Evvy because It’s time that vaginal health, and women’s health as a whole, gets the investment it deserves on a clinical and personal level. 

Tell me more about your hero product, the vaginal health test. 

The Evvy Vaginal Health Test is the first-ever at-home vaginal microbiome test to use metagenomic sequencing to tell you what’s up down there, why it matters, and what you can do about it. 

More than 30% of people with vaginas suffer from imbalances in the vaginal microbiome every year (read: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and UTIs). What’s more — the latest research has uncovered groundbreaking links between the vaginal microbiome and infertility, STIs, preterm birth, gynecologic cancers, and more.  But even though the vaginal microbiome is a critical biomarker, women and people with vaginas have never had access to that information about their own bodies — until now.

The actual testing process is a simple, painless swab (think a Q-tip) that gets inserted into the vagina 1-2 inches, then packaged and sent back to our lab via prepaid mail. The swabbing process takes less than 30 seconds to complete. For those struggling with recurrent infections, Evvy’s test finally brings specificity to what is otherwise a long and difficult journey of identifying how their vaginal microbiome may be related to their symptoms. 

Even if you don’t experience symptoms, Evvy empowers anyone to understand their levels of protective vs. disruptive bacteria, and how those microbes are associated with vaginal infections — as well as broader challenges like infertility, preterm birth, STI acquisition, and more.

This test has hit a chord particularly with women who want to demystify their own bodies while making vaginal health care better for everyone. But we’re also receiving a ton of inbound from doctors who are very excited about the possibility of bringing metagenomic sequencing into their practice. 

Evvy At-Home Testing Kit

So - would you say the existing care from gynecologists is deficient? 

I definitely wouldn’t say that! Historically, women’s health has lacked adequate research funding and needs more investment to develop new, more effective approaches to managing complex conditions. 

The tests gynecologists have access to in clinics can be limited — most swabs only test for the binary presence of a few pathogens instead of looking at the overall microbial composition of the vaginal microbiome.  For patients with recurrent yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis, this can trigger a months-long journey of searching for the right diagnosis and prognosis, experimenting with various swabs and treatments, too often with limited benefit. We empathize with how frustrating this can be for both patients and their providers! 

So I absolutely think there are many great providers who provide empathetic, proactive care, and we hope that Evvy will amplify their ability to do so. Our aim is to enhance the patient-provider relationship — not replace it. 

How do you achieve the personalization?

We personalize your vaginal microbiome report based on two things: 1) your microbial profile, which is the list of microbes we get back from the test, and 2) your current health context and overall health history. 

We break down what protective, disruptive, neutral, or unknown bacteria you have, along with the research on which treatments have been shown to be most effective against what we find. 

And from there, we provide a section of next steps which generally fall into three different categories. 1) How do we reduce the disruptive bacteria? 2) How do we promote the protective bacteria and 3) how do we maintain a healthy microbiome in the long-term? 

The other way in which we personalize your report is through education. We strongly believe that the future of healthcare will be built on shared decision-making between patients and their providers. This requires empowering women and people with vaginas with better information about their own bodies  so they can actively advocate for themselves at the doctor’s office. 

We curate relevant education for each person based on their health profile, e.g. how the vaginal microbiome is related to things like PCOS, endometriosis, menopause, and more. 

Since launch - Has anything surprising come out from being “out in public”? Or has it been pretty much what you had envisioned? 

It’s been awesome to see what messaging resonates with folks. For instance, one message that’s worked well is: “Evvy - A partner for your ____” where we fill in the blank with a list of conditions people have heard of but might not know that much about such as “bacterial vaginosis”, “aerobic vaginitis,” and more. I think it hits home because many women feel they haven't found long-term support during their vaginal health journey.

So we’ve been excited to find out that customers don’t just want the test — they also want a trusted, science-grounded partner that can help them tackle tough questions. And we’re committed to being that for them! 

On the content marketing front. Have you made some big decisions internally on how best to distribute content? 

Yes, we have these conversations all the time. We haven't done enough testing yet, but I'm bullish on video. There are amazing doctors and providers on TikTok delivering great short form education, catching people where they already are. It’s a nice format - because TikToks can reach you before you even realize you want to ask the question. 

In general, proactive, preventative health care education is so powerful. Being in the doctor's office can be very intimidating and you don’t have the time or maybe the courage to ask things like, “So what soap should I be using on my vulva?!”. So putting out more education in an engaging, one-way setting like TikTok is something we’re excited to try.  

If I can learn how to fill a hole in my drywall on TikTok, I should be able to learn how to take care of my vagina, too.
Doctors on Tik Tok

So what else are you spending your time on? What’s keeping you MOST busy? 

I feel like that’s one of the hardest challenges for any founder, especially first time founders. We've made a conscious choice as a team to focus on making the product better for our first users and learning as much as we can from them. We want to make sure that each Evvy member has a better experience than the member before them. That's the most worthy thing we can be spending our time on right now. 

But everything else obviously has to stay moving forward!  You can't take things off the burners ever which is one of the hardest parts about being a founder, but our number one priority is our first customers. It has to be.

What exactly are the biggest levers on the product? How do you ensure that the experience is better to make it a better product for the next customer?

It's definitely the “results” experience, which encompasses a user’s microbial test results, as well as their personalized report and next steps. I'm the design person on the team, so I'm like “let's make the packaging incredible!” and “Let’s make the Instagrams pixel perfect”, but at the end of the day what actually matters is the clarity of the results and actionability of the next steps. So we have to be willing to sacrifice some other workstreams to make those things better. And we’ve been surprised how even small changes can drastically increase clarity and actionability. 

Evvy "Results" Experience

What are some learnings as a founder that you've, that you wish you would've had six months ago? 

The most valuable thing we did was test, test, test — and soft launch! I can’t emphasize how important it was for us to soft launch. Having mechanisms in place to learn from actual paying customers, as much as you can, is invaluable. What can go wrong, will go wrong — so while it’s tempting to get to market as fast as possible, take the time to find as many hiccups as you can with beta tests and soft launches.  

We’ve also really benefited from seeking out mentorship from all types of founders and startup teams. It’s tempting to only want advice from people who have been massively successful or who are 7-10 years into their startup journey, but we couldn’t’ve made it without the guidance of founders who are just 3-6months ahead. They acutely understand prioritization and immediate needs in a way that’s irreplaceable. 

And how exactly do you get people to help you out in your journey? 

Some of the best advice I ever got was “Make yourself easy to help.”  If you go to someone and say, “Can I pick your brain for 30 minutes?” that’s putting all the work on them: they have to make time, set up a calendar event, take the call, follow up with you, etc.

For me, it has made a world of difference to do the disciplined work of identifying the concrete questions or asks I have, and reaching out with something more specific like “Hey, I’d love to be in touch with X person in your network, and I’ve included a ready-to-forward email below.” That way, others can help with a single button click! People naturally want to help if they can, and if you make it really easy it’s a win for everyone. 

One final, more tactical question from me: What does it mean to go from a soft launch to a full launch? What are the key differences? 

We spent a long time building a waitlist of people that were generally interested in vaginal health. We asked some of these women to join our beta, others we just surveyed. So at day zero - we already had a supportive community.

When we soft launched, it was just into this community: the public wasn't even able to buy our test off the site. It was a hidden, invite-only link that we sent to just our early advocates. We did this to test conversion and messaging, but mostly just to make sure the people who had supported us from the beginning had first access to the full Evvy experience. 

Thank you Laine! Grateful to have met you and thank you for sharing your wisdom with our community.