Anne Fulenwider loves my earrings. It's the first thing she says after "nice to meet you" when we start our video call. She, too, likes to wear "big, giant earrings."
"I love them," she laughs. "I feel like it's like my Zoom accessory."
For Fulenwider, starting a conversation about her new women's health company by connecting on fashion is quite fitting. The former editor-in-chief of Marie Claire magazine and Project Runway judge even once talked with former President Barack Obama about his preference for blue suits.
Fulenwider traded her role as a journalist to helm Alloy Women's Health as co-founder and co-CEO. The company officially launched in November 2021 with $3.3 million in seed funding from PACE Healthcare Capital and Kairos HQ, where she's also an operating partner.
Alloy’s target customers are women over 40, providing a telehealth platform that connects them with board-certified physicians who are experts in menopause and perimenopause. The platform is also a prescription home delivery service, offering generic prescriptions for products like low-dose birth control pills and estradiol vaginal cream, and it has created a women's health community that provides easy-to-understand and straightforward menopause information.
Storytelling is power
At first glance, it might seem strange that someone who spent her career focused on fashion and beauty in the New York magazine world would leave it all behind to dive headfirst into telehealth, pharma and the long-neglected menopause market. But after speaking with Fulenwider for a few minutes, it all makes sense.
As a journalist, Fulenwider understands the power of storytelling, and she can also recognize when a story hasn't been told the right way. That's what happened when her close friend (and now Alloy co-founder and co-CEO) Monica Molenaar went through surgical menopause at the age of 40 after testing positive for the BRCA gene and having her ovaries removed prophylactically.
The surgery plunged Molenaar into severe symptomatic menopause, yet she found a dearth of expert doctors and very few clear, reliable resources for this near-universal aspect of the female experience.
"I see the immediate need for better storytelling and the immediate impact."
Co-founder and Co-CEO, Alloy Women's Health
Fulenwider notes that many women have trouble even finding an OB-GYN, much less one "who actually has the answers and the comfort level to talk to them about menopause symptoms and how to treat them and how to age healthfully."
That's why Alloy not only connects women with treatments and expert menopause doctors — its medical director is Dr. Sharon D. Malone, who former first lady Michelle Obama has called a "godsend for us as we navigate these topics in our own lives" — but also talks about menopause in a clear, honest and even fun way.
Part of Alloy’s approach is also rooted in basic menopause education — but with an unexpected twist.
In February, the company released a video showing how 10 men between the ages of 45 and 55 reacted when — without knowing what was coming — the thermostat in the room was suddenly jacked up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The setup was a prank — the men thought they were auditioning for a commercial. But the images of their discomfort as the heat set in were meant to portray a serious discrepancy in pharma R&D between men’s and women’s health.
“You think hot flashes would still go untreated if they happened to men?” the one-minute video posited at its conclusion.
"I wanted to use the communication skills that I have and the ability to tell a story to really provide empathy and dignity for women in this stage of life," Fulenwider says.
You can hear that passion for storytelling throughout MyAlloy.com. Instead of dry, clinical information about menopause, hormone therapy and women's health, the language is clear, straightforward and often downright chatty. It sounds like a women's magazine, directly addressing the reader with language like, "Hot flashes? We got you" and "Only 6% of women seeking treatment for their symptoms actually get it. How is this even possible? We think it’s total B.S."
A different kind of Didion
After graduating from Harvard, Fulenwider moved to New York City and "wanted to be Joan Didion," the famed journalist and essayist who was known for her reflections on counterculture in the 60s and 70s. Fulenwider went to work for the legendary literary magazine, The Paris Review, before moving onto Vanity Fair and eventually, Marie Claire, where she was executive editor before becoming editor-in-chief.
She wrote and oversaw stories about women's health disparities and female entrepreneurs who were changing industries that they found problematic. But when her mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack at 72, Fulenwider went looking for answers that couldn’t be found, even calling her mother's doctor to ask why a seemingly healthy and active person would die suddenly.
"She'd given a dinner party at her house the night before," Fulenwider said. "It may have been a way of coping with grief. But it also kind of went back to my journalist roots and just really wanting to get to the bottom of what happened, which is pretty much impossible to do."
"If you don't tell the story right, it doesn't resonate, and it doesn't get told,"
Co-founder and Co-CEO, Alloy Women's Health
It also sparked an interest in women's health and led her down the path that would eventually prompt her and Molenaar to create Alloy. Although she loved working in the magazine world and all the people she met there, she's motivated in a new way.
"Strangely enough, I find this to be much more immediate," she says. "I see the immediate need for better storytelling and the immediate impact."
'The fun begins'
Now that the "mechanics" of setting up a digital health platform are taken care of, Fulenwider is excited to do more of what she's good at.
"Really now, for me, the fun begins," she says. "Now I really get to dive into the storytelling."
That means interviewing women about what it's like being over 40 and what's happening to them in that phase of their lives. She wants to ask women about what they've learned, what they love and hate, what their biggest surprises have been about getting older and what they would tell their 25-year-old selves.
She also wants to answer "basic biology questions" about the "very specific and actually not-that-complex mechanics of what happens in menopause, and how women can best treat it and why they can and should treat it" instead of just gritting their teeth and keeping quiet.
Not only does Fulenwider believe that it's "high time" for busting through the misinformation and confusion about menopause, but she feels "karmically inclined" to do it because of all the skills she learned in the magazine world by talking with people and telling their stories in a way that makes a difference.
"If you don't tell the story right, it doesn't resonate, and it doesn't get told," she says. "I feel like we're just starting that here at Alloy."