The Online Pharmacy Race Gets A New Entrant: RobinHealth

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You’ve probably noticed; on-demand pharmacy services are springing up like daisies. New York-based Zipdrug, for example, is an online app that processes customers’ payments and dispatches messengers to pick up their medicine for a $10 delivery service fee. The company has so far raised more than $2.6 million in seed funding from Notation Capital, Lux Capital, and Collaborative Fund, among others.

A better-funded upstart is PillPack, a full-service pharmacy that delivers pre-sorted pills packaged individually on a tape-dispenser-like roll to customers every two weeks. It has mostly operated as an online platform, but after raising $50 million last year led by CRV, it’s opening small brick and mortar locations, too, where patients can consult with licensed pharmacists — and more people can learn of the company.

Online pharmacy ScriptDash formed around the same opportunity last spring.

None are stopping yet another new entrant from gearing up to compete with them. Instead, RobinHealth — a 10-month-old, San Francisco-based startup that has already raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding — will be pitching investors at the March 1, invite-only demo day of NFX Guild, a Bay Area accelerator program that graduated its first batch of startups last summer. (We’ve written about NFX here.)

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, RobinHealth says that it’s different. Its big idea: to providing on-demand access to licensed pharmacists around the clock, and to deliver on-demand to customers — within an hour. Those consultations and deliveries are free, offset by increased operational efficiencies in fulfilling the meds, says the company.

RobinHealth is working with a pharmacy right now toward that end, but it plans to eventually build out its own network of tiny pharmacies. Says CEO and cofounder Elliot Poppel, “Set-up isn’t that complex. If you have a pharmacist, you can open your own pharmacy.”

Asked how RobinHealth differs from PillPack specifically, Poppel, a former VC turned operator, tells us in part that “PillPack is going after mail order. We’re going after retail pharmacy.” One way to do that is to focus heavily on the hand-holding that most customers no longer get from pharmacists at major pharmacy chains. “We’re putting a pharmacist in their pocket,” says Poppel of RobinHealth’s app.

Pillpack is also going after older customers, while RobinHealth is going after families and parents in particular, says NFX co-founder James Currier, a serial entrepreneur who says he especially likes that RobinHealth is a “conversational commerce” company, meaning it primarily touches its users via a live messaging interface.

Of course, it’s very early days for all of these startups, whose economics may not be crystal clear but whose appeal is plain, considering the generally dissatisfying, traditional experience of driving to a pharmacy and waiting in line for medication (sometimes while not feeling well and often to be told the drugs won’t be available straightaway).

The market that companies like RobinHealth are pursuing is enormous, too. In 2014, the sale of prescription drugs in the U.S. reportedly totaled a whopping $263 billion.

CVS filled about 23.7 percent of those prescriptions. Walgreens and Rite Aid combining to fill about 22 percent.