Apostrophe raises $6 million to let you see a dermatologist from your phone

Ben Holber and Ryan Hambley grew up together. Hambley, the son of a dermatologist, always had clear skin. But Holber struggled with acne from the time he was a teenager. The two saw first-hand the difference it makes to have a dermatologist on demand. Apostrophe was born.

Apostrophe, a new startup that makes it easier to get Rx acne medications and treatments, has today announced the close of a $6 million seed round led by SignalFire, with participation from FJ Labs.

Apostrophe connects users with board-certified dermatologists, who then develop a personalized Rx treatment plan for those patients. Apostrophe has a vertically integrated mail-order pharmacy, which facilitates the distribution of those treatment plans.

The goal is to eliminate the hassle of trips to the dermatologist, long waits in the waiting room and the general displeasure of visiting a pharmacy.

Apostrophe contracts with a physicians group to provide the dermatologists to patients, but has no direct employment relationship with the doctors themselves. Holber explained that, given Apostrophe’s positioning as a pharmacy, it’s best to keep dermatologists at arm’s length from Apostrophe, and vice versa, to make sure that all parties are incentivized solely by the health of the patient.

When users sign up, they’re asked to provide photos and fill out a questionnaire. The Apostrophe platform does some assistive organization and facilitates communication, but the tech is not involved in any diagnostic analysis. Holber said that the decision to stay away from incorporating machine learning in the diagnostic process was a difficult but important one.

“In a world of a million offerings online, when you have real personalization and a real personal interaction, there is a huge premium on that,” said Holber. “There is a ton of value in knowing someone is on the other side really looking at your stuff, and who’s there to answer a question.”

Thus, Apostrophe is laser-focused on the connection between dermatologists and patients through asynchronous text conversations, rather than using data and machine learning to replace the dermatologist.

Holber added that the “machine of the dermatologist’s brain is actually really fast,” noting that it takes just a few seconds for a good dermatologist to assess the issue and develop a treatment plan.

Customers pay $20 for the original consultation, and that $20 is then applied as a credit toward purchase of the suggested Rx treatment plan, which is personalized by Apostrophe. The company makes its money off of its pharmaceutical business.

Apostrophe has raised a total of $6.5 million since launch.