Modern Fertility co-founder Afton Vechery is leaving healthcare unicorn Ro about a year after her company, built alongside co-founder Carly Leahy, was sold for north of $225 million. According to an internal e-mail from Ro’s executive team, obtained by TechCrunch, Vechery is leaving her role as president of women's health of Modern Fertility to pursue her next venture. Effective May 18, she will become an advisor to Ro's fertility services.
“While this is bittersweet news, fertility and women’s health remain among our key growth opportunities and areas where we will continue to invest heavily,” the email, sent to Ro's staff, continued. It noted that Ro general manager Hannah Ma will now be a general manager of fertility and women’s health.
Vechery sent an e-mail to staff as well, addressing that her departure "may be a surprise" to people at the company. In the note, obtained by TechCrunch, Vechery said "I am and always will be an entrepreneur at heart and this is how I can personally be the most effective in impacting global women’s health, a field in which I am deeply passionate."
"Taking a moment to reflect, I remember when we started Modern Fertility, we did not know how the market and people would react," she wrote in the e-mail. "How could we make something as complicated and taboo as fertility easy to understand and even something women actively wanted to understand? But we did it, and we not only struck a chord, we created an entirely new category that hadn’t existed before." She added that "joining Ro was the best thing for Modern Fertility, and the path you have ahead is such an exciting one. You have an incredible amount of runway and resources to continue to empower women to own the decisions that impact their bodies and futures."
Modern Fertility declined to provide a comment on the record. The co-founder’s departure so soon after acquisition isn’t unheard of, considering how integrations can cause former executives previously bitten by the entrepreneurship bug to try their next thing. However, in Ro's case, the digital health company has lost a number of executives across different departments in recent months, most recently parting ways with Ro COO George Koveos and GM of Ro Pharmacy Steve Buck.
Vechery’s departure has been rumored for over six months -- first sparked by an employee exodus that peaked last year. At that time, former and current employees said that Ro’s acquisition of Modern Fertility, a reproductive health company, felt like an acquisition “for optics” than for actual change, given the fact that Rory, Ro’s previous vertical for women’s healthcare, had been given little to no investment. Rory was led by entrepreneur Rachel Blank, but she too left Ro to start her own company in women’s hormonal health. The women's health practice was eventually refreshed by the Modern Fertility acquisition -- yet given this precedent, former and current employees worried that Modern Fertility would also face turnover.
In the same e-mail announcing Vechery's departure, leadership said that they will put "more energy and resources toward fewer initiatives" for the remainder of Q2 and H2. "Narrowing the focus does not mean we will launch any fewer products or services for patients. In fact, we believe it will have the opposite effect. We will increase the speed of innovation for patients," the memo continues, also noting that it will build "new products for existing patients."
Like many richly valued startups navigating new markets, Ro's somewhat mixed messages do have one clear statement: the startup is going through change. It is certainly growing its fertility focus, acquiring Dadi in November. Then, in February, the startup raised an inside round at a higher valuation -- giving it a financial cushion for the coming months. Yet, as leadership notes in the internal e-mail, the "mantra for the remainder of the year (and potentially beyond) will be growth with discipline." Quite a different feel than just last year when the company raced to be the "Amazon of healthcare."
Current and former Ro employees can contact Natasha Mascarenhas by e-mail at email@example.com or on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 609 4188.