The Startup CEO Who Wants You To Talk About Hormones


“Hi! I’m Afton Vechery (@aftonvechery). I live in San Francisco where I’m the founder and CEO of a company called Modern Fertility. But the first company I ever started was actually in high school. Our school failed a water test and started giving all the kids bottled water. For my science fair project I got a local company to fund and sponsor a business where I’d test different water sources in my community. That got me to the International Science and Engineering Fair where I listened to a panel of Nobel laureates. It was an amazing, defining experience. I’m still obsessed with water quality—I notice that I don’t drink enough water if it doesn’t taste clean, and my fiancé got me a reverse osmosis filter for my birthday this year. But what the experience really taught me is that science has the option to end in a lab. If you want to take the next step to impact people, business plays a really strong role.

My first job out of school was at a healthcare private equity fund. I ended up spending a lot of time in women’s health just because it’s what I was interested in, and led the research for an investment in a network of IVF clinics. Years later I moved out to the west coast to run the consumer tools division at 23 and Me, and while I was there I realized I wanted to wait until later in life to start a family. I went to my OBGYN and I was like ‘Hey, I remember these baseline fertility tests I learned about back when I worked in private equity, can you please order them for me?’ Because I wasn’t actively trying and failing to have a kid, they wouldn’t order the tests. I actually had to go into a fertility clinic to get the information I wanted, which is how I got a PCOS diagnosis. I spent so much time thinking that my irregular periods were just because I was stressed. My doctor told me that because I had PCOS, I would never be able to get pregnant naturally—which isn’t true. But my biggest ‘ah ha’ moment was the fact that, when I was open about my experience with other women, every single one of them agreed that they wished they had more information about their own bodies. Isn’t that crazy?

Having a baby in the US is not a right, it’s a privilege. There are some state coverage policies, and some employers can choose to cover infertility benefits, but even though infertility rates are rising we don’t have access to that care on a federal level. Plus, it’s a math issue. In dense areas where people can pay for it, there are a lot of fertility clinics. But other states may have just one—there’s only five hundred fertility clinics in the entire US, and only two thousand reproductive endocrinologists. You might have to request time off from your employer to drive to a clinic, and if you have an irregular menstrual cycle, there’s no way to know in advance what day you’ll need to go. These are things we should be talking about at brunch with our girlfriends, but there is such an information gap. Consumers today are used to having every ingredient on the back of our beauty products, and financial planners to help us save for a home. But when we look at reproductive health and fertility, it’s just a black box.

When I started Modern Fertility, it was all about enabling people with ovaries to think about reproductive health the way they think about any other part of their health. You just come to our website, request a hormone test, and then you get sent a cute little box with everything you need to do it yourself. You can’t diagnose anything from a hormone test alone, but it’ll give you baseline information to start a conversation with your doctor. The actual test uses a simple finger prick. Then we combine your self-reported information, your age, and your hormone levels into a personalized hormone report. You also get a free one-on-one consultation with a fertility nurse in case you have questions, and we host weekly live webinars led by fertility nurses. Finally there’s our free app, where you can access a community of over 10,000 members. That’s packaged together for $159. To put it in perspective, my bill for the first hormone test I got was $1,500.

My favorite part of my morning routine is testing my ovulation. We launched ovulation tests about three moths ago and I’m obsessed—they’re traditionally used when you’re trying to get pregnant, but women with irregular periods and PCOS can use them to keep track of their cycle. Am I on a twenty-eight day cycle, or is it thirty-one days? It’s like a science experiment. Next I wash my face with Indie Lee’s Brightening Cleanser, which is a fresh and easy way to start the day. My beauty routine has come a long way—I used to just use Dove soap and Cetaphil. Then I found this company called Haldi, which basically helps you build a skincare routine. I learned about it because its founder was an early Modern Fertility advocate, and everything it recommended for me was so good. Now I’m hooked. I have so many dermatologist friends who say that if you want your skin to look amazing, you should use these three things: preventative Botox, retinoids, and SPF. I’m not on the Botox train yet, but I do use a retinoid at night and I definitely use sunscreen. If you take a scientific approach to products, using SPF makes all the sense in the world. I am obsessed with finding good, lightweight formulas that I can throw on and not think about. I’ve tried so many I didn’t like, but the two I always reach for are Kiehl’s SPF 30 moisturizer and Thank You Farmer’s Water Sun Cream. I found out about Thank You Farmer through Haldi, and I use that one if I’m going to be in the sun.

I really like deals, and Tata Harper was running one recently where if you bought a certain amount you got a free travel case. I stocked up—I got the Hydrating Mask, the green Clarifying Mas, and the Refreshing Cleanser…That’s what I use to cleanse at night. Haldi turned me on to Tata Harper, too. My retinoid is from Dear Brightly, which is a direct to consumer company that sends you prescription-grade retinol. You take an online quiz, and they customize your dose—I have super sensitive skin, but that keeps things looking fresh. After, I use Tata Harper’s Repairative Moisturizer which is really nice and weightless, and some nights I’ll put oil on top of that. I used to have combination skin and dry patches, and after lathering my face in oil every night, all of that went away. I would never have thought to put oil on my skin, but I’m converted.

If I’m going to be recording something or have an extra special Zoom call, I’ll put on some makeup. I think my work life has really influenced my makeup routine—when I worked in New York I commuted three and a half hours from Connecticut, and when I moved to San Francisco I lived in Russian Hill and commuted three and a half hours to Mountain View. I would always have to roll out of bed before sunrise, which forced me to edit my makeup routine down to just the essentials. I usually use the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer and this Ilia everywhere stick that I got in a gift basket. That makes me look a little more awake. I also like to use the Fig Balm Dotcom when I want more hydration. Then I use a little Glossier Lash Slick, which gives me a super clean look.

When I was in college, I worked as an intern at this regenerative medicine biomaterials company. They were studying keratin, the protein in your hair, skin, and nails, and I got National Science Foundation funding to explore its cosmeceutical applications. That company eventually turned into Virtue Labs. It’s so funny because, now, the extent of my hair routine is now really just shampoo and conditioner from Virtue. They use different types of keratin based on the type of hair that you have, and those products let me go a year between haircuts. Something my mom always told me is that if you use the same shampoo every day eventually your hair gets used to it. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it has made its way into my head—I rotate between the Smooth and Full Virtue shampoo and conditioner, and also recently splurged on Oribe shampoo and conditioner.

At night, I like to put Birthday Balm on my eyelids for some extra shimmer. I also have this really funny Urban Decay Naked Honey palette. When I started working I realized I should probably have eyeshadow—like, that’s a thing that adults have. In high school I bought myself an Urban Decay palette with a mesh chain on the front and all of these crazy colors, so I was familiar with the brand. That’s how I ended up with this. It’s a range of golden fairy dust colors that have some ‘90s nostalgia but also look really flattering on me. I used to religiously wear the Chanel Espresso soft pencil eyeliner, which I think I discovered at a makeup counter. It was the only thing that wouldn’t irritate my eyes. And if I want to do a lip, I use this Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture by Zoe Kravitz lipstick. [Ed note: discontinued] I found that on Instagram. I’ll get a mani pedi now and then if I want to feel put together. I’ve definitely been that person answering emails on their laptop while they get a pedicure—that’s my ultimate happy place. But I keep my nails short. I love outdoor activities, so I would say that I have outdoor nails.

My partner is very allergic to all types of smell, so even though I love fragrance, I haven’t been able to incorporate it into my routine. I’ve had to translate my love of candles into other, non-smelly home things. When we first started dating, I bought a set of two plates and two bowls from this really beautiful local ceramicist in San Francisco. I recently expanded that out so we have enough for our full table. There’s this other potter in North Carolina that makes beautiful pink dessert plates with a gold rim so I ordered a set of those, too. I also love glassware—I have random Hay glasses that I’ll just use for coffee, and I bought two orange-yellow martini glasses from Moser. Martinis are my go-to cocktail and sipping one out of that glass makes it taste even better.”

—as told to ITG

Photos via the author


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