Think back to the minor ailments you had as a kid--bee stings, headaches, fevers. There's probably little difference between the over-the-counter, or OTC, drugs your parents gave you for symptoms then and what you take today. In fact, there's hardly been any innovation in the OTC market for decades.
Jordan Eisenberg, 32, noticed this before founding UrgentRx three and a half years ago. The pharmaceutical company makes wallet-size packets of single-dose OTC drugs in powdered form--kind of like Pixy Stix. In addition to aspirin, UrgentRx offers alternatives to well-known brand names such as Benadryl, Pepto-Bismol, Tums, and Tylenol.
The line, which is made entirely in the U.S., is sold in more than 22,000 stores across the country including Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart. Last year, the Denver-based company brought in $2.75 million in revenue, and this year it expects that number to increase to $17 million.
Eisenberg said the idea for the company's first product came from his dad, who carried aspirin in the event of a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, those who take aspirin after the first signs of heart attack symptoms reduce their risk of mortality 23 percent.
For the sake of convenience, rather than keeping a bottle of pills on him at all times, Eisenberg's father took a few aspirin, wrapped them in cellophane, and stuck them in his wallet. It was a smart idea but not the most practical if a cardiac event actually were to occur, Eisenberg realized.
"If you have a heart attack or an allergy reaction, you can actually have dysphasia, where you can't swallow, or lockjaw or dry mouth, so you can't even get the pill down," he said. "And if you were to chew Benadryl or aspirin, they're so bitter that it can actually make you throw up."
His solution was to make the drugs dissolve easily, taste good, and be small enough so that you can always have them in your wallet. Eisenberg's theory that this could actually help to save lives has been tested, and so far, it's worked in 14 cases that he knows of, he said.
Of course, much of the UrgentRx line is meant to be used in situations that are far less grave. Eisenberg has had to think strategically about how to get word of his powdered drugs out to a consumer base that has virtually never known a new way to take medications.
Eisenberg wasn't initially sure how the product would be received. After launching a study to see if consumers were at least receptive to the idea, the results indicated that they loved it, Eisenberg said. The next step was to launch with strong marketing.
To achieve this, Eisenberg created novel incremental displays, which fill unused space at stores' checkout counters. These displays, which affix to magazine racks, soda refrigerators, and aisle poles, capitalize on the fact that new customers are most likely to try UrgentRx as an impulse buy. This tactic has earned Eisenberg media attention--namely, a feature on the front page of The New York Times's business section. And Eisenberg said it has proven to be a great sales driver.
"Everything that I wanted to accomplish when I had this kernel of an idea four years ago, we're on our way to accomplishing," Eisenberg said. "And I think that's a pretty amazing feat."