For giving people a better way to connect.
Video chat app Marco Polo launched back in 2016, but the year of Covid is when it really exploded. Once Zoom fatigue set in, people wanted ways to connect with one another that were both less draining and less of a commitment than a fixed slot on your calendar. Marco Polo lets you send short videos, called Polos, to people without the need for recipients to watch in real time. The free app has been downloaded more than 10 million times, with 900,000 alone in March of 2020, according to app market research firm Sensor Tower.
While co-founder and CEO Vlada Bortnik cheered the surge in activity, it dramatically increased the load on the startup’s servers. Bortnik decided to launch Marco Polo’s business model, which had been in the works for years, in 2020. Unlike most social media platforms, the company has committed to not selling users’ data to make money. Marco Polo opted to ask users to pay for extra features: Its $5 a month Plus plan offers, among other perks, the ability to send voice-only Polos and watch video at faster speeds. The move inspired some backlash from users, because previously free features are now only accessible with a paid plan. While Bortnik admits the company could have communicated the changes better, she’s heartened by the overall response.
“We’ve received an overwhelming number of emails saying how much of a lifeline we’ve been for people, and they use those words—‘a lifeline’—during this difficult time,” she says. “We can’t be a lifeline for people if we’re not going to be around, but we weren’t going to do that in a way that’s bad for users’ digital well-being.”--Lindsay Blakely
For shaking up a staid industry.
Trendy direct-to-consumer apparel company Figs has racked up a lot of “firsts” since launching in 2013. It’s largely credited with branding what was previously a staid, unbranded industry: health care scrubs. In 2021, Figs became the first health care apparel company—and the first company with two female co-founders, Heather Hasson and Trina Spear—to go public. And Figs is the first company to offer IPO shares through the stock-trading app Robinhood—that was by design so that the health care workers who wear Figs scrubs could get in on the action.
Figs ended 2020 with $263 million in revenue, up 138 percent from the year prior, and profit of $58 million. Sixty percent of the company’s sales come from repeat buyers.
“The nature of any good business is to focus on your customer. You have to look deep and see what they want and what they need and how to cater to them across every single category,” says co-CEO Hasson. “We give health care professionals something they didn’t know they wanted, and I think they really appreciate that.”--Lindsay Blakely
Heather Hasson and co-founder Trina Spear correctly diagnosed the problem plaguing the medical scrubs industry: Options were limited to ill-fitting uniforms that were available for purchase only at inconvenient hours in uninspiring places (think medical supply stores also specializing in knee braces). Figs redesigned scrubs in high-tech fabrics and trendy silhouettes, and it brought in just over $23 million in revenue in 2017, and then over $100 million in 2018. The co-founders also decided to branch into brick-and-mortar retail with a pop-up shop in West Hollywood. “A bunch of our Instagram fans kept stopping by the office wanting to see the clothes. That’s when we decided we need a physical location,” Hasson says. This year, Figs became profitable and started expanding internationally (to Canada). More permanent outposts are planned for 2020.--Lindsay Blakely
For shaking up a staid industry.
Trendy direct-to-consumer apparel company FIGS [https://www.inc.com/profile/figs] has racked up a lot of “firsts” since launching in 2013. It’s largely credited with branding what was previously a staid, unbranded industry: health care scrubs. On May 27, 2021, FIGS became the first health care apparel company—-and the first company with two female co-founders, Trina Spear and Heather Hasson—to go public. And FIGS is the first company to offer IPO shares through the stock-trading app Robinhood—that was by design so that the health care workers who wear FIGS scrubs could get in on the action.
“Heather and I have been maniacally focused on doing things our way,” says co-CEO Trina Spear. “We had that same mentality around the IPO: Why not do it in a way that makes sense for your brand, who you are, and what you stand for?”
Figs ended 2020 with $263 million in revenue, up 138 percent from the year prior, and profit of $58 million.--Lindsay Blakely
For raising the bar on everyday ingredients.
Rising costs. Paper shortages. Bottling facility closures. Last year brought unexpected challenges for Brightland, a direct-to-consumer seller of organic olive oil sourced from small U.S. farms. On the other hand, a pandemic that forced most everyone to stay home and cook more did have its silver linings for the company. “Market demand didn’t slow down,” says founder and CEO Aishwarya Iyer. Indeed, Brightland has gained a cult following for its products: Its $70 set of mini bottles of two oils and two vinegars has sold out three times in the past year.
So while everything else seemed to slow down—particularly the process of shipping and designing products with a dispersed workforce—Brightland’s eight-person team shifted into high gear. The company applied its ethos of carefully sourced, unadulterated ingredients to a slew of new products, including vinegars (balsamic, champagne, and a limited-edition strawberry) and olive oils infused with garlic, chili, lemon, and basil. In September, Brightland launched a line of raw, unfiltered honey produced by two fourth-generation beekeeping families. And the company is planning its first pop-up retail space this holiday season in New York City.
“Our north star is working directly with organic farmers and producers who prioritize sustainability and want to be a part of the world we’re creating,” Iyer says. “We’re uncompromising with our traceability.”--Lindsay Blakely
For giving women better tools to track their reproductive health.
When Afton Vechery walks through the pregnancy test aisle, she sees an industry seriously out of touch with what women need. “The majority of leading brands are pink and talk about babies,” she says. “When you think about the reality of infertility—one in six couples deal with infertility—and unplanned pregnancies … we don’t need to assume the intentions of women as part of the testing process. We’re reimagining these products in the context of the modern woman.”
Twenty-twenty was a big year for working on that particular plan. When Vechery initially co-founded Modern Fertility, along with Carly Leahy, in 2017, her startup launched with a $159 at-home hormone testing kit aimed at democratizing fertility data that can otherwise be expensive to obtain if your insurance doesn’t cover it. Last year, Modern Fertility expanded its product lineup to include prenatal vitamins, a pregnancy test, an ovulation test, and a companion app to keep track of all test results. While the products are all available via the startup’s website, Modern Fertility’s pregnancy and ovulation tests also sell through Amazon and in more than 1,000 Walmart stores.
The biggest milestone Modern Fertility hit recently, however, wasn’t in Vechery’s near-term plan for the company: She sold the company in May 2021 for more than a reported $225 million to telehealth company Ro. The deal represents one of the biggest investments in a women’s health care tech startup to date. What sealed the deal for her was Ro’s established telehealth infrastructure and distribution network. “Instead of building those capabilities and customizing them for women, we could inherit them overnight,” says Vechery, who is staying on as president of Ro’s women’s health vertical. “There is so much more to do, we don’t have time to lose.”--Lindsay Blakely