How SA startup Contro is easing access to sexual health and confidence products

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South African startup Contro, an online prescription and delivery service for sexual health and confidence products such as birth control and erectile dysfunction treatment, has begun life with a bang, so to speak, clocking up over 100 users and banking pre-seed funding.

Launched in May, Contro allows individuals to obtain a repeat prescription for either of the just-mentioned treatments by offering a one-off digital consultation with a verified doctor for ZAR150 (US$10). 

During the consult, the individual is assessed, and if deemed fit by the doctor, prescribed the appropriate medication. Contro then arranges for the individual’s medication to be delivered free to their door every month in discreet packaging, offers automatic refills, and allows individuals to cancel whenever they want. By using its platform, Contro claims users can save up to ZAR400 (US$28) every repeat cycle.

“Contro is a facilitator and provides a convenient, affordable and discreet service for individuals to obtain their sexual health medication without the stigma, hassle or expense individuals currently go through,” says Alex Schmid, who co-founded the startup alongside Ross Malan and David Saunders in May 2020. Funnily enough, Schmid discovered the gap in the market for the startup through his ex-partner. 

“Every few months she would complain about the tedious and expensive process of getting her contraceptive pill, to which I responded one day “surely you can just order it online?” – and her answer made the light bulb go off,” he told Disrupt Africa.

“At the time there was no alternative other than to see a GP every three to six months to get a repeat prescription for the same birth control medication you may have been using for months if not years. This is costly and most GPs will charge a full consult fee ranging between ZAR400 to ZAR600. It doesn’t end there. After getting a prescription, you still have to drive to the pharmacy every 28 days to pick up your medication. Factor in the time wasted, cost of travel and parking and you’re starting to ask “why?”.”

Through research, Schmid and his partners also found that the discreet nature of a platform selling subscription-based birth control also lent itself to helping men to obtain treatment for erectile dysfunction. 

“We found men are more likely not to seek treatment because of embarrassment and prejudice surrounding ED and would rather not attend a pharmacy to collect their medication because of the stigma surrounding it,” said Schmid. 

“We found this theme was generally consistent within the realm of sexual healthcare, and allows Contro to broaden its product range. We’ll be looking to include both prescription and non-prescription based hair loss treatments as well as non-prescription based products such as tampons, sanitary pads, condoms, pregnancy tests, and STI and wellness testing kits. These will be available as one-off purchases through the Contro platform soon.”

For now, it is limited to birth control and ED treatment, but the startup has seen strong early uptake. With zero marketing spend, it already has hundreds of users, and it also raised a pre-seed funding round in early 2021. Aside from adding new products, Schmid said the startup also wants to expand internationally at some point.

“Currently, we are nationwide in South Africa and are looking to cement our place in the market for the time being. However, we are already looking at markets like Kenya, Nigeria and Botswana,” he said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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