Clove is a venture-backed consumer products startup focused on designing and delivering highly-functional, stylish products for healthcare professionals. Clove’s first product, the Clove Shoe, is a fluid repellent, easy to clean, comfortable slip-on sneaker designed for people working on the front lines of healthcare. I recently sat down for coffee with Wharton alum and Founder / CEO Joe Ammon and Chief Brand Officer Jordyn Amoroso to learn more about Clove’s recent launch and goals for the future.
The (other) healthcare consumer
There is huge talk of consumerization in the healthcare industry. Established healthcare service providers and product distributors are seeking to improve the experiences they offer their patients through digital technology, start-ups like GoodRx and ZocDoc are working to increase market transparency and facilitate consumer decision-making, and others like hims, Candid and Nurx are making getting medication look more and more like buying a pair of sneakers.
In all this talk of improving the patient’s experience, we hear little about medical professionals’ needs and consumption. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are over 13 million medical professionals working in healthcare settings in the United States. In recent years, start-ups have targeted the market for medical apparel, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, is worth $10 billion in the U.S. alone and $60 billion globally. Figs and Jaanuu, both launched in 2013, have gained significant traction providing more fitting, modern alternatives to traditional scrubs.
In late 2017, however, there was not a similar solution in the medical footwear space. Enter Clove – sneakers designed for healthcare.
Starting at home
In late 2017, Joe Ammon was a first-year MBA student at Wharton. After years of working in mergers and acquisitions advisory in New York, he moved to Philadelphia with his wife Tamara, a registered nurse working at Penn Medicine, with every intention to found a company of his own. As Joe explored start-up ideas, Tamara, patient-zero for Clove, was burning through sneakers. Joe quickly realized that sneakers not designed for medical use lacked protection and durability – every few weeks Tamara would be back to the drawing board, trying to find a new sneaker that might just work for her.
The other common choice of footwear for medical professionals is the clog – one that Tamara had also tried and moved away from. Initially, Joe was perplexed by his inability to quickly understand why clogs made sense for medical professionals. Note – Joe wasn’t the only one… the internet is perplexed by clogs as well. Three of the most commonly asked google-search questions associated with clogs are:
Are clogs good for your feet?
Why do nurses wear clogs?
Why are clogs bad for your feet?
To address these questions – and more deeply understand whether he really had stumbled on a problem – Joe started by asking his customers and observing them in motion. Drawing from the methods he was learning about in the classroom, he conducted targeted customer surveys and undertook a (sanctioned) ethnographic study in a few of Philadelphia’s many sites of care.
Joe came to see the medical professional consumer in terms of two essential attributes: highly-educated and tribal. They did the work to research the footwear options out on the market and make informed, educated decisions. But, they looked to their local medical communities – especially influential, experienced members of it – for recommendations that served as input for those decisions.
In his discussions with medical professionals, Joe found that clogs were not a problem-free option but rather seen in the community as a better option than others out there. While clogs provide support to minimize the pain that could come from being on one’s feet for up to 12 hours a day like nurses sometimes are, Joe noted, “Clogs weren’t resonating with a sleek, modern style sensibility. They also lack stabilizing features… which can lead to losses of balance and rolled ankles”.
With an understanding of the medical apparel market, a better sense for the needs of medical professionals and a strong view that existing products were not doing the trick, Joe set out to design a sneaker for medical professionals.
Building the sneaker (& brand)
Now in the winter of 2018, fully committed to the cause, Joe set out to build Clove with three major premises:
The sneaker had to meet the performance needs of medical professionals
The sneaker had to be a fashionable consumer product (not a healthcare product)
The Clove brand had to give nurses the sense that they were supported
Luckily, Joe found through his customer study that there was commonality in what medical professionals needed from their footwear. Their footwear would ideally ventilate well, be liquid-, stain-, and odor-resistant, easy-to-wear and easy-to-clean, well-cushioned to offer protection and support, and have great grip while meeting their office’s dress code requirements.
With those preferences in mind, Joe leveraged a range of University of Pennsylvania resources – from professor-advisors to grant funds – to develop the first sneaker prototype to test at Penn Medicine. A handful of users wore the prototypes every day for six weeks and provided feedback on how they performed and wore over time. The users broadly indicated that the sneakers did the trick, surviving and thriving under the demands of lengthy shifts, but did offer constructive feedback that has informed several subsequent product iterations. Playfully, the Clove team calls this test the “clinical trial”.
In parallel, Joe started to test the aesthetics of the product. He recalls sharing designs of an initial prototype with Stuart Weitzman, Executive in Residence at the eponymous Weitzman School of Design at Penn, over lunch: “We realized we had some tweaks to make from a real leader in footwear design”. In the time that has followed, Clove has brought on a footwear designer to design a sneaker tailored to the taste of young medical professionals. Clove now offers a single model – the “Clove Shoe” – in four different colors.
The Clove team also features Paula Belatti, Director of Business Development, and Jordyn Amoroso, Chief Brand Officer. Paula has a background in healthcare investing and was an early believer in Clove. Her connection to family members in medicine motivated her to make the jump from investing to operating at Clove, where she heads up partnerships, customer experience and logistics. Belatti says, “It’s personal for me – I see the impact that comfortable, purpose-built footwear makes for our customers.” On the flip-side, Jordyn, with her background in social media marketing, has been crucial to identifying the right brand partners, creating buzz around Clove and executing its pre-launch marketing campaign this past Fall. Since February 2018, when Clove first opened its mailing list for potential customers, it has drawn inspiration from leading direct-to-consumer brands. Joe credits Jordyn’s e-commerce – non-healthcare – background as playing a huge role in helping define the brand identity. “I don’t think of Clove as a healthcare brand, it’s a consumer brand that I want to be interested in,” remarks Jordyn.
Slipping sneakers on feet
In May of last year, Clove closed a $1.5M seed funding round from a range of experienced consumer investors including Brand Foundry, Finn Capital Partners and angels with experience founding apparel start-ups – Brian Spaly from Bonobos, for example – to support its launch.
Clove officially launched in November. Aside from digital channels, Clove engaged over 20 influencers – “hospital gatekeepers” – to broaden awareness and build trust within the medical community. Thus far, launch has been hugely successful for Clove – orders have exceeded their ambitious “upside case” demand projections. With this great problem on their hands, the team is razor-focused on ensuring it services orders already made in a high-quality fashion and continues to delight its customers.
Looking to the future, Joe highlights priorities around responding to customer feedback and meeting customers through different channels. Clove plans to use feedback from those already using its sneakers to inform refinements for future production runs. Additionally, Joe notes, “a big thing that medical professionals have in common is where they work”. With that in mind, the team is looking forward to building the platform to partner with hospitals or provider groups and support medical professionals’ needs at scale. There is indeed a lot to look forward to as the Clove team laces up – or rather, slips-on – and steps into the future.