What You Need To Know About Sperm Health, Testing and Freezing: An Interview with Dadi

Fertility is often pigeonholed as a women’s health issue: but data suggests male factor challenges could account for 40–50% of infertility, and it affects approximately 7% of all men. We spoke to Tom Smith, the founder and CEO of Dadi, a New York based startup that provides at-home sperm freezing kits that can be ordered online.


Sperm testing or freezing used to mean a trip to a clinic. But nowadays at the click of a button a discreet, convenient kit can land on your doorstep.


ELANZA Wellness's Brittany Hawkins spoke to Tom Smith, founder of an at-home sperm testing and freezing company, about making these processes more affordable, why he felt this was a necessary solution and what their kit actually entails. They also discussed common causes of male infertility and what to watch out for, as well as what he believes most needs changing or innovating in reproductive healthcare to better meet people's family building goals.


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Read the Interview Transcript:


Brittany Hawkins

Thank you for joining us today!


Tom Smith

Thank you so much I'm excited to be here.


Brittany Hawkins

So I am excited because we're going to talk a little bit about sperm freezing and I think it would be great to just start us off - why don't you tell us a little bit about Dadi and what you built?


Tom Smith

Yeah, so Dadi was founded in January 2019. So we've been operational for two years. We are a male fertility company. So what that means is we specialize in male fertility testing, and long term or start sperm storage. The key differentiator between us and the existing industry, which has been around for 40 years, is we focus on an at home collection. So we actually mail you a kit that gets delivered to your home, in the comfort and security your own home, you can masturbate into our cup, then ship your sperm deposit back to our lab. And within 24 hours, you receive a complete fertility report. And then we also give you a year of storage for free.


I think one of the other big differentiators around with the accessibility of being able to do it at home, is we're also a 10th of the price of the existing industry. So for everything I described, on the fertility report, the year of storage, the kit, the shipping everything, it's $199. And if you went to a traditional sperm bank, for example, you'd likely pay $1,500 to $2,000. So the accessibility and the price was two major things that we looked into.


Brittany Hawkins

Okay, Tom, I have to ask you, what is your founder story? How and why did you start this company?


Tom Smith

Yeah, I mean, my my background is not on the medical side. You know, I actually started in on the technology side of things, starting some software companies, and, you know, being involved with companies like Apple. But really, it was when a friend of mine was quite suddenly diagnosed with cancer, that I got to first experience and learn about the male fertility industry. And ultimately, from that first introduction, we just saw a huge opportunity to modernise a 40 year old industry, which, you know, quite frankly, really wasn't innovating or looking to adapt its processes or its price points, to kind of meet a modern environment, or marketplace. So it was really through that lens. And then as we've been investing into the space, you know, we see an increased need to actually have the same view of looking at all aspects of the utility stack and ultimately determining, you know, what can be modernised what could be advanced in this very, very important space.


You know, today, one in seven couples struggle with infertility. What that means specifically is that those individuals, after a year of trying to conceive are unable to, which is actually the definition of infertility.

And when those individuals go to a Fertility Centre, and both get tested, which is typically the next step, what you quickly discover is that 33% of the time the root cause of that infertility was they call female factor, so attributed to the woman 33% of the time, it's male factor, so attributed to the man, and then it's 33% unknown. So when we were investigating this space, we were blown away by that statistic specifically, because, you know, if you if you take a poll of society, and you say, is infertility, a male or female related issue, it's almost exclusively said to be a female related issue, when in reality, it takes to to to create a life and it's really the emphasis is on both the man and a woman. So along with the accessibility and the price points, we invest a lot of time and energy in educating and helping to normalise the conversation around reproductive health.

couple standing in kitchen with tea

Brittany Hawkins

I'm so glad you brought up some of those numbers, I think they're important to start getting out there. Another sort of question I have around that is often you know, this is sort of the burden of the female, supposedly in the relationship, and I'm sure where I'd be interested to hear what you think the emotional struggles are from, from men across the, you know, dealing with infertility.


Tom Smith

Yeah, I mean, it's really interesting in in family planning discussions, typically, the woman is the decision maker, and really drives a lot of the narrative forward. And I think one of the things that we've really been focused on and trying to advance in this industry, is the idea of listening and addressing the male factor first. So let me kind of explain that or unpack that, you know, in a scenario where a couple is having an issue conceiving, it's a very stressful time. Typically, they don't know what the problem is, they both wonder whether it's me or is it you know, my partner, and when you look at the ways of diagnosing or the ways of addressing which partner is ultimately the root cause of the infertility issue, the female side is expensive, invasive, time consuming, really all of the all of the kind of negatives or the difficult parts of the experience on the male side. Albeit, you know, it's never, it's never enjoyable to execute a medical service, at a very minimum, you can, you can do it rapidly, and you could do it easily at home.


So, between couples when they're experiencing these issues, we are really a strong proponent of addressing and diagnosing the male side first, and then looking to understand what happens. And I think that's just a larger part of the conversation that should be happening between couples, when they first start experiencing these issues.


Brittany Hawkins

So what are the causes of male factor infertility?

man making healthy salad

Tom Smith

There's a lot of research on this, and I think increasingly so more. But there's no one specific culprit. I mean, ultimately, when you look at lifestyle habits, from health, to diet, to exercise, all of those things directly impact one's fertility. When you look at kind of the chemical exposures and the environmental factors that people ultimately undergo these days, all of those things impact male fertility. And then I think that kind of highest order element and something that really is never discussed or even understood, is this idea that just like how women have a biological clock, you know, in the case of the female side, there's obviously a cliff, when menopause begins where there's there's no ability on the male side, they have we have our own version of a biological clock, where ultimately male fertility levels tend to peak around 28 or 29 [years old]. And then there's a fairly gradual decline from there.


Previously, this maybe wasn't so much of a problem when couples were having children in their mid to late 20s. But every single year, the average age of conceiving between a couple goes up. And if you think about the the kind of vector in the direction that we're heading to, on a societal level, these kind of behaviours are only getting worse. So just like the environmental factors that are affecting it, the sperm counts declining with age is a significant driver of these issues, after 30.


Brittany Hawkins

So maybe you can tell us a little bit more about what the what the time frame is that a man would consider sperm freezing, especially in light of the decline, both in quantity and quality?


Tom Smith

Yeah, I mean, I think the you know that the message that's very important to us is we're not a fear based organisation. So we're certainly not here to try to motivate individuals to take proactive steps out of fear. Although if you do reference some of the other statistics, again, like some of these things would would be fairly shocking one being an example that one in 10, men are actually naturally infertile. And what that means in practice is that your ejaculate or your semen could look completely normal to the naked eye. But when examined under the microscope, there really might not be any sperm or no alive sperm. So there are a number of reasons that way that would motivate.

men sitting on mountain talking

But I think for us, ultimately, it's about understanding one's optionality. Given the importance of procreation on a kind of deep, humanistic level. It seems kind of counterintuitive or logical to me that, given that there's all this mounting pressure, an individual at a certain age, call it 25 to 31, getting a physical or getting the doctor to examine different different aspects of their their health. They're not also examining their level of fertility and given the accessibility and the ease of completion.


You know, the behaviour we're really trying to underline is, if in the future, you have a desire to start a family one day at a minimum I'm just getting get checked, you know, complete a kit, understand by by understand your current levels based off your fertility report.

And then in the case of Dadi, we do provide a year of free storage, but there's no there's no charge to to unsubscribe from that service. And we really do that to allow individuals the option to continue to store in the event that there is something concerning or if they just want to do it from an insurance standpoint.


Brittany Hawkins

So on that note, maybe you can give us a little bit more of a description as to what is not egg freezing sperm freezing really entails. And it'd be just great to see kind of what the process is, and, and how, when, when someone might use it.


Tom Smith

Sure. I don't know how technical you want to get, but I'll kind of go for it. You know, ultimately, after you collect into the cup, you screw the lid on, we actually nest a preservative on the inside of the kit. So the customer will then hit a button on the lid, which releases a preserve into the chamber with your semen. And then they place back in the kit. The kit itself is actually a pretty interesting piece of technology. What we've encased inside of this little briefcase is a number of insulation components and specialised thermal components that actually maintain a thermal temperature necessary for the transportation back to the lab. So it's not a dumb box, it's actually a little bit of a smart box. And what that allows us to do is serve as customers in every state all times of the year. So we have customers that send us kits in the middle of February in New Jersey, or in the middle of summer in Arizona.


And our little Dadi kit itself is able to maintain that temperature, that thermal range for the entire journey back to the lab. When the kid gets to the lab, there's a tremendous amount of of scanning and paperwork associated with cataloguing the kid and taking all the appropriate documentation. And then when it's getting ready to be processed, what happens is you take the sperm deposit, you then pour it into basically a centrifuge, which will spin it down separating unwanted elements from the wanton elements, and it actually pelletizes the sperm. So it makes a little ball of it, you then re-suspend it in the media, and you prepare most of it for storage, but you aliquot a small amount of it onto a slide. And then it goes through a processing evaluation process to determine your sperm count and your motility, which is the number that are alive and moving your volume and then finally your pre freeze modal count, which is the number of alive sperm that we're preparing for storage.


Brittany Hawkins

And then how would someone go about using them?


Tom Smith

Yep. So privacy and, and security is really at the basis of everything to do with our service and our brand. So we do have a set of steps necessary for utilising your deposit, what they typically consist of, is ensuring that there's a physician on the other end, who's well informed as to the status of the fertility and the case, who can instruct the couple as to do with with next steps. And then we actually also have implemented a digital notary process. So it's only about a two minute process, but you actually get on a video chat with a digital notary, which confirms certain details. And then we record that and stored in our database. And this is all to both protect the customer because the importance of what it is that we're storing is pretty fundamental.


You know, it's like one thing that we talk about a lot in this industry of kind of direct to consumer, if you want to call it that, is there's a big difference between urine, blood, stool and saliva and semen. You know, semen, you have to protect it and keep it alive so that one day people can make people with it. So the set of responsibilities involved in that are significantly higher order than than other biological matters.


Brittany Hawkins

Yes, it is a lot easier than egg freezing!


Tom Smith

This definitely is, yeah, definitely.


Brittany Hawkins

So what percentage of people have come back to use them?


Tom Smith

It's a pretty small percentage. You know, I think what you find in our space is you need time to eclipse before people begin to really plan to utilise, but we certainly have had a number of customers who have organised a use of their deposit. But I think we'd find that in the next few years, we'll start seeing the rate of usage increase strictly because you know, we are a long term storage solution. So in a lot of cases, we actually have individuals that pre buy years of storage, for example. So someone might buy 10 years of storage to ensure that for the next 10 years, it's safely stored and when they're ready to use it. It's always available to them to attempt to fertilize.

man in mask in front of train

Brittany Hawkins

And do you? Have you seen that a jump in users and freezers over the pandemic? Has there been a shift? And if so, why?


Tom Smith

Yeah, I mean, the pandemics really interesting. I mean, I think like a number of other have a number of their services and businesses, there's kind of positives and negatives to the fundamental. I mean, I think one of the things that we weren't expecting and certainly didn't plan for, but in the event that society shuts down, like in the pandemic, no problem, banks shut down. And hospitals shut down and a number of other services that typically would address the the vast majority of customers in the space shut down. So by offering a at home or a sheltered in place solution, especially one that's as rapid as the the operational process that we run, I think was something that a lot of people began to understand the attractiveness of.


So we've certainly seen a significant uptick in demand and interest as a result of this strictly because infrastructure had shut down. And in a lot of cases, we were the the only operating service in town. I think the other side of it, which is also really interesting is, you know, I think the pandemic has helped to kind of put priorities into perspective for a lot of individuals. And it's, it's been a kind of a time where people evaluate their choices, you know, do you like where you live and who you live with and the stuff around you. And, you know, in that kind of prepper mentality, I think we've also seen a number of people begin to take more proactive steps, understanding the fact that the future is fairly uncertain. And given the importance of procreation for a lot of individuals taking proactive steps, is fairly fundamental. We've also seen a shift in that behaviour as well.


Brittany Hawkins

So speaking of taking proactive steps, let's say that someone is going to freeze their sperm is, Are there certain steps you would recommend they take in order to prepare their body or prepare them for the best possible outcome before they do decide to freeze?


Tom Smith

Yeah, I mean, I think there's, there's certainly, you know, I think the basis of all this has helped. So the number one thing that you can ultimately do before preparing to test in store is to, to ensure that your baseline health is as maximised as possible. So that's, you know, regular diet and exercise and all of the normal behaviours, there are certain supplements that you can take that can also help to improve your overall positioning and levels. But I think the the primary message for us would be what's most important first is to understand where you stand. And that really can come six months after implementing a kind of a healthy lifestyle habit routine. But it also can happen almost immediately.


And what we've tried to do from a price point standpoint, and operational standpoint is allow people the ability to test multiple times to understand how their fertility shifts over time. And that behaviour, we also see internally, where individuals will test their sperm, let's say in January, and then order another kit in June and complete the same process. So I think health, health and wellness is certainly at the centre of all of it. But again, the main behaviour here is get yourself tested to understand if you don't want to store you don't have to, but at the baseline establish what your level of fertility is.

man on laptop at home

Brittany Hawkins

I think we're running out of time here. But my last question is if there were sort of like three things that you envision, or that you hope to help shift in terms of mission for Dadi, what would they be?


Tom Smith

Three things, I would say the really the primary thing and it's, it's really underlines our mission at Dadi, which is to normalise the conversation around reproductive health. You know, initially it was to normalise the conversation around male reproductive health. But what we really discovered is that there's no separating the two. It takes to to understand one's optionality and then begin taking proactive steps in a lot of cases. So I think the big desire for us internally is for the amount of attention and resource and education that has been placed on the female side really gets echoed on the male side as well.


Just given the importance that it takes to so I think that would be our kind of primary hope and goal and something as an organisation we're really striving to, to to achieve I guess the second thing. Maybe we cap it at two, because I can't quite think of three. But you know, we looked at Dadi on a first principles basis. So we took a look at what's involved on an operational and a cost level in testing and storing your sperm, especially with the shipping model, and quickly discovered that the price points that existed in this industry had unbelievable margins, you know, almost similar talk to a lot of healthcare, in this country, really disproportionately high margins. And what we worked really hard at doing is ensuring that we had a really strong viable business, but at the same time, an order of magnitude more affordable and accessible price points. And we look at other aspects of the fertility, stock and fertility services and see very similar behaviours.


So we certainly as an organisation have a desire to continue to develop and to grow into other opportunities. But I also just wish that more companies would enter into the space with that same mentality with where the goal is increasing accessibility and access through price and high quality services, rather than, you know, trying to do the same old structure of charging people 10s of 1000s of dollars to engage. So that would be probably the second hope.


Brittany Hawkins

I love that. I think we we definitely align on both fronts. So I'm excited about what you guys are doing. And yeah, I think if there's any further questions, I know that this is a hot topic at the moment. So potentially, we can have you answer any Q&A inside the ELANZA community. So anyone please gather your questions, and Tom will be available for answers. So thank you so much, Tom. I loved having you. And, yeah, enjoy your weekend.


Tom Smith

You as well. Thanks for thanks for taking the time and taking the interest, and thanks a lot.


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Tom Smith is cofounder of Dadi, the temperature-controlled at-home fertility test and sperm collection kit. If you wish to purchase a Dadi kit, enter code ELANZA at checkout to receive $25 off your order.




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