Billed As Rivals, Health Care Payments Startups Peachy and Walnut Join Forces

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

Billed As Rivals, Health Care Payments Startups Peachy and Walnut Join Forces
Photo courtesy of Peachy

When Lex Oiler, co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based health care payments startup Peachy, first met for coffee with Roshan Patel, her counterpart at New York-based Walnut, she says she tried to break the ice by asking, “So—mergers and acquisitions?”

The quip came from the fact that many venture capital investors viewed the two startups as competitors, according to the founders, since both are tackling the complex web of health care payments. Walnut allows patients to pay large medical bills in manageable installments, while Peachy streamlines payment collection while also helping patients maintain and improve their credit scores.

But what may have started as a lighthearted joke turned out to be a serious business proposition. After hashing out the details over months and bringing their teams together via a shared Slack channel, the companies unveiled a partnership earlier this month that will give customers the ability to use Walnut’s financing options when paying a bill through Peachy.

“Health care is so broad—no one company is just going to fix health care and be done with it,” Patel told dot.LA. “Peachy and Walnut basically solve two different parts of the tech stack, and we thought combining actually creates a much more compelling solution for both patients and health care providers.”

Walnut CEO Roshan Patel.

Courtesy of Walnut

Both startups were informed by their founders’ trying experiences with health care payments. Patel, whose parents ran a pharmacy, witnessed their struggle to negotiate paying off an unexpected $5,000 medical bill after his sister got into a car accident. Oiler spent a year chasing a forgotten $144 medical bill that negatively impacted her credit report and made it difficult for her to get approved for a home loan.

“If you harm someone's financial health, you harm their mental health [and] their physical health is impacted,” Oiler said. “Here we are 15 years later and my family, me included, we're still afraid to go to the doctor when something's wrong. Even though I have health insurance, that doesn't really mean anything.”

Two-year-old Walnut—which raised $3.6 million in seed funding last year from the likes of Silicon Valley-based Gradient Ventures and New York-based Supernode Ventures—works with individuals and health care providers alike to help patients manage large bills in smaller increments, with no fees and financing options starting at 0% interest. Peachy, which was also founded in 2020, works closely with providers to make the process of paying a bill as seamless as possible; its platform sends patients bills and payment reminders via text and email, while also allowing them to pay on their phones. The L.A. startup has onboarded nearly a dozen providers to date while in beta testing.

The partnership is one of several in the works for Peachy, which will be announcing more in the coming months designed to address gaps in what Oiler considers a segregated and outmoded health care system. The founder—a self-described anti-capitalist and Medicare-for-all proponent—says she isn’t interested in competing with others when it comes to health care, and is going so far as to refuse funding from insurance companies.

Peachy raised $1.9 million in seed funding in early 2021 led by investors Village Global, City Light Capital and Alumni Ventures, with $110,000 of that amount raised through crowdfunding. When the startup was fishing for more funding last summer, Oiler says she turned down two term sheets worth $2 million apiece due to fundamental disagreements over how the company should be run, and instead opted to collect some $800,000 instead. Peachy plans on fundraising again this spring.

“You put venture funding behind something, and all of a sudden it turns into a numbers game,” according to Oiler. “ I think that we have been really lucky at bringing on investors who trust me and my co-founder [Peachy CTO PJ Santoro] to make very smart, educated decisions based on what's best for the patient.”

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.