When Mike Huang and his wife were having difficulties conceiving a child, they didn’t know where to turn. Infertility is an issue affecting roughly 1 in 8 couples according to the National Infertility Association, yet most of the programs that offered assistance were costly, often considered elective treatments. What’s worse, the tools that track the techniques used to improve chances of conception–from tracking ovulation to assuming certain positions–were antiquated at best. “I was writing all this stuff down on a piece of paper,” Huang told Fast Company with an air of disbelief.
Huang, formerly of Slide and Google, knew this was a problem worth solving, and today, he launched his solution: Glow. Founded along with PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, Glow is an iPhone app designed to “crunch the data [that] better informs women of their fertility window.” By tracking data from its users and community, and offering personalized recommendations and statistics, the founders of Glow believe they’ve built a smarter process for assisting women and couples attempting to conceive children. But perhaps more compelling than the company’s app is its Glow First service, a novel, pay-it-forward-type alternative to traditional health care.
First, the Glow app. When I sit down with Huang and Levchin over omelets and coffee, the two explained that “machine learning and data science” can better help people throughout the fertility process. The app itself is simple. As one begins the fertility process, Glow helps track your progress through a sharp user interface. You input your data manually into the service, and Glow offers guidance on the process.
Levchin says the manual data entry isn’t ideal, and promises that it will become more streamlined and perhaps automated in the future, as wearable devices that measure body temperature and other metrics become less expensive and more mainstream. (He also stresses the stringent privacy measures put in place, contending his background in the financial services space made the program more secure than protecting your credit card information.)
Still, while it’s a compelling product going after what Levchin says is a “$5 billion” infertility market. It’s also not alone. There are a number of services like Kindara that offer analytics and advice to help aid in conception. But with a talented team and $6 million in funding from Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz, it’s at least refreshing to see a startup focus on an actual problem–as opposed to the everyday annoyances that Silicon Valley companies are often targeting like laundry (see: Prim). And longer term, Huang and Levchin see opportunity to extend the data tracking experience for families, post-pregnancy.
But perhaps most interesting is Glow First, a non-profit fund that the founders say is a more modern, almost altruistic take on traditional health care insurance. It’s designed to “offset the high cost of fertility treatments,” if Glow’s process does not work. The idea is that those attempting to conceive using the Glow app would pay $50 each month for 10 months into a pool. If attempts were unsuccessful by the end of that period, then participants would gain access to that pool of funds to assistant in further fertility treatment. For those who were successful, they’d essentially be donating their funds over that period for the greater good–in this case, those women or couples who were less fortunate in their attempts.
Levchin, who first unveiled the service several months ago at the D conference, has personally contributed $1 million to jump-start the Glow First fund.