PayPal co-founder Max Levchin is on a mission to reduce the cost of healthcare in the United States. To achieve this, he is launching his next startup called Glow and the first segment he’s targeting is the fertility industry. The company has just released its first app, available on iOS, while revealing it has secured $6 million in funding and added new partners to support its cause.
First gracing the stage at the D11 conference in May, Glow is an app that uses data science to understand and predict when a woman is most fertile, maximizing the chance of becoming pregnant without any artificial or medical treatments. In many states in the US, fertility treatments are deemed to be elective and not covered by insurance carriers, so if elected, patients often pay between thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
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Levchin says that Glow isn’t part of the quantified self movement. While technology like the Nike+ Fuelband, Fitbit, or Jawbone UP are useful, they’re for people who are relatively healthy. But they’re not useful when dealing with more unfortunate issues, such as trying to have a child. With his product, the PayPal and Slide founder is looking to create a positive outcome out of a potentially scary one for millions of couples in the US.
Glow aims to help women conceive without treatment
There are two parts to Glow. The first is obviously the mobile application that takes data provided by women and gives them control over their reproductive health. The second element to the company is Glow First, a non-profit fund that is crowdsourced and used to help offset the high cost of fertility treatments.
With the mobile app, women can receive personalized data about their fertility by providing it answers to a few questions. The more input that’s provided, the better chance it can estimate when would be the best day to possibly conceive. As we’re talking to Levchin, he discloses that in no way is Glow to supersede medical advice — it’s a guide that can best estimate, but not guarantee results 100 percent of the time.
The app uses data from not only the individual user, but also from industry estimates, its beta users, and other sources to provide some comparative analysis. Co-founder Mike Huang tells us that a medical advisor is being consulted to best make sure that its information is as useful as possible.
Levchin says that the data is protected and Glow takes the utmost care with its user’s privacy. As it’s dealing with a medical issue, the company has also sought out guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and will be HIPAA compliant, should regulators deem it so. However, so far, the FDA has not offered any scrutiny over Glow.
Data from the app can be exported into a PDF and shared with a user’s OBGYN or physician in a manner that they will understand.
Glow’s expectation is that through compliance with the instructions featured on the app, a woman should conceive a child without needing fertility treatment. However, nothing in life is for certain, so the company has established Glow First, in which participants can put in $50 per month for 10 months into a community pool. After 10 months have passed, the pot is divided equally among those women who didn’t have a natural pregnancy — these funds will go towards making sure that they can afford the necessary treatments.
To help jumpstart this non-profit fund, Levchin has put in $1 million to the Glow First program.
Glow’s app is now available for free on iOS devices. The company is working on an Android version, although no specific date for release has been revealed. The service is also only available in the US.
Funding to run a business
To help the company with its mission, Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, and several strategic angel investors have chipped in $6 million. Levchin says the investment will go toward efforts to scale the business and support the company. Glow is not working on a monetization strategy right now, but will first focus on increasing adoption.
Glow has also earned the support of two known fertility clinics in the US: Shady Grove Fertility in Washington, DC and Pacific Fertility Center of San Francisco, CA.
If you’re working on healthcare, why start with fertility?
Some might be asking why infertility is being targeted by Glow when the company is looking to reduce the cost of healthcare. Levchin says that it’s only the start of what he hopes will be other areas that need assistance. But right now, his new startup is focused on tackling this $5 billion market where it says one in every three women ages 35 to 39 won’t be pregnant a year after trying.
Glow is looking to remain focused on fertility for around the next 18 months. As it begins to see success, it will move towards “smart and adjacent” areas that fit the company’s mission. What those will be specifically remains a mystery.
Reshaping an industry
Glow isn’t the first company seeking to take on the healthcare industry, but it might be one of the most ambitious. Levchin’s experience at PayPal has certainly given him credibility in disrupting an industry. However, when I noted that he was trying to “disrupt” this industry, he discouraged the use of that word saying that it meant something akin to “I like blowing things up because I have a target.” Levchin doesn’t have any interest in blowing things up, but he does think that there are deep entrenched problems out there because participants are okay with the status quo.
This month, Levchin participated in an interview at Mixpanel’s Data Driven Conference, where he hinted that he probably would not have dabbled in games on hindsight, specifically launching Slide, which was his most recent exit as it was acquired by Google in 2010 for $182 million. This makes sense now — he sought to make more of an impact than simply developing social networks.
It’s fascinating to see that both PayPal founders are following through on their moonshot companies. While Levchin is pursuing his cause in healthcare, Elon Musk is seeking to revolutionize the transportation scene, both on the road and in space with Tesla and SpaceX. Disruption is clearly in the PayPal Mafia’s blood.
However, they are trying to make a mark in industries that have already been addressed. In Glow’s case, it is competing against the likes of data, fertility, and healthcare apps out in the market. And adoption of said technology might be difficult as some people might think of conversing about fertility, even to an app, a bit taboo.
With the right data, there’s a good chance that Glow will be able to predict when is the best window of opportunity. However, it’s also quite a gamble as people may not be willing to supply a whole lot of information and there’s no evidence of the service’s efficacy to promote why women should participate.
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