PayPal co-founder and all-around Silicon Valley star Max Levchin isn’t really the kind of person you’d expect to hear discussing the intricacies of women’s health and fertility. But there he was Wednesday, on stage at the D11 conference, getting all technical about menstrual cycles and cervical mucus (a phrase he apparently said no less than five times).
That’s because his newest startup, called Glow, wants to help couples conceive by using big data analytics to pinpoint a woman’s most fertile days. As women input information, like the length of their menstrual cycles, basal body temperature, emotions and health-related habits, the app crunches the data within the context of other user data and known medical correlations to predict when she’s most likely to conceive. Down the road, he said, the app could integrate with various sensors to make inputing data even easier. (As he told Om earlier this year, one of his current areas of interest is how sensor data could influence our daily lives.)
With his track record and expertise, the startup clearly has a lot going for it – his name alone could bring needed attention and innovation to women’s health. But he’s entering a very crowded space. Apple’s app store is chock full of apps claiming to help women track their cycles and get pregnant. And, even when it comes to bringing big data to fertility, Glow isn’t the first.
Ovuline, a Cambridge, Mass.-based startup, debuted its fertility app in September, and it similarly uses algorithms and millions of data points to help women identify the best times of the month to conceive. Its most recent version integrates with Fitbits and other health-tracking devices, and it offers women a premium version that lets them connect with fertility experts for personal advice. And it has a pretty healthy head start – so far, it’s been used by 55,000 women, many of which have paid $49.99 for the premium version.
But what I found interesting about Glow is its financial component, Glow First. In addition to the prediction service, the startup created what Levchin called a “mutual assistance program.” Each user can choose to put $50 into a pool and, if at the end of 10 months users are still not pregnant, they get a share of all the money entered into the pool during their first month of trying. Levchin himself said he’s kickstarting the risk pool with $1 million of his own money.
Sure, you could say it’s just a gimmick meant to assure potential customers the company is confident in its ability to get you pregnant in 10 months. But I like that Levchin is putting his money where his mouth is, and that he’s encouraging a community fund among app users. To start, it may just double the amount of money each user contributed, he said. But the idea is to create an alternative “insurance” pool for couples that will ultimately need fertility treatments, which are largely not covered by insurance. Down the line, Levchin suggested that the company may go through the necessary regulatory hurdles to make the program even closer to a true insurance policy.
“The thing that’s been missing for people that cannot do it naturally is data and financial coverage,” he said. “Because it’s this elective procedure bucket that gets swept under the rug, I thought it needed some help.”