Max Levchin’s Glow nabs $6M to get women pregnant and rethink health insurance

A couple of months ago, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin got a lot of attention for wading into new territory with a fertility app for women (and unabashedly repeating the phrase “cervical mucus” at its demo). Now, he’s got $6 million to make it work.
On Thursday, the company’s app went live in Apple’s App Store(s AAPL) and it announced that Glow had raised about $6 million in a round led by Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz and including several angel investors.  The startup also disclosed more details about Glow First, a non-profit fund couples can choose to join that’s designed to provide a kind of insurance plan for getting pregnant.
glow appThe idea behind the app is to use big data analytics to help women pinpoint the most fertile days in their cycle. As women input information, like the length of their menstrual cycles, basal body temperature, emotions and health-related habits, the app analyzes the data within the context of other user data and known medical correlations to predict when she’s most likely to conceive. It also lets a woman’s partner access the app, to remind her to add more information or just be able to play a more supportive role in the process.
“One of my over-arching professional interests is data and insights from data and how incremental differences can cause major changes for the better,” said Levchin, who is also Glow’s executive chairman. “The overall ambition [of Glow] is to apply the rigor of data science, machine learning and analytics to health – and the cost of health, in particular.”
For now, the app is only available on iOS. But Mike Huang, Glow’s co-founder and CEO, said they’re keen to release an Android(s GOOG) app soon, partly to be able to reach more women in the developing world. For them, the app could be used to help prevent pregnancies and possibly detect reproductive problems like endometriosis.

Growing competition among fertility apps

As we’ve written before, several new startups have trained their attention on fertility in the past year. Ovuline, Kindara and Clue all give women a sleek-looking app for tracking their health data and charting their fertility, with some similarly using big data to predict a woman’s most fertile days. And those are just a few of the many fertility apps available to women.
Still, Glow is a particularly interesting entrant to the space for a few reasons. Not only does Levchin have a proven track record in technology, his name and influence could bring more attention to women’s health and potentially encourage more entrepreneurs to look for opportunities in health technology. The Glow First “insurance” plan also sets the app apart from its peers. The way it works is that each couple can choose to put $50 into the 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 added $1 million of his own money to get the project going.
The goal, he said, is to create an alternative “insurance” plan for couples that will ultimately need fertility treatments, which tend not to be covered by traditional insurance.  Levchin also added that the company plans to reward users who contribute the most data by giving those who use the app most actively bigger shares of the pool if they don’t conceive.
As much as I love the idea behind Glow First I wonder how it will actually work. Even though fertility problems affect millions of people – 7.3 million, according to estimates, or one in eight – when couples are just starting to try to conceive, they likely don’t expect that infertility will affect them. That means couples may not think they need the insurance and would hold off from contributing to the pool immediately. If they decide to add to the pool later, they’ll have to wait even longer for the payout to apply to them.
Levchin, however, is confident that Glow First will not only help some women receive cheaper fertility treatments, it will point the way to the company’s business model.  For now, he said, the focus is on getting data, improving algorithms and “making sure we have a few thousand successful pregnancies.” But over time he believes the company will find a way to provide less expensive fertility treatments (and healthcare treatment in general) through a business model that improves upon traditional healthcare insurance.
“We want to be a well-loved health insurance company,” said Levchin.
Added Huang, “Maybe the only one.”