Max Levchin wants to get you pregnant

August 8, 2013: 12:06 PM ET

Glow, a fertility app, is linked to a nonprofit fund to help women get IVF.

Levchin is ready to lend a helping app.

Levchin is ready to lend a helping app.

FORTUNE -- The most interesting thing about Max Levchin's new venture to help women get pregnant is Glow First. It's a nonprofit fund offered as a premium service for the mobile app. If Glow is the mobile application that collects copious amounts of information about a prospective mother's reproductive health to help her get pregnant naturally, Glow First promises to help women pay for the science when nature doesn't work on its own.

Or, as Levchin said during a recent visit to Fortune's New York offices, it's an "opt-in mutual health financial product." Yeah. That. It's a truly novel idea.

Levchin, who founded both PayPal (EBAY) and Slide, has teamed with former Google (GOOG) executive Mike Huang to launch Glow, a fertility app that, they believe, goes a step beyond apps available to consumers today. They hope to be able to amass enough data about women's menstrual cycles, sexual behavior, mood, and diet that they can help any woman know exactly when to conceive, warn her about early problems like potential endometriosis, and over time, promote better health care for women in general by collecting large amounts of information that hasn't been collected before.

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That's the idea that has drawn attention and investors: On August 8, Glow announced $6 million in funding from Founders' Fund and Andreessen Horowitz.

But roughly 11% of women aged 15-44 have trouble getting pregnant, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). And insurance coverage for infertility treatments is spotty at best in the U.S. It can get expensive fast: One round of in vitro fertilization can cost $12,000-$15,000. So Levchin and Huang have set up Glow First as a very simple insurance product to help offset that cost.

Here's how it works: Women planning to conceive can apply to sign up for the program. Once accepted they agree to pay $50 per month for 10 months -- and to keep an above-average amount of engagement on the Glow app, which invites users to track health-related signals every day. These payments will enter a pool along with payments from other women who signed up at the same time. Levchin and Huang are betting that most couples will conceive naturally within the 10-month time frame, and their economic contributions will count as tax-deductible donations to the pool. After 10 months, the pool will be split among any women who aren't yet pregnant to be used toward medical intervention. (You don't just walk with the cash; Glow First will pay your infertility clinic once you submit proof of initial screening.)

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Of course, it'll be a great recruitment tool for the company; the more data women enter about their reproductive cycles -- and Glow gets personal: It asks about the sexual positions couples use while attempting to conceive, for example -- the better Glow will work as Levchin, Huang, and the team apply machine-learning to the information to develop a deeper understanding of how to advise future users on how and when to conceive.

For any individual who signs up, there will be a bit of luck involved; the size of a pool will depend on the number of folks who sign up -- and if more folks have trouble conceiving in a particular pool, there will be less money available to split among them at the end of the period. But Levchin, a big data disciple, says that as it scales up, the program will offer more benefit to participants -- and it will pay for itself.

In the interim, he has made a million-dollar donation to help ensure that the earliest participants will still get some financial help beyond their individual contributions if they have trouble conceiving. And in the case that they do, they'll have the rich karmic reward inherent in helping those less fortunate.

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About This Author
Jessi Hempel
Jessi Hempel
Senior Writer, Fortune

Jessi Hempel is a New York-based technology writer for Fortune. She has written extensively about digital media, online advertising and social networking. Before joining Fortune in July 2007, Hempel worked at BusinessWeek and most recently served as their innovation department editor. Hempel is a graduate of Brown University and received a Masters in Journalism from The University of California at Berkeley.

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