Glow: Where Data Meets Baby-Making

You use your phone to hail rides, to order food, to fact-check the outlandish claims your friends make during dinner conversations… can your phone also help you get pregnant?

Glow, founded by Max Levchin (co-founder of Paypal) in 2014 with the mission of “providing accurate and essential education around women’s health,” has grown into a 4-app ecosystem (Eve, Glow, Glow Nurture, Glow Baby Glow) with 10 million community members actively sharing their (very) personal reproductive health data. Glow’s product suite is designed to support women throughout different phases of life – while the Eve app is intended for sexually active women who want to manage periods, birth control, and avoid pregnancy, the more well-known Glow Fertility Program reports having helped over 500,000 women get pregnant and realize their dreams of starting a family. With millions of women inputting data on menstrual periods, doctor visits, sleep habits, sexual activity, and birth control (in addition to over 35 additional basal health data points), Glow is able to “anonymize” and analyze this information to better understand and predict ovulation patterns in a manner that could drastically change the face of female healthcare.

How it works

Glow Fertility is segmented into a direct-to-consumer program and a separate employee benefits program. The consumer product can be used throughout a woman’s journey from when she first decides she wants to start a family through early days of motherhood. Glow predicts ovulation patterns and fertility probability based on user data inputs and supports women with services such as egg freezing and IVF. In addition to helping clients navigate the process of getting pregnant, Glow also facilitates access to leading healthcare providers (with whom the Glow team negotiates discounts to reduce the financial burden of historically expensive fertility treatments). The platform also provides users with access to an online community where members can share stories and engage with others who might be encountering similar challenges getting pregnant. On the employer side, the Glow Fertility Program helps businesses establish themselves as family-friendly places to work that can attract and retain top female talent. The program also aims to lower overall costs for care (through its negotiated contracts) – thereby making employers happy – and to increase the rate (and speed) at which women return to the workforce after starting a family.

Value Capture

Although Glow does not publicly share the full details behind it’s business model, the firm charges businesses for the employee benefits program, and is also able to charge a fee for facilitating access to services from preferred healthcare providers. Glow has also established partnerships with research organizations such as the National Institute of Health to create better models for predicting probability of pregnancy (and allegedly charges those partners for access to its data). Glow also offers women personalized consultations through its direct-to-consumer channel, offering one free session before converting to a charge for service model.

Competitive Environment

With fertility and other “FemTech” start-ups on the rise (and heavily backed by Venture Capital money), there is no shortage of apps trying to get a slice of the massive female healthcare market. The US market for fertility services alone is expected to reach $4.5 billion by 2022 ($21.6 billion globally), and one of every eight American couples struggle with getting pregnant or sustaining pregnancy according to the CDC.  Ovia, Clue, and Natural Cycles are just three of the many competitors in the race for what could become a winner takes all market.

Risks

There are significant risks to Glow’s business model, especially in the wake of Facebook-gate and increasing global concerns about data privacy. In 2016, a Consumer Reports’ team indicated it could link Glow app users’ personal information (including names, birth dates, and approximate location) to miscarriage and abortion history and self-reported sexual activity logs. Although Glow management appears to have taken the issue seriously and has made moves to encourage similar missteps, it’s not difficult to imagine the potential damage that could result from failing to protect the privacy of the online community. Glow and its competitors should ensure that the hyper-sensitive information community members are logging in the apps is properly secured and should maintain sufficient internal controls for evaluating how this data is monetized as the business model and FemTech market evolves.

Sources:

https://medium.com/@GlowHQ/5-things-data-can-teach-you-about-infertility-a0ab8d4ef314

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/glow–national-institute-of-health-collaborate-to-advance-fertility-model-300449947.html

https://www.startup-buzz.com/critical-privacy-issues-found-glow-fertility-tracker-app/

http://fortune.com/2015/08/05/uber-of-fertility/

https://techcrunch.com/2016/07/30/serious-privacy-flaws-discovered-in-glow-fertility-tracker-app/

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1 thought on “Glow: Where Data Meets Baby-Making

  1. Thank you for the post CNH. I am definitely a fan of apps that empower individuals to better understand their bodies so this sounds great. Beyond the risk you have outlined regarding data, I wonder to what extent Glow is subject to lawsuits. I previously worked for a hospital group and Obstetrics & Gynaecology was one of the highest risk specialities when it came to medico-legal claims. Particularly in the case of getting pregnant, patients understandably end up incredibly emotionally involved. I wonder if there are instances where any of the Eve / Glow users have had unintended consequences based on the app data, e.g. falling pregnant at a time when the app had indicated you are not in the fertility window, or on the flip side, failing to get pregnant even when following the ovulation schedule to the tee. While I’m Glow’s terms and conditions would protect them from significant financial downside, could the brand be tarnished by the negative experiences of a few vocal users? I wonder what mechanisms they have in place to manage the balance between communicating to their users that they are not 100% fail safe but doing so in a way that does not undermine their credibility.

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