Glow announces new plan to help your employer get you pregnant

By James Robinson , written on February 20, 2014

From The News Desk

For startups operating on a premium model with a service to sell, a workplace partnership is an attractive idea. It links the company with a corporate advocate and allows it direct access to a customer base that can’t go anywhere. And with the market for high-skilled labor so tight, companies are looking out for new benefits and opportunities to offer to be more attractive for new talent.

Last week, it was Berkeley food startup Tomato Sherpa announcing new partners like LinkedIn and IDEO. Today - in a perhaps strange synergy - it’s Glow, the women’s reproductive health app and brainchild of PayPal co-founder and stats whiz Max Levchin, linking up with Evernote, Domo and Eventbrite to offer its service.

Glow launched in August last year, an attempt to disrupt the high cost of infertility treatments and an aid for the millions of American women trying to get pregnant each year. It has a unique business model. It works as both a free quantified-self app for women to track their health and as a form of infertility medical insurance. Users that sign up for Glow First pay $50 for ten months and if they don’t get pregnant, the resulting pool of money covers their IVF. Through this, the company has the end goal of making the world’s first crowdsourced baby.

In this new partnership, Evernote, Domo and Eventbrite will cover the $50 each month for employees to use Glow First, including for the spouses of male employees. Apparently, more partnership announcements are coming.

“These did not require long negotiations,” Glow CEO Mike Huang says. “Companies saw an opportunity to help them with employee retention and recruitment and went for it.”

When Huang outlines it all to me, my response is I think in line with what anyone’s would be. Isn’t this an awkward partnership? In some less enlightened workplaces, using an employee benefit that singles a woman out as looking to have a child could be held against them. There’s few, if any, more personal and intimate processes a person can go through and I imagine there to be some hesitancy in making the workplace more involved in that.

Privacy concerns were the most important concern in building out this plan, Huang says. The app will now have an employee sign up option built into it, with people at the qualifying companies proving their employment to Glow directly through an email verification or supplying a photo of a pay stub. “Employers can’t come and say, ‘ooh, so and so is using it,’” he says. “We will only give them macro level information about how many people at the company are using Glow.”

The companies will do the heavy lifting in communicating to employees about Glow, but Glow will be on hand for the more delicate queries about using the service that people don’t want to turn to their human resources rep for.

Huang waxes lyrical about how Glow’s new partners get to provide a progressive new benefit to their workers - which is true - but the move comes with big upside for it as well. With a direct line into the workplace and companies willing to subsidize the cost of premium customers, it is setting itself up to onboard new paid users at a good clip, which then has a positive feedback loop for Glow.

The app’s data based approach to reproductive health means that as the product scales and the company has access to more information it can improve as a service. “Max [Levchin] and I, we’ve known each other a long time, and we share the same philosophy that the hardest problems you can solve with data,” Huang says. Information is the fuel Glow runs on.

With this new move Glow has started to walk an even finer line between being an app with a medical focus and presenting itself as a health insurance company. The press materials read in part like a Kaiser Permanente pamphlet, with talk of $0 out of pocket costs. Huang denies this, then walks his language back a little. “Our goal is to leverage data science to attack the cost of healthcare. We’re not a health insurance company. But what we’re doing does mimic health insurance. Are we dabbling? Absolutely,” he says.

Huang won’t share any numbers about Glow or Glow First’s user numbers, past admitting that in six months the app has resulted in “thousands” of pregnancies. Glow’s continued existence rests upon a calculation that the app is good enough for the many people paying in to support the infertility treatment of the few don’t get pregnant. If the company had internal doubts, expanding into workplaces all with hundreds of employees would be an odd move. But six months into its company history, Glow is still three months away from its most telling mark.

[adapted by Brad Jonas from thinkstock for Pando]