• Max Levchin’s Glow Closes on $17 Million

    o-GLOW-FERTILITY-APP-facebookGlow calls itself a women’s health and fertility company, but like nearly everything launched by its cofounder, the serial entrepreneur Max Levchin, it has much bigger ambitions.

    For the past year, the startup — with offices in San Francisco and Shanghai — has been focused around an iPhone app for women who are trying to get pregnant. It helps them track their fertility cycles and find optimal days when they might conceive, in exchange for a wide assortment of data that it anonymizes. The app is free but users can also opt-in to a program to which they pay $50 a month, with those who don’t conceive after 10 months receiving their money back, plus a split of all funds contributed by those who do.

    The 21-person company claims it has already helped 25,000 women become pregnant. And it more recently created a post-pregnancy app for expectant mothers to track their progress.

    But Glow isn’t interested in women’s health alone, says Levchin’s cofounder, Mike Huang. Glow plans to tackle a host of other areas where similarly focusing on “prevention” can keep users from costly corrective events later (like the fertility clinic). Toward that end, the company, which raised $6 million in funding at the outset, has just added $17 million in fresh funding led by Formation 8, with help from initial backers Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz. Its idea, broadly: to generate even more data, which Glow sees as good for the apps, good for the broader medical community, and good for employers, too.

    In fact, Glow’s chief (and possibly only) source of revenue is expected to come from enterprises that offer Glow apps as an employee benefit, paying $50 per month to help keep its workforce healthy.

    Asked about obvious privacy concerns around issues like pregnancy, Huang says employers will never know which of its employees are trying to conceive or who hasn’t yet announced that she is expecting. Glow provides employers only with information about how many people have signed up for the service.

    He adds that a small but growing number of companies, including the file storage company Evernote, the onine ticketing service Eventbrite, and the cloud computing company Pivotal, are already customers. The focus now, says Huang, is, “How do we get this to be bigger?”

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  • Homer Is a Good Idea; Now, Will It Work?

    App StoreA week ago, the latest creation to come out of Max Levchin’s R&D lab, HVF, was publicly released. Unfortunately for Levchin, a widely read review suggested the app, called Homer, was “creepily intimate” because it allows users to view other people’s home screens.

    Given that users have to choose to upload their own home screens with Homer and have full control over what apps they share, it’s hard to see how the app is truly intrusive. On the contrary, in an era where an endless supply of apps now compete for attention, Homer can help users discover useful new apps that their friends enjoy. It also comes with more privacy protections than that initial review suggested.

    Homer’s bigger problem, seemingly, is that it wasn’t ready for prime time when it launched. Though some VCs immediately began talking up the iOS app, users weren’t so charitable, giving Homer three out of five stars. Two called it “very buggy,” and a third commented, “Nice concept but can’t even use the app.” Perhaps not surprisingly, HVF says it doesn’t have a timeline for an Android version.

    In an interview earlier this week, Homer’s creators, fellow Stanford grads Elliot Babchick and Jason Riggs, quickly volunteered that the app, which they began working on in April, isn’t perfect. “We’re still working on it full-time,” said Riggs. “There’s still plenty to do, like making it faster and fixing bugs … this is basically a [minimum viable product], and we’re making it better.”

    The question is whether they’ll get another shot from users. Apple’s approval process can take days; it can also take weeks. That’s a lot of time for a buggy app to be out in the wild.

    There’s also a slight risk that Apple will decide it doesn’t like the app after all, especially given the early public impression that it’s somehow meddlesome. Babchick noted that while “someone at Apple did check a box and let us through,” its guidelines are somewhat squishy. “Years ago, the rule was that you weren’t allowed to feature any other app within your app. Since then, the clause has evolved to say that you can’t promote an app unless it’s to a specific set of people for a specific use case.” Apple, he added, “is leaving itself the opportunity to interpret [new apps] how they wish.”

    HVF is a member of Apple’s affiliate program — reason for the team to feel some degree of confidence. In fact, Homer can “technically be making money off apps that we refer people to,” though “we’re not doing that yet,” Babchick says.

    Asked how long it makes sense to give an app a chance, Babchick told me, “We don’t set an arbitrary guideline that we’ll work on [this or that project] for an amount of time and if it doesn’t make it, [we’ll move on]. Once you start seeing solid retention, for a significant period of time, that’s when you know you have a thing. For something that [came out last Friday], we don’t have the answer.”

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