Umang Sota (MBA ’21) talks with Khaled Kteily (HKS MPP ’16) about his male fertility start-up Legacy.
There are few things in life that are more precious than having a family and having children. Of course, having children is important for the continuation of the human race. But on a personal level, for people who want or have children, children add meaning to and change parents’ lives in ways they have never imagined. The selfless love, the baby steps of evolution and the joy of leaving one’s legacy for the next generation are the most fulfilling for most parents.
However, kids are not necessarily on most people’s agenda while they are working to get their next promotion, fund-raising for their startup or studying in business school.
The average age of first-time mothers has consistently increased over the years from 24.5 years to now 27 years and even 29.9 years in some countries. The numbers for men look equally grim: the average age of first-time fathers has increased from 27.4 years to 30.9 years, per a report from Stanford University.
Older parenthood brings its own set of challenges. Infertility, defined as the inability to become pregnant after at least a year of trying to conceive, has been deemed as a global public health issue by the World Health Organization. WHO has calculated that infertility affects over 10% of women when considering women who have unsuccessfully tried to conceive and who have remained in a stable relationship for five years or more.
Historically, fertility and its challenges have been ascribed to women. So, while the market for female contraception and fertility solutions is as old as the 1960s, the area for men has been largely unexplored.
Khaled Kteily (HKS MPP ’16), Founder and CEO of a male fertility start-up Legacy, states, “Contrary to popular belief, men have biological clocks, too.” And various researchers agree. Studies have shown that semen quantity peaks between the ages of 30 and 35. In addition, sperm motility (i.e., the movement and swimming of sperm) reduces by as much as 54% from men in the ages 30 to 35 to men over the age of 55.
Kteily further explains, “It takes two to make a baby. And so, if we focus on only female fertility treatments, we are sort of reducing our odds of success by half.”
With increasing awareness and new technologies, there is an opportunity to address the gaps in male fertility diagnoses and solutions. The male infertility market is predicted to be worth $2.5 billion (10% of the global fertility market of $25 billion) per CB Insights’ industry consensus.
Kteily tells me, “It all became real for me when I was in a personal accident that could have impacted my ability to have kids. And when I looked around for some options, all I found were some dingy clinics with no thought for convenience, customer experience and sense of safety. So, I decided to leave my job as a consultant and create a solution.”
The current market for male fertility includes assessment, consultation, sperm freezing and actual treatments. Kteily further explains, “I decided to focus on the early assessment and sperm freezing because I believe the prevention route can have the biggest impact.” Legacy has used the power of modern internet and reliable logistics to change a market that hasn’t seen much innovation in decades. Legacy offers its men an ability to get a fertility analysis and/or long-term cryogenic storage of the sperm for future usage by submitting their sample conveniently and discreetly using an at-home kit sent by Legacy.
By innovating on the business model, Legacy is able to drastically reduce the market price points from the current $1000 to $195 for initial assessment and from $500 to $145 per month for storage. Kteily shares, “I didn’t want this to be a luxury for the rich. I wanted to democratize it as everyone deserves a chance to have children.”
Jeff Bezos has famously said, “Customers will always want lower prices.” While it is generally true, I feel in industries like these, there may be heightened concerns about privacy, safety and, even most importantly, reliability. People wouldn’t want to use a mismatched sperm sample when they actually reproduce.
Legacy, in Kteily’s words, “takes this very seriously, is FDA-registered and has a sophisticated Digital Custody Management system.” Kteily adds, “We don’t work on ‘move fast and break things’ philosophy. We have taken our time to roll out services in the U.S. and are expanding very thoughtfully.”
Legacy’s business model is focused on giving a powerful user experience but at the backend, they are spending time on building a robust value chain. They do stringent due diligence to find credible partners for access to world-class cryogenic facilities.
On the other hand, the demand side presents a different set of challenges. We know there is a need but as Kteily says “Men haven’t reached a stage where they think about this issue with the same sensibility as women or even think it is their responsibility. Men, usually, just laugh it off.” Reading from these signs, Legacy takes a different Go-To-Market approach. The target customer segment for them is not men but the women in men’s lives. It solves a big initial problem for education and receptiveness. Generally, women think about this a lot earlier and with much more maturity. Some of the channels used by Legacy include female fertility companies, employee benefit providers and hospitals or clinics.
Kteily is optimistic and sees a dynamic shift in the future where the initial analysis and sperm freezing will become largely direct-to-consumer. Kteily believes “With increased awareness, sperm assessment and freezing will be like a regular part of growing up. It will be just another milestone like going to college. It would be an ideal 25th birthday gift.”
And who knows what the new advancements would bring? Perhaps one-day ectogenesis (artificial womb) will be a reality, making pregnancy optional. It will be interesting to see how some of these disruptions will change human behavior and life altogether.
As for Kteily, Legacy is being well-received across investors and customers alike. Since its beginning at the Harvard Innovation lab in 2018, Legacy has raised successful seed ($1.5 million) and early-stage ($3.5 million) investments from the likes of Bain Capital, Y-combinator and others, and has provided its services to thousands of men across the U.S.
Umang Sota (MBA ’21) is originally from India and has worked in product and business development roles in the B2B technology space across Asia and Europe. Prior to joining HBS, Umang was the Global Head of Product for Tata Communications’ Cloud & Data Center Services based out of London. In addition to technology, she is passionate about early education and has taken on active leadership roles in projects around education for the last 10+ years across India, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.