At 28, Lauren Makler was diagnosed with a rare abdominal disease that would likely require multiple surgeries and could potentially impact her fertility. Because so little was known about the disease, doctors weren’t sure if freezing her eggs would be safe, so they advised against it. But the Los Angeles resident had always dreamed of having a family, so her sister offered to freeze and donate her own. Before she said yes, Makler wanted to explore all her options. She found the egg donation industry “very transactional and impersonal, and honestly icky for everyone involved.” For example, ads used language like, "Want to go to Paris this summer? Donate your eggs every three months!” Ultimately, she took her sister up on the offer.
“I felt very strongly that [access to reproductive technology] was something everybody deserves to have,” Makler tells Bustle. “Not just somebody who had fertility benefits because they worked at a big tech company, or just somebody whose parents would pay $20,000.” At the time, Makler was serving as Uber Health’s head of strategy in San Francisco. In 2021, she quit her job and welcomed her daughter (as it turned out, she didn’t need her sister’s eggs). The following year, she co-founded Cofertility with Arielle Spiegel and Halle Tecco.
The health startup offers two programs: You can opt to freeze and store your eggs for five years, which costs $11,000 in New York City (Cofertility’s prices range based on location. The New York figure is nearly $5,000 less than the city’s average cost for a single cycle, and you can pay in multiple installments); or, if you qualify, it’s completely free to freeze and store your eggs — as long as you donate half to prospective parents in need.
Donors fill out profiles to showcase their personality, in addition to the standard medical history and description of physical traits. “We ask questions like, ‘If you could invite three people to dinner, who would it be and why?’” Makler says. Donors and recipients can choose between disclosed or undisclosed matches (the majority select the former). Many opt to connect with each other over Zoom to see if they click and want to proceed.
With Cofertility, Makler hopes to offer an alternative to the traditional cash compensation model — and ideally squash the uncomfortable concept of profiting off helping create a human life for another family. Already, the company has had tens of thousands of women pursue freezing and donation, and thousands of intended parents have joined the platform. It’s also been accepted to the non-profit Society for Ethics in Egg Donation and Surrogacy (SEEDS). Cofertility brings a fresh perspective to the egg freezing industry, which has boomed by more than 2000% since 2009, though long-term effects of the procedure aren’t yet well studied.
Below, Makler talks about startup life, parenting a toddler, and her hack for working productively.
What advice do you have for an aspiring entrepreneur who’s still searching for that perfect idea?
I’m a big fan of Gabby Bernstein, who talks about a concept called manic manifesting, where if you’re trying so hard to control the timeline of something, it’s hard for the creativity and problem-solving to happen. So take your time. Instead of looking for a big idea, fall in love with a problem. What’s the problem you want to solve? Is it something you can see yourself talking about for hours, weeks, months, and years on end?
It’s similar advice that I would give anybody who is on a fertility journey, which is to be patient. The right thing will come.
What surprised you most about startup life?
I spent eight years at Uber before starting Cofertility, and there’s so much I took for granted — things happening behind the scenes like payroll, recruiting talent, figuring out benefits, and ways to support a team. And when you’re a founder, all of that falls on you. Those things take a really long time, and take away from your ability to [solve that problem].
Do you have any other tips for entrepreneurial life?
It’s so important for people to lean on the people in their lives. My husband, [Jake Makler, VP at the tech startup Quantum Metric] and I developed something we call “career-pooling.” We essentially leverage each other’s strengths to outsource things that could be done more quickly or effectively by the other person. He was very helpful in figuring out Cofertility’s go-to-market strategy in our very early days. Or sometimes, there’s a slide I can’t figure out how to design. I might spend hours on it, and he’ll be like, “Give me your laptop,” and he figures out the perfect way out in 10 minutes.
It’s worked so well for us that we’ve now taken it to our respective teams at our own companies so they can find ways to do the same, so that people can stay in their own “genius zones,” so to speak. It gives you a lot to talk about with your partner, too.
What is the worst piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
To just stick it out when you’re not happy. If you’re not feeling challenged and you’re not learning, and you’re not a little bit uncomfortable because you’re pushing yourself to do something you’ve never done before, it’s probably time to find a new role (and that role often can be within the same company).
After a long, busy, and stressful day, how do you turn your brain off?
I start my day really early so that I can spend time with my daughter as much as possible. I try to shut down by 4 p.m. so that I can be with her until she goes to sleep at 7. We have a gnome tree in our neighborhood that we like to walk to together, and taking time outside and going for a walk with my family is really the best way to bookend the day. Then, I usually get back online for an hour or two.
What other advice do you have for 20-somethings?
Freeze your eggs. We say start thinking about it in your 20s. Don’t be afraid to get started and to ask questions. Wondering about your fertility and understanding what is happening in your own body is not something to be ashamed about. It’s something you should feel empowered to do, and proud of yourself for doing.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.