Big Ideas: “Sperm Cryopreservation” with Khaled Kteily, CEO of Legacy

Male fertility has declined by 50% in the last 40 years, and men have a biological clock, too! Asa part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Khaled Kteily. Khaled is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Legacy, an early-stage company […]

Male fertility has declined by 50% in the last 40 years, and men have a biological clock, too!

Asa part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Khaled Kteily. Khaled is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Legacy, an early-stage company providing analysis and cryopreservation services to men.

Previously, Khaled worked as a healthcare consultant at Oliver Wyman (Toronto), at the United Nations (MENA), and at the World Economic Forum (Geneva). He studied public policy at Harvard University, where he received a full scholarship, graduated with distinction, and serves on the Alumni Council for the Center for Public Leadership.

He is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Canadian Fertility & Andrology Society. He is Palestinian, Lebanese, and Canadian.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Believe it or not, I did not grow up wanting to run a sperm cryopreservation company. But I did have a deep interest in healthcare and a deep-seated belief that to make an impact on the world, you must do something completely different, either because it is so specialized, or because it’s a topic others are sensitive about.

When a friend of mine found out he had cancer, he froze his sperm before beginning a chemotherapy process that would likely render him infertile. I had never heard of the concept before, and set out to learn more about a topic that most of us — and especially men — keep hidden. I learned about the world of fertility, eventually taking continuing education courses and joining the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

It quickly became clear just how shocking the statistics are: male fertility has declined by 50% in the last 40 years, and men have a biological clock, too! But the process for getting tested was so clinical and awkward that men would rather avoid the topic altogether than have to ‘provide a sample’ in a small room at a clinic.

When I realized that we could use a technology to allow men to have their fertility tested and sperm frozen without ever visiting a clinic, it just made sense. Let’s normalize this topic, and get men thinking about this topic earlier. Ideally, we can rebalance the responsibilities of family planning and change the view of fertility as a “women’s issue” while also building an industry-defining business.

I was laying the groundwork for Legacy for years — first putting up a test website in 2014 — before predicting that 2018 was the year that the industry would begin to change in light of major new studies that had come out. Thankfully, I was right — we’ve since been covered in the New York Times, The Independent, Popular Science, CNBC, and others — and Legacy was accepted to Harvard’s incubation program for alumni-run ventures, the ‘Launch Lab X’.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Over the summer, TechCrunch Disrupt selected Legacy as one of their top picks in ‘Health & Biotech’, along with an invitation for me and two colleagues to visit Berlin for the Disrupt Conference. Part of the conference is the Startup Battlefield, whereby 12 startups battle it out to be selected as the top early-stage startup in the region. These startups are informed a month in advance and prepare accordingly.

What I didn’t know was that every year, one startup is selected out of the hundreds of attendees to be the 13th “wildcard” candidate. When my plane landed in Berlin the night before the conference, I pulled open an e-mail titled, “Congratulations! You are the Wildcard!’ informing me to show up the next morning with a full pitch and set of slides ready. I decided to make the most of it — trusting that my passion for the company would compensate for my complete lack of preparation.

Somehow, Legacy was selected as the winner of TechCrunch Disrupt and I walked away with an oversized cheque for $50,000 that I had the privilege of carrying with me through my travels in Europe until I returned to Boston, MA.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

In the future, Legacy will be the norm. All men will be freezing their sperm.

How do you think this will change the world?

When you consider plummeting fertility rates worldwide and the decision of couples to delay having children, I see a world where all men and women are freezing their eggs by the age of 30.

This means that you can meet the perfect person when you’re 32 or 33 without having to rush into a relationship, marriage, or having children until you are emotionally and financially ready. Best of all, by freezing your sperm when you’re young, you’re storing the genetically healthiest version of you and protecting yourself against any risk of accidents.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

An industry like this needs very responsible players. The big risk is that people abuse cryogenic technology to freeze their sperm, eggs, or embryos for the purpose of genetic modifications — i.e. eugenics.

While there is a clear rationale for preventative genetic modification — selecting embryos that do not carry the markers associated with certain genetic diseases — my worry is that parents will want to use gene-editing technology to have babies with specific traits and not others.

As more and more couples use IVF — and more countries cover IVF for their citizens — this will increasingly become an option for those couples. It will be the responsibility of companies like Legacy to push for moral and legal standards around this topic.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

As I moved closer to 30, words like ‘IVF’ and ‘biological clock’ became increasingly common among friends and colleagues my age. When I learned the statistics — about 1 in 6 couples are unable to conceive within a year — I understood why. Not only are couples having children later, but we are simply leading unhealthier lives — cell phones in our pockets, chemicals in our food, fertilizers in our agriculture — in ways that critically affect our health and our fertility.

Until now, the fertility question has rested on women. But this point of view is outdated and wrong — in fact, men are the cause of infertility in couples 30–50% of the time. It’s time for us to change the conversation and get men involved at an earlier stage.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Legacy is working to create a new social norm — one where men are thinking about their fertility at a much younger age. This requires extensive scientific evidence, which we have, as well as debate, discussion, and coverage of the topic until it enters the mainstream.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Expect to receive at last one sperm joke a day. I guess I should have seen this one… coming. At least I can say we have 100% customer satisfaction.
  2. A CEO spends much less time than he or she would like on building the product, and much more on tasks I used to think of as secondary like admin, fundraising, and hiring. The reality is, the day-to-day of running a company covers topics you never would have considered — like conducting HIPAA trainings for your team, diving into HTML tags, or answering questions from prospective hires.
  3. Investors are paid to make you feel like they are excited about your company. Don’t listen to their words — judge them on their actions. Ask them about next steps, if their fund is actively investing, when you’re meeting the decision makers. And expect everything you say to make the rounds — the VC world is small and crosses oceans quicker than you’d think.
  4. Your values are important. The way you behave will affect and shape the rest of the company for the rest of its life. Be clear about your values, write an employee handbook, be thoughtful about the kind of organizational culture you want to have — because culture happens whether you like it or not.
  5. Tell the world what you want. The people around you genuinely want to help — tell them what’s on your mind, and you’ll find that the world is a lot smaller than you’d think. People come through in surprising ways, be it through investing in your company, connecting you to the people you need, or giving you ideas you’d never consider.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

You can’t future proof a career, you can only future proof a mindset. Critical thinking, a diverse network, and a readiness and willingness to learn are the skills you need.

If you want to learn more, the World Economic Forum publishes a report each year on the Future of Work and I had some incredible former colleagues working on it.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

  1. Do whatever everyone isn’t.
  2. (1.01)³⁶⁵ = 37.8. (0.99)³⁶⁵ = 0.03.
  3. Be good; karma will take care of the rest.
  4. Luck is preparation meets opportunity. Be prepared.
  5. Don’t force-fit your life to someone else’s framework.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

My favourite success mindsets come from individuals who have had to overcome real challenges to be where they are today.

Find me folks who grew up poor, or in an under-developed country, or who immigrated to a foreign country, or who grew up feeling different than everyone around them, or BEING different than everyone around them, who’ve dealt with sexism, racism, homophobia, or all of the above and made it through the other side — I guarantee you they’ve pushed through more obstacles than most of us can imagine.

As for success habits — just remember that the world is designed to suck up your attention. You are fighting a war that you cannot win. All you can do is fight back — unsubscribe from e-mails, turn off notifications, keep your phone on Do Not Disturb –the world can wait. You don’t owe anyone your time. You will succeed by not falling into these traps — or at least, by falling into as few as possible.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? If you share our hypotheses around fertility and are actively investing via your current fund, e-mail me, we’re raising. [email protected]

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter @djnotkhaled.

Legacy is on Twitter (@givelegacyinc), Facebook (/givelegacyinc) and Instagram (@givelegacyinc)

And of course — www.givelegacy.com

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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