After trying for four years to have their own baby — including spending $70,000 on fertility treatments and suffering three miscarriages — Erin Quick and her husband turned to adoption.
“It felt like falling off of a cliff,” Quick said. The couple struggled to navigate a fragmented industry filled with small nonprofits.
“There’s no place to start. There’s no brand in adoption. There’s no clear route,” she said.
There are agencies that connect families with expectant mothers, but it can cost $40,000 to $60,000 and take two years to set up an adoption of an infant. Quick couldn’t bear waiting that long or cover those expenses.
So the couple went an increasingly popular alternate route: searching the internet for a self-match adoption. They managed to avoid criminals who scam desperate families, and within a month were at a hospital in Michigan where they met and adopted their son. Three years later, following the same approach, they were able to adopt a baby girl from Texas after four months of searching.
Word of their success spread and friends and friends-of-friends reached out, eager for guidance. It was clear to Quick that there was an unmet need and business opportunity in the $15 billion adoption and child services sector.
A year ago she founded PairTree, a platform that connects families eager to adopt with expectant mothers. The three-person company is based on Bainbridge Island, west of Seattle, and is participating in the current cohort of Techstars Seattle.
PairTree launched its services in July and has 800 families seeking adoptions and 175 expectant moms on the site. They’ve facilitated eight matches so far.
Quick compares the site to a dating platform. Families pay a $75 monthly fee and post a profile on PairTree. Expectant mothers use the tool for free. The site includes a proprietary personality test to help expectant moms select families based on their interests and passions — a key consideration for the women.
“Expectant moms can be very selective in terms of who they’re choosing,” Quick said.
While that might sound like it could lead to discrimination, Quick said that in the topsy-turvy world of adoption, their platform actually supports a wider profile of adopting families. Many adoption organizations have religious affiliations and 11 states allow adoption agencies to refuse to work with certain clients, including gay couples or single mothers. The high costs associated with adoption agencies also exclude families of more modest means. Quick said that leads to more affluent white couples adopting racial diverse babies.
PairTree does not provide the legal services required by adoptions, or conduct screening of adopting families, which is done by licensed social workers. The site uses identity verification software to guard against scammers who pose as expectant mothers.
An adoption using PairTree to find a birth mother can lower the costs to around $15,000 while cutting the time to adoption to about six to nine months.
The overall goal is to create an open, emotionally supportive experience around adoption, Quick said. The site shares the number of expectant moms on the platform, and will tell a family if their profile is generating interest.
“We can do a world of good if we are successful with this,” she said.
The team: Quick, the CEO, was previously co-founder of a Seattle-based brand marketing firm. Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Justin Friberg is a startup veteran and former CTO of Seattle software company Record360.
Funding: The startup is bootstrapped with plans to seek seed funding this spring after Techstars wraps up.
At the end of 2020, PairTree formed a partnership with the workplace benefits provider Carrot Fertility to become the first self-matching, adoption platform available to employees using Carrot.
Competition: Other routes for self-matching include Facebook groups and companies such as AdoptMatch, Adoptimist and Adoption.com. PairTree aims for a ratio of 7:1 of families to expectant moms, while other sites provide much lower ratios, Quick said.
What’s next: The site is building a mobile app, which is the preferred technology among expectant moms.
Quick would like to expand into adjacent services, including helping connect families with surrogate mothers and partnering with reproductive clinics offering egg and sperm donation services. While these clinics allow families to choose physical attributes of donors, Quick said her platform’s personality tools could provide extra information for making selections.
Support beyond adoptions: Quick wants PairTree to provide wider support for families and birth moms, including creating tools to help both sides of the adoption process stay in contact over time. The startup also wants to build a feature allowing birth moms to share their health history so that adoptive families can be aware of conditions that could be inherited. She chose the name PairTree to evoke the joining of family trees through adoption.
Quick is also eager to help birth moms. “Adoption is totally lopsided,” she said, in favor of adopting families. To start remedying the imbalance, 5% of the platform’s subscription fee goes to organizations helping birth moms, such as Lifetime Healing Foundation.