Interview with Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe

Anne Wojcicki is the Co-Founder and CEO of 23andMe. Her company helps users learn about their ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits via at-home genetics test kits and genetic mapping research.

In 2007, 23andMe became the first company to offer autosomal DNA testing for ancestry, becoming a pioneer in the field, and developing technology that has lead the way for every other at-home genetic testing service to come after it. The saliva-based, direct-to-consumer genetic testing business was named “Invention of the Year” by Time magazine in 2008. Anne discusses the impact her family has had on her vision to build 23andMe; challenges she faced building the company; why we should all take ownership of our health; how 23andMe can help researchers find medical cures, and more!

Anne Wojcicki’s talk covers the following topics:

  • Her relationship with Google (Anne’s story about Google burritos, Eric Schmidt, Steve Jobs, and the first iPhone)
  • Anne’s approach to healthcare
  • Beginning Stages of 23andMe and genetics
  • The struggle with the FDA and the drive to persevere
  • 23andMe’s current offerings and the potential expansion of offerings
  • Investment and the reality of the Drug Industry
  • Using data to increase development of 23andMe
  • Connecting people to resources for their health
  • How health is the sum of your actions everyday
  • Empowering people of their privacy and the freedom to compare
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
  • Virtual Healthcare
  • Publication of genetic association of 23andMe discoveries
  • And much more!
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Notes from the talk:

3:06 Anne’s longstanding relationship with Google

4:50 A different approach to healthcare 

7:53 Beginning stages of 23andMe and genetics

15:31 The struggle with the FDA and the drive to persevere 

21:58 23andMe’s current offerings

22:43 Potential expansion of offerings 

23:21 Investment in the Drug Industry

25:19 The reality of drug development 

27:49 Beneficial data to increase development of 23andMe

30:04 Connecting people to resources for their health

31:15 Health is the sum of your actions everyday 

35:31 Empowering people of their privacy and the freedom to compare

38:58 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

39:41 Hoping insurance companies embrace genetic information for the better

40:45 Virtual Healthcare

46:20 Engagement of the medical world and providing international access

49:15 Publication of genetic associations of 23andMe discoveries 

50:49 Creating a supportive and comfortable environment for employees, including females

53:46 Having passion determines your greatness and not based off of your genetics or the environment

59:22 Open to working with other companies who are interested in genetic research

JBT Questions:

2:59 Lets talk about your early relationship with Google.

4:40 You talked about your values and 23andMe. Can you tell me about your relationship with your grandmother and her experience with the healthcare system?

7:48 What challenges did you face during the first years of building 23andMe?

15:14 I’ve talked to Ben Horowitz before about the struggles of being a CEO going through challenging times. Can you talk about your struggle with the FDA and what kept you going during that time?

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21:53 In your current offerings, you offer the ancestry test. Can you get a health test as well?

23:13 Given the large corpus of data you’re putting together, how have you been able to use this for promoting cures or new developments in the field?

25:12 Is there possibly a new business model for users of 23andMe? Also, if health data was provided, could it lead to some type of cure?

27:40 For the survey aspect of 23andMe, they ask questions that might get data that is erroneous, do you use multiple data points to figure it out?

29:52 Have you considered connecting people of 23andMe with genetic counseling or providing people information on how to talk about their results with their primary care physician? 

31:15 Have you done any psychological aspects of those that have tried 23andMe?

35:12 How do you handle those that are fearful about putting their genetic information into the system and how do you make sure that their information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands?

38:52 Are there policies or legislation that 23andMe is backing on a federal level?

39:36 Regarding the life insurance aspect, is there other legislation that’s going to be proposed in the future?

40:39 In the next 10 years of 23andMe, where do you see yourself within the company?

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Audience Questions: (Edited)

45:15 After getting my results from 23andMe and then reporting to my doctor, why do they make me feel like I’ve done something wrong? Being from Latin America, how do I know that I’m being accurately represented when majority of research is from Europe and how can people from Argentina have access to 23andMe?

50:35 How do you attract and retain so many happy female employees?

53:27 With the company growing, would it be possible to one day discover if you were perfect for some type of sport or any other talent without having to practice for it, based off of your DNA or genetics? 

55:23 Have you thought about collaborating with other companies to connect across each other’s databases to help people find their relatives?

57:17 Is there a way for me to prevent myself from having cancer based off of my spit sample, health aspects, or my ancestry?

58:48 Do you think that you will cooperate with Google or Microsoft who are looking more into healthcare genetic research in the future, compete, or is 23andMe far ahead in its research?

1:01:27 Does 23andMe use machine learning or is it mostly looking into literature?

Online Questions:

22:29 Are you planning to offer more extensive testing such as metabolic imbalances and enzymes?

49:09 Who owns the IP produced from an individual’s genotyping data when they use 23andMe?

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