After a very short while, hearing about the nth social-media, video-sharing, or user-generated-content startup gets boring. After all, you can only listen to so many “unique” ideas if you know what I mean. Luckily, once a year or so, I hear about a company that is truly different, and tonight I attended the friends and family “spit party” of one such company: 23andme.
Never attended a spit party? Neither had I. Here are a few photos from the event.
Clever t-shirt slogan although it probably scares the Dickens out of some people to provide their DNA.
Like any good Silicon Valley party, computers were a focal point. The 23andme process starts with placing an order on a computer. It costs about $999, but party attendees got a discount.
Then you went into the “spit room.” Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell were there providing their spit, but their handlers wouldn’t let me take a picture. I found this ironical: Giving DNA was okay but not a picture. I’m pretty sure Herb Brooks wouldn’t have minded.
This is the “spit kit.” The company should call it iSpit and hope that Apple doesn’t sue them.
Then a kind man who didn’t have a handler allowed me to take a picture of him spitting. It would be just my luck that he’s a Nobel Prize winner. I do wonder how the company will do in Singapore where spitting in public is illegal.
You know what they say: “There’s nothing like a good spit at the end of the day.”
These are the co-founders of the company: Linda Avey (left) and Anne Wojcicki (right). Esther Dyson is also a director plus there are a boatload of PhDs and MDs who are collaborators and advisors. And my buddy Mia.
Here’s what the company does: You sign up for the exam via the 23andme’s website. When you receive your “spit kit,” you do your thing and send it back to 23andme. Then 23andme extracts your DNA, chops it up, copies it, and washes it over the Illumina HumanHap550+ BeadChip (Illumina could use some help naming its products). This chip reads 550,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) plus another 30,000 SNPs in a custom-designed set.
The end result is a determination of your genotype. Then you can begin your “personal journey of genetic discovery” which means you learn about your origin and explore the implications of your genotype. You can also “connect genetically with friends, family, and others across the globe.” (I think this marketing-speak for “swap spit,” and I hope this is as close to “social networking” as the company gets.)
I suppose the $1,000 question is whether I took the test. The answer is that I didn’t, and here’s why: If the test reveals that I’m Canadian and not Japanese, then I cannot blame my genetic makeup for my lack of hockey ability.
I hope the company does well. Conservatively speaking, if it gets just 1% of the spit in the world, it will be huge.