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November 20, 2007

23andme Party

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.


ever catch yourself saying any of the rules or using any of the rules then you know you have to be very careful!

You hope the company does well, but did not do the test. Why dont you write honestly about what prevented you from doing the test at this stage. The hockey excuse is a lame cop out.
Someone needs to start a public debate if private companies should have unconditional access to this data and what they can do with this. Since when have americans become scarred of debating important issues. But hey, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell were there...

The blog is called "how to change the world" not "watching the world change"

Hi, I'm not complaining, but isn't what you write against what you preach:

"if it gets just 1% of the spit in the world, it will be huge. "

I thought your not supposed to quote 1%?

We're all connected. The idea of finding our where we come from from a DNA perspective is fascination, mind boggling, and unnerving. yet it could lead to people understanding the deep truth that we're all connected.

I share this on my blog:

Wrote a post on this over at the AlwaysOn Network, http://doiop.com/23andMe.

I saw Linda and Anne being being featured last week in the Wired Science TV show (PBS). They did claim to offer a total of 580,000 data points as a customer's personal genetic encyclopedia.

Here's the video link for those who missed it on TV. http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2007/11/wiredscience8

I didn't get the Herb Brooks reference?


Kurt Russell played Herb Brooks in the movie about the 1980 US Olympic team.



"I got an idea for using people's spit and freaking them out with the DNA info we can dig out."

"Cool, how much should we charge?"

"Well, the real costs come out to $48 plus labor, so why not..."

"...An even thousand!"

"Yay! Let's go an find some investors!"


I too fear the "spit" test. I fear that I might blast a tooth out along with my secretion courtesy of an ancient football, not futbol, injury.

Would eating raw meet and breathing fire help?


This a fantastic idea. I don't understand why anybody would be reluctant or paranoid to try it out.

OMG, I'll never try it! o_O

Is it possible to create something out of absolutely nothing? Stuart

This rang privacy bells the moment I started reading it.

Elementary question number one is: what happens to the information about my spit?

Here's the answer (after some digging in the web site):

Any Phenotypic Information you provide is
done on a voluntary basis. We may provide
third party organizations access to this
information for scientific research, but
without your name or any other Account

I don't know about you, but this doesn't reassure me in the least....

I guess Guy's non-mention of this HUGE issue illustrates what happens when you spend your life looking at things through the VC looking glass....

This hypy paragraph was particularly annyoing:

Then you can begin your “personal journey of
genetic discovery” which means you learn
about your origin and explore the
implications of your genotype.

This venture will flop because people have enough common sense to figure out that this exposes them to huge privacy vulnerabilities and opens up a dangerous Pandora's box. And if it starts getting any legs, I assure you that there are people out there who don't eagerly go gaga whenever they stumble over something "cool" and who don't get easily dazzled by geek speak ("This chip reads 550,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) plus another 30,000 SNPs in a custom-designed set") -- that is, there are people out there with something more that a path to profitability on their mind, who will organize before insidious stuff like this starts quietly seeping through....

Guy: I know your motto is, "Your goal is to change the world." It just never occurred to me that you were morally agnostic in saying it.

Hey Guy,
Nice to see Setoguchi get a plug on your blog. To go from the frozen tundra of Prince George to San Jose must have been nice:)
And Paul Kariya, love 'em and have him in my Hockey Pool again!

A “spit party” would probably be more popular among baseball players than hockey players - although we would be helping the ice...Put that down as a Truemor!

Ralph www.HasTheVoice.com
MSG-TV imaging voice for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres

Kinda looks "cultish" to me. :)

A paranoid's dilemma !!

Google already has my entire contact list, email archive(gmail), social network(orkut), photos of friends and relatives(picasa), my blog entries (blogspot) and anything left ?...oh yea, my DNA..now they need that too huh ? (Anne Wojcicki-co founder of 23andme is apparently the wife of Sergey Brin)..so now something cooking out there ?

I was quite fascinated a long time ago about reading the mapping of the Icelandic genome and I find 23andme quite interesting because one of my chief beef's with the scientific community is its inability to "make things personal" and connect with the public.

This company may not be the Craig Venter school of genome mastery but the point is that when Hollywood portray dotcoms they tend to pick on the lowest common denominator. One day a company full of smart people are going to be recognized as a company full of smart people, rather than keep the meme of idiocracy alive and kicking.

BTW Anne Wojcicki has an uncanny resemblance to Esther Dyson, but that is by-the-by, what is important here to me is celebrating the quants and the ubermench. Smart people with interesting lives do run dotcoms, and that is the bottom line here, the moment more and more people openly appreciate what is fundamentally different between "23andMe" and "HotorNot", then a core value like "to empower individuals and develop new ways of accelerating research" - should become personally more attractive and that is personally what is more important to me to focus on those people who think, blink and link, rather than wink, drink and stink.


I work in the bioinformatics field and, honestly, I don't think there's anything to get too excited about regarding 23andme. This is just typical dot com euphoria without thinking it through.

Customized genomic diagnostics for $1k. Big deal. Give it five to eight years when there'll be dozens of companies doing the same thing for less than a quarter of that. The only thing they have going for them is the founder effect... big advantage, but no guarantee to long-term success.

Is it just me that's kind of grossed out? I get that it's an innovative idea, but ewww...

So, does that mean you'd rule in sumo? :)

"This is the “spit kit.” The company should call it iSpit and hope that Apple doesn’t sue them."

I think that they should call it iSpit and hope Apple does sue them! Think of all the publicity!

I have to say - I am impressed by 23andMe. As you say, it's an innovative company (which is not all that common) - just this initial $1k consumer vanity product is enough to make a decent business out of - and then what gets really interesting will be their unique data asset - 23andMe can be a bigger business than most people realize.



Devon Setoguchi has Japanese ancestry so the "I'm Japanese not Canadian" hockey excuse just fell apart.

You're free to spit now.



Yes, but he's only half Japanese. Maybe it's the Canadian half that's scoring all the goals. Kind of like Paul Kariya.


Very cool service, but $1,000/user is too high to reach the critical mass the company needs to show a broad social network.

Don't worry, it is an offence to spit in public in Singapore, provided if that stuff hit the road or a property in the public places. But I do wonder if the spit is allowed to be DHL out of Singapore... hmmm

And Hjortur, 23andme -> 23 pairs of chromosomes and me =)

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