In the early 2000s, three people had a radical idea. What if you could access your genetic information and truly understand what it means for your health?
That radical idea became the foundation of 23andMe.
Since then, more than 12 million people have accessed their genetic information through 23andMe, and 80% of them have consented to participate in research that could lead to new insights and discoveries.
Today, 23andMe turns 16. In many ways, we’re a lot like any other teenager. We’ve experienced some growing pains, we’re comfortable pushing boundaries, we’ve had our fair share of adventures, and we’re never afraid to question the status quo.
To celebrate this milestone, we’re resurfacing 16 of the best, strangest, funniest, and most influential moments in our company history.
1. Three people walk into an office…
Anne Wojcicki co-founded 23andMe in 2006 with Linda Avey and Paul Cusenza, who had previously worked at DNA micro-array company Affymetrix, to change the future of genetics and healthcare. The team of three worked out of a small office in Palo Alto, complete with an overcrowded, hardworking computer server room. Scientific rigor was top of mind; the co-founders spent their early days meeting with regulators, building a robust advisory committee, and figuring out how to give people direct access to their genetic information.
2. What’s in a name
One of the first priorities was finding a company name, and Anne had a few ideas. In an early email (with the subject line: name explanation), she wrote:
“[The name] 23andME is derived from three elements:
23: pairs of chromosomes in our DNA, one set from each parent.
AND: people want to know what it means for them, and if you reverse ‘and,’ it spells DNA.
ME: It’s all relative to and about our customers – it’s their DNA; it’s their choice.
We also believe in 23and We; collective MEs can change the world.”
3. Drawing design inspiration from candy
23andMe had a name and vision. Now it just needed a logo. Early designs drew inspiration from unlikely sources, like bright, fruit-flavored candy. Each design iteration moved us closer to the logo we have today – a fun, colorful symbol of the accessibility and curiosity at the heart of 23andMe. Sweet!
4. You’re invited to a Spit Party
The elements of a good party are simple: food, drink, friends, music, stimulating conversation, and, in the case of our 2007 Spit Party held in New York City, saliva. The event was part of a larger strategy to introduce our product to the world.
5. Look, Ma. We’re on TV!
Our first TV campaign, Portraits of Health, featured people sharing what they learned from their 23andMe reports. Some discovered unknown ancestry or insights about particular traits like blue eyes or curly hair. Others learned information about possible genetic risks related to their health.
6. A part of something bigger
The 23andMe research model invites customers to consent to participate and help to accelerate genetic discoveries that offer the potential for new insights and treatments. We regularly collaborate with partners across academia and industry and have authored and contributed to hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Our collaboration with The Michael J. Fox Foundation allowed us to create a groundbreaking, dynamic research community that ensures Parkinson’s patients have a voice.
And our publication in The American Journal of Human Genetics leveraged the genetic data of close to 50,000 people to investigate the transatlantic slave trade, confirming new genetic links between the Americas and Africa.
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7. How to host a Neanderthal-friendly Thanksgiving dinner
Are you considering inviting a Neanderthal to your Thanksgiving celebration? We created a set of guidelines with everything you need to know about welcoming your closest extinct relative from the Pleistocene Epoch.
Play to their strengths
Based on evidence that Neanderthals possessed sophisticated tool-making skills, your guests may be able to handily carve up the turkey or roast using a stone or bone instrument.
Neanderthals were quite social. They often had a nuclear family and lived in a close-knit community of hunter-gatherers, and they were intimately in touch with their surroundings. So be sure to ask about kids, parents, and friends. Questions about outdoor activities are okay, too!
8. Launching 23andMe+®
Many of our customers wanted more ways to engage in their genetics journey. So in 2020, we introduced 23andMe+, a new annual membership that provides exclusive access to genetic reports, as well as new reports and features as they become available.
9. Contributing to COVID-19 research
We launched a large-scale research study of more than a million 23andMe customers as part of the global response to COVID-19. Through their participation, our researchers were able to quickly make new findings and build tools to help advance our understanding of the virus.
10. Ringing in the next chapter
Anne rang the bell to the Nasdaq exchange on June 17, 2021, marking our first day trading as a public company. Her celebratory remarks provided a glimpse into the future:
“23andMe is more than just a genetics company. We are an activist brand that is approaching health care and drug discovery with the individual at the center, as our partner. We are going to continue pioneering a consumer-centered personalized health care world. We are going to show that drug discovery can be more efficient when you start with a human genetic insight.”
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11. DNA enters the cultural conversation
We knew we had arrived when a famous singer, dancer, songwriter, and flutist dressed up as a life-sized DNA test kit for Halloween to reference an eponymous lyric in her hit song “Truth Hurts.”
Throughout the years, we’ve appeared in various corners of pop culture. We’ve been the punch line on the Late Show and a public gift for an award-winning musician. We’ve even shown up on an episode of a popular quiz show when this clue was read to participants:
“The “23” of 23andMe.com, a site tracing ancestry and personal genetic information, refers to pairs of these…”
The answer? “What are chromosomes?”
12. Lemonaid joins the 23andMe team
We acquired Lemonaid Health in November 2021 as part of our commitment to make personalized healthcare a reality. Lemonaid, a telehealth and pharmacy company, focuses on delivering individualized, affordable care. Anne described the significance of the merger in an announcement:
“We are acquiring Lemonaid Health so that we can bring true personalized healthcare to 23andMe customers. Personalized healthcare means healthcare that is based on the combination of your genes, your environment, and your lifestyle — with recommendations and plans that are specific to you.”
13. “What am I made of?”
We started 23andMe to make a difference in the lives of customers like Sheila, who connected with her birth mother and siblings after years of wondering, “What am I made of? What makes me, me?”
Sheila called her reunion with family a gift. “This is a gift of family. What a blessing.”
Our therapeutics team began clinical trials in early 2022 of our first drug developed entirely in-house. The drug, 23ME-00610, is an immune-oncology antibody aimed at treating tumors. The target for this antibody was identified using our proprietary genetic and health survey database.
“Our approach to drug discovery is driven by human genetics, and we have an incredibly large database from which to select and advance genetically validated targets more efficiently, and with a potentially higher probability of success, than traditional drug discovery methods currently allow,” explained Kenneth Hillan, our chief therapeutics officer.
“23ME-00610 is an exciting example of how we are translating our data into investigational therapeutics.
15. A culture of belonging
Blacks@, 23andShe, Femgineers, LGBTQ+, Neurodiversity, and 23andHear are just some of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which provide a place for employees with shared interests and experiences to gather and build community.
Lauren Trusheim, a business analyst and member of 23andShe, shared what she loved about her group:
“[23andShe] is a space for women to come together and learn from each other. Fostering a strong support system is essential for happiness and success both personally and professionally.”
16. Celebrating – it’s in our DNA
Since day one, our employees (and their furry friends) have been at the core of everything we do. Here are a few photos from an internal celebration of our Sweet 16.