Despite 23andMe's declining revenue, CEO Anne Wojcicki said she's committed to consumer-first healthcare 'entirely outside the system'

Despite 23andMe's declining revenue, CEO Anne Wojcicki said she's committed to consumer-first healthcare 'entirely outside the system'
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS
  • 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki reaffirmed her commitment to consumer-first healthcare in a HBR Live event.
  • The company's recent SPAC filing demonstrated its plans to further develop its core business: direct-to-consumer genetics.
  • "Hands down, I just don't want to be in the system," Wojcicki said of the healthcare industry.

Direct-to-consumer genetics leader 23andMe has seen its revenue decline in the past few years.

But founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki indicated no plan to stray from the company's original mission in a recent conversation at HBR Live, a day-long leadership conference held by the Harvard Business Review.

From the company's inception in 2007, the "doyenne of DNA" said on Thursday that she drew on her experience in healthcare investing to craft 23andMe's number one guiding philosophy: the development of a platform "that's genuinely in the best interest of customers and is entirely outside of the system." In wanting to put the consumer at the at the forefront of healthcare in a $4 trillion industry, Wojcicki said the company always knew controversy was, in some ways, part of the plan.

Now, with much of that regulatory and data privacy-related controversy behind them, 23andMe is planning to go public at a $3.6 billion valuation via a reverse merger with Virgin CEO Richard Branson's blank check holding company.

Keeping consumers front and center

Positioning 23andMe's mission-driven approach directly opposite the "move fast, break things" ethos of Silicon Valley, she said the long-term vision of the soon-to-be publicly traded company hasn't changed. Wojcicki pointed to its "healthcare flywheel" concept across both of 23andMe's recent SEC filings, as evidence of putting consumers front-and-center of their business model.


Its most financial and investor risk report, as reviewed by Insider, reaffirms Wojcicki's statements, showcasing that the company intends to invest in its core offering of direct-to-consumer genetics health and family ancestry reports, which make up the bulk of its business.

However, the S-4 filing showed that the company's efforts to use its genetic database in drug development, including its high-profile pharma partnership with GSK, stand on shakier ground. More alarmingly, 23andMe's overall revenue has fallen in recent years in line with the overall downturn in the consumer genetics market.

Despite changes in regulation over the years and mounting concerns over personal data privacy, she told HBR Live that giving consumers the ability to learn about their genetics and opt into research remains the company's vision for the future. 23andMe differentiates itself from competitors like Ancestry, she said, by focusing on engagement and the ability to be responsive to its users.

"I'm engaging you with your whole genome holistically, whether that's the ancestry side, the health side, or your family relationships, and I want to keep you coming back," Wojcicki said. Most companies or academic genetic databases are missing that high level of user engagement, she added.

As detailed in 23andMe's SPAC filing, the company faces significant obstacles in becoming profitable or turning any findings from its 10 million user-strong genetic database into drug or therapeutics.


Later in the HBR Live conversation, Wojcicki remained unconvinced that there are easy fixes within the existing US healthcare system.

"You can play to follow the code to lead to a slightly better outcome, but like hands down, I just don't want to be in the system," Wojcicki said. "Tell me who makes money if I'm healthy at a hundred, and I will go in that path."

The closest thing at this point is Kaiser Permanente, she said in closing, referring to the 75-year-old health system whose organization structure incentivizes an all-encompassing approach to its members' health outcomes.