I saw this last night on Facebook – https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/23/23andme-lays-off-100-people-ceo-anne-wojcicki-explains-why.html.
- 23andMe is laying off 100 people, as consumer DNA tests are down.
- CEO Anne Wojcicki didn’t have a clear explanation for that, but cited a variety of factors, including both recession fears and privacy concerns.
- Wojcicki said she anticipated that DNA testing would explode when she co-founded the business in 2007, but is now looking ahead to a retracting market.
Home DNA-testing company 23andMe is laying off about 100 people, or 14% of its staff, on Thursday, in the wake of declining sales.
The layoffs include the operations teams, which were focused on the company’s growth and scaling efforts, as well as other teams. In the coming months, the company plans to tighten its focus on the direct-to-consumer business and its therapeutics arm while scaling back its clinical studies arm.
CEO Anne Wojcicki told CNBC she’s been “surprised” to see the market starting to turn.
Wojcicki has theories, but she doesn’t have clear proof for why consumers are shying away from getting tests that reveal their percentage of Irish heritage, propensity for a favorite ice cream flavor, or whether they have a limited set of variants that are associated with breast cancer. Either way, she notes, she’s downsizing because it’s “what the market is ready for.”
“This has been slow and painful for us,” she said.
Wojcicki notes that privacy could be a factor. Fears about people’s DNA ending up in the wrong hands might have been heightened in the aftermath of the Golden State Killer case. Criminal investigations honed in on a suspect involved in a decades-old rapes and murders by running DNA found at the scene through a free online database where anyone who got their DNA tested through a company like 23andMe could upload it. A suspect was found because a distant relative had shared their genetic information — showing how DNA data, unlike other kinds of data, is unique because it’s linked to and potentially exposes information about family members.–snip–
She acknowledges that “privacy is top of mind” both for consumers and her executive team. She said the company hired a new chief security officer, who previously ran security at Okta, earlier this week.
“I think the tech world needs to own this better communicate privacy standards to build trust,” she said. “I want to jump in and really own it.”
Wojcicki said another factor could be that people fear an economic downturn, and they don’t want to spend a few hundred dollars on a genetic test. That might make it expensive for 23andMe to acquire customers via social media platforms like Facebook, if the early adopters have already bought tests and the next potential batch of users are reluctant to spend.–snip–
Correction: The layoffs affect 23andMe’s operations team, as well as other groups.