20VC 23andMe's Anne Wojcicki on How To Approach Trust in Business and Personal Relationships, Leadership Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg and Reflections on How The Best Founders Manage Their Boards

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 VC," Harry Stebings is joined by Anne Wojcicki, founder and CEO of 23andMe, a leading DNA testing company with a comprehensive ancestry breakdown and personalized health insights. Wojcicki has raised over a billion dollars for 23andMe from top-tier investors and has a background in healthcare investment on Wall Street. She also serves on the board of Kazoo and the Wojcicki Foundation and is an active angel investor. The conversation delves into Wojcicki's journey from Wall Street to 23andMe, her approach to problem-solving and healthcare, her experience with parenting and leadership, and her vision for empowering individuals with genetic information for preventative health. The discussion also covers the importance of creating a culture of direct feedback, the challenges of balancing ideas with execution, and the impact of motherhood on efficiency and delegation. Additionally, Wojcicki shares insights on board management, strategic decision-making, and fostering a culture of trust and growth within a company.

Summary Notes

Introduction to 20vc Podcast Episode

  • Host Harry Stebbings expresses excitement for the episode's release.
  • The episode is noted for not adhering to a schedule and covering a range of topics including leadership, parenting, and life.

"This is 20 vc with me, Harry Stebbings, and I've been so excited to release this episode since we recorded it."

This quote introduces the podcast episode and sets the tone for an engaging and spontaneous conversation.

Anne Wojcicki's Background

  • Anne Wojcicki is the founder and CEO of 23andMe, a company offering comprehensive DNA testing services.
  • Wojcicki has raised over a billion dollars from investors including Sequoia, GV, and NEA.
  • Her career includes a decade on Wall Street investing in healthcare.
  • Anne serves on the boards of Kazoo and the Amwajiki Foundation and is an active angel investor.

"Thrilled to welcome Anne Wajiki. Now Anne is the founder and CEO at 23 andMe, offering DNA testing with the most comprehensive ancestry breakdown, personalized health insights and more."

The quote provides an overview of Anne Wojcicki's professional credentials and her role at 23andMe.

The Start of 23andMe

  • Wojcicki's entrepreneurial journey was driven by problem-solving rather than a desire to be an entrepreneur.
  • Her experience in healthcare investment on Wall Street provided insights into the industry.
  • Wojcicki's personal experiences with the healthcare system's dysfunctionality led her to seek solutions.
  • The founding of 23andMe was inspired by the potential to leverage the internet and the human genome sequence to improve healthcare and fuel research.

"It was never about necessarily saying, oh, I want to be a specific entrepreneur. It was about, I always love solving problems."

This quote highlights Wojcicki's motivation for starting 23andMe, emphasizing problem-solving over a predetermined entrepreneurial path.

Ideation and Focus

  • Wojcicki acknowledges that having many ideas is both a strength and a weakness.
  • She surrounds herself with detail-oriented people to help refine and execute ideas.
  • The balance between idea generation and execution is maintained through feedback from her team.
  • Wojcicki values direct feedback and is open to being convinced when an idea may not be viable.

"I do have a lot of ideas. It's something can be super clear in my mind and even about how to execute with it, but I'm not necessarily as detail oriented as you need to be to really execute."

This quote reflects Wojcicki's self-awareness regarding her strengths and weaknesses in the ideation process and her approach to execution.

Creating a Culture of Honesty

  • Wojcicki fosters a culture where employees feel comfortable providing honest feedback.
  • The challenge lies in ensuring that people are direct and honest, which Wojcicki values highly.
  • She finds it difficult when people become less direct, preferring straightforward interactions.

"I really do thrive on honesty and people being very direct with me."

Wojcicki's preference for directness and honesty is crucial to her leadership style and the company culture at 23andMe.

Personal Relationships and Trust

  • Wojcicki discusses the "Google tax" and the impact of success on personal relationships.
  • She values authenticity and tends to maintain close relationships with childhood friends and family.
  • Wojcicki believes in trusting people from the outset, with the onus on them to maintain that trust.

"I assume everyone is full of potential and everyone is good. And sometimes too is like, you have to just break through and find the real person there because everyone does come with, especially as you get older, you get more of a veneer."

The quote illustrates Wojcicki's approach to relationships and trust, emphasizing her optimistic view of people's potential and goodness.

Vulnerability and Authenticity in Leadership

  • Vulnerability is seen as a way to connect with others and break down barriers.
  • Being transparent about personal challenges can help others relate and feel comfortable sharing their own struggles.
  • Acknowledging the commonality of human experiences, such as family issues or mental health, is key to building understanding within a team.

"I've always tried to be really real and honest. I'm super honest about my kids and when I was getting divorced and that that was hard."

This quote emphasizes the importance of honesty and transparency in leadership. Anne Wojcicki shares her personal challenges to illustrate that everyone has their own struggles, fostering a culture of openness.

Impact of Parenthood on Professional Efficiency

  • Parenthood significantly alters one's perspective on the world, shifting focus from personal opportunities to the safety and well-being of one's children.
  • Having children leads to the necessity of becoming more efficient due to the increased demands on one's time.
  • Parenthood can change work habits, leading to a better work-life balance and the realization that not all meetings require personal attendance.

"I think it made me much more efficient because I had to be more efficient."

Anne Wojcicki describes how becoming a parent forced her to manage her time more effectively, directly impacting her professional life by making her more efficient.

Delegation and Scaling a Company

  • Delegating tasks is essential for scaling a company, as it is impossible to be involved in every aspect of the business.
  • Differentiating between reversible and irreversible decisions can help in deciding when to step in or delegate.
  • Trusting others to make decisions is hard but necessary for growth, and having children can catalyze the process of learning to delegate.

"You can't scale a company if you think you have to be part of every, like, at some point, you have to be comfortable with the fact that there's things happening in your company that you don't know about."

Anne Wojcicki acknowledges the advice from Cheryl Sandberg on the importance of delegation for scaling a business and relates it to her own experience of learning to let go of control.

Creating an Environment for Risk-Taking and Decision-Making

  • Leaders should not be surprised by big initiatives; getting feedback from the team is essential.
  • Empowering people to make decisions involves listening to feedback but not necessarily following it in every case.
  • Healthy debate and ensuring team members feel heard can prevent failures associated with controversial decisions.

"I never like to be surprised. So if there's a really big initiative that someone's taking on, it's not that it has to be consensus building, but you have to get feedback from everybody."

Anne Wojcicki explains her approach to decision-making and risk-taking, emphasizing the importance of not being caught off guard and the value of team input in the process.

Knowing When to End Projects or Let Go of Team Members

  • Recognizing when a leader is not the right fit is crucial, and often action is not taken swiftly enough.
  • Reflecting on past mistakes and learning from them helps improve future decision-making processes.
  • The key to success is often in ensuring the right person is empowered and supported to execute their role effectively.

"You usually don't end up moving them out fast enough."

Anne Wojcicki reflects on the difficulty of making tough decisions about personnel or projects that are not working out, suggesting that delays in taking action can be detrimental.

Leadership Team Evolution with Company Growth

  • Some leaders can grow with the company, but fresh talent and perspectives are also valuable.
  • Integrating senior leaders into the company culture can be challenging, as they may want to make their mark.
  • Fostering internal growth and occasionally bringing in external talent can both contribute positively to a company's development.

"I am a real believer that with the right environment you can grow people."

Anne Wojcicki shares her belief in the potential for leaders to develop alongside the company, contrasting with the idea that entirely new leadership teams are needed at each stage of growth.

Core Elements of Successful Relationships

  • Appreciating the uniqueness of individuals is central to strong relationships.
  • Attempting to change someone is often harmful; instead, recognizing each person's strengths is more productive.
  • Relationships, whether personal or professional, should be built on understanding and valuing differences.

"I do think that when you try to change someone, I mean, the most detrimental aspect of a relationship is like trying to change someone."

Anne Wojcicki discusses the importance of accepting people as they are and leveraging their unique talents within a company, rather than trying to change them.

Career Mobility and Talent Development

  • Anne Wojcicki expresses enthusiasm for internal career mobility, where employees start in one role and successfully transition to another.
  • She advocates for focusing on what people are great at rather than trying to change them, emphasizing personal growth over alteration.
  • Wojcicki believes everyone has a unique area of excellence and that identifying and nurturing this is key to employee development.

"I love when people come in as, like, an entry level in one area and then they're taking over another." "My mindset with people is always, again, everyone's amazing at something, and you focus on that, and you don't try to change people and get them to do things that they're just not necessarily great at."

The quotes illustrate Wojcicki's philosophy of recognizing and leveraging an individual's innate strengths, fostering career growth within the company.

Internal Migration and Cross-Functional Teams

  • Internal migration is not structured through defined programs but occurs naturally due to the company culture and cross-functional team dynamics.
  • The company encourages collaboration between teams, which facilitates the discovery of employees' varied talents and capabilities.
  • The result is a frequent internal movement, sometimes playfully referred to as "poaching" from teams like customer care, which is known for hiring versatile individuals.

"We have more of an issue that there's like a lot of poaching that goes on." "We have a lot of cross functional collaboration."

These quotes highlight the organic nature of internal mobility within the company, driven by a culture of collaboration and recognition of talent across different teams.

Board Management and Strategic Decision-Making

  • Anne Wojcicki describes the role of a board in providing guardrails and acting as thought partners, especially when the company faces specific strategic questions.
  • She manages the board by presenting precise questions and seeking their expertise on particular issues, such as the SPAC process, insurance costs, and acquisition opportunities.
  • Wojcicki values diverse board membership for the variety of insights and expertise it brings to decision-making.

"The most valuable thing the board can do is really kind of help establish guardrails." "I try to manage the board in a way where we come to them with very specific types of questions and we want them to help us solve a type of question."

These quotes emphasize the strategic function of a board in guiding the company through pivotal decisions and the importance of targeted questions to make efficient use of board members' expertise.

Personal Work Style and Routines

  • Anne Wojcicki acknowledges her challenges with punctuality, attributing it to an over-scheduled life and a genuine interest in engaging with various people and ideas.
  • She maintains certain routines, such as having the same smoothie for breakfast every day, which provides a sense of stability amidst a busy schedule.
  • Wojcicki's daily life revolves around balancing work commitments with family time, including activities with her children.

"Punctuality is not my strength." "My kids really complain about this, but I've had this smoothie for the last 25 years."

These quotes reveal Wojcicki's personal habits and her approach to managing a demanding schedule while maintaining certain consistent routines.

Impact of Board Membership on Leadership

  • Serving on various boards, such as Kazoo, has influenced Wojcicki's approach to running her own board meetings, emphasizing efficiency and a focus on key questions.
  • She admires the execution style of other leaders and seeks to apply those lessons to her own leadership and board management.

"I came away from his board meeting and I went to my CFO and I was like, we are going to change things up." "I joined Kazoo because I'm just amazed at what he has built."

These quotes reflect how Wojcicki's experiences on other boards have informed her own leadership style, leading to improvements in her company's board meeting efficiency.

Reflection on the Role of Billboards in Marketing

  • Anne Wojcicki considers the practical impact of billboards on marketing, suggesting that location and novelty are more important than the content in capturing public attention.
  • She questions the effectiveness of traditional billboards in crowded areas and ponders the potential of unconventional placements to generate media interest.

"I'm thinking about from a marketing angle, how do you actually get people to read it?" "If I put in a billboard, Antarctica, it would probably get a lot of press."

The quotes show Wojcicki's analytical approach to marketing, where she contemplates the mechanics of how to make a billboard memorable and effective in today's saturated advertising landscape.

Harmonizing Humanity Through Advertising

  • Anne Wojcicki reflects on the power of advertising to make life-changing statements.
  • She mentions a past campaign in Times Square promoting the idea that all humans are fundamentally similar, with the theme "we're all the same."
  • The campaign emphasized that while humans are 99.5% the same, the small differences should be celebrated.
  • Wojcicki believes in using advertising to foster unity and celebrate diversity as part of humanity's survival story.

"So anything that I would do would be about harmonizing humanity is like helping people recognize differences should be celebrated. We're all the same, and there's these tiny little aspects that make us different, and it's phenomenal to celebrate those."

The quote highlights Wojcicki's belief in the importance of recognizing and celebrating human differences while acknowledging our fundamental similarities. This perspective was the foundation of an advertising campaign aiming to unify people.

Unconventional Marketing Strategies

  • Anne Wojcicki discusses the importance of attention-grabbing marketing.
  • She recalls an unusual marketing effort by 23andMe using a zeppelin with their branding, which caused some confusion about the company's nature.
  • The blimp generated significant press and attention in the early days of the company.

"We did 23andme had. There was a zeppelin back in. My ex husband had a zeppelin, or he was an investor in a zeppelin. Anyways, it had like a big 23 me on it."

This quote explains a unique marketing tactic employed by 23andMe involving a zeppelin, which served to capture public attention and create a memorable brand image, despite causing some initial confusion.

Leadership and Philanthropy

  • Wojcicki admires leaders who are genuine and unpolished, such as Mark Benioff.
  • She values Benioff's leadership and philanthropic efforts, emphasizing the importance of getting things done.
  • Wojcicki struggles to find leaders who she perceives as authentic and real, preferring those who are transparent and effective.

"I really appreciate his leadership. And I also specifically appreciate his philanthropy and how he just gets things done."

Anne Wojcicki expresses admiration for Mark Benioff's leadership style and philanthropy, emphasizing his ability to take action and make an impact.

Board Membership and Government Involvement

  • Wojcicki expresses a desire to be involved in government to make a significant impact.
  • She mentions Todd Park's influence as the CTO and the potential for change in such roles.
  • Wojcicki is also interested in organizations like Walmart due to their vast influence.
  • She has a passion for financial literacy and the power of compound interest, which she learned about as a child.

"I would love to be in government at some point, because, again, I think about from impact, like, I think about."

Wojcicki is considering a future role in government, driven by the potential for significant societal impact that such a position could offer.

Financial Literacy and Discipline

  • Wojcicki discusses the importance of financial literacy and the impact of early education on her financial discipline.
  • She shares a personal anecdote about her frugality and saving habits developed from childhood.
  • Wojcicki also touches on the challenges of instilling financial discipline in her children, given their more fortunate circumstances.

"I have unbelievable financial discipline with being able to save."

The quote reflects Wojcicki's strong financial discipline, which she attributes to her early education in financial literacy and her personal savings habits.

Preventive Healthcare and 23andMe's Mission

  • Wojcicki criticizes the healthcare industry's view of patients as incapable of self-care.
  • She takes pride in 23andMe's success in proving to the FDA that people can responsibly handle their genetic information.
  • Wojcicki's mission is to focus on prevention rather than disease management, aiming to help people avoid serious illnesses altogether.
  • She believes in the power of providing the right tools and information for effective preventive healthcare.

"I just want to prevent you from actually getting to disease."

This quote encapsulates Wojcicki's goal of shifting the healthcare paradigm from disease management to prevention, emphasizing the importance of empowering individuals with the knowledge and tools to maintain their health.

Future Goals for 23andMe

  • Wojcicki envisions a future where 23andMe further demonstrates people's capability to manage their health with genetic information.
  • She hopes to improve healthcare outcomes through prevention, focusing on genetic predispositions to diseases.
  • Wojcicki believes that preventing illness is crucial, as health is the most important aspect of life.

"So part of what I'm eager to do in this next phase, especially having the lemonade acquisition, is to show that we can give people their genetic information and that we can actually improve outcomes."

Anne Wojcicki expresses her eagerness to advance 23andMe's mission by empowering individuals with their genetic information to improve health outcomes and prevent diseases.

The Importance of Flexibility and Seizing Opportunities

  • Wojcicki discusses the importance of being adaptable and seizing the moment when opportunities arise.
  • She prefers not to over-prepare for engagements, instead choosing to go with the flow and follow the dialogue as it unfolds.

"You never know what's going to. You kind of have to seize the moment, and if something amazing is happening, you have to seize it."

The quote reflects Wojcicki's philosophy on the importance of staying flexible and taking advantage of unexpected opportunities as they present themselves.

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