FORTUNE -- For the first time since the FDA came down hard on 23andMe for marketing its DNA tests without proper approvals, founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki spoke about "the big challenge," as she called the firestorm, in an exclusive interview with Fortune.
"We failed to communicate proactively," Anne Wojcicki told the Fortune audience of 100 women leaders. Now scrambling to comply with the FDA's demands, Wojcicki has stopped advertising 23andMe's $99 DNA test kits. Meanwhile, she's facing a class-action lawsuit that claims that her company's ads are misleading and the results of its genetic tests aren't supported by scientific evidence.
23andMe has plenty of financial backing to weather this storm: $126 million in funding from Google, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, among others. Nonetheless, this is a seriously tough period for one of Silicon Valley's rising star entrepreneurs. Earlier this year, Wojcicki separated from her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The couple has two children.
Elder sister Susan and their mother, Esther, who was in the audience Tuesday evening, are offering helpful advice. To solve any problems, Esther told her daughters, you need to break them down: "Big challenges are an accumulation of small challenges," Anne said she learned from her mother.
Susan Wojcicki sympathetically noted that the genetics industry is a lot like the Internet was 15 years ago—a Wild West where the rules are newly forming and pioneers are constantly scrutinized. "In some ways, both companies [Google and 23andMe] are doing things that have never been done before," Susan said.
For more on 23andMe's FDA challenge and my exclusive interview with the Wojcicki sisters, read my colleague Michal Lev-ram's post here.
"If I wanted to make money, I would do something easier. Maybe women are prone to take crazy risks."
-- Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of consumer DNA startup 23andMe. The company's gene-testing service was named "Invention of the Year" in the new issue of Time. 23andMe beat runners-up such as the Tesla Roadster at No. 2, the Chevy Volt (GM) at No. 7, the Speedo (WRC) LZR Racer (No. 26), high-tech running MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 3, 2008 6:38 PM ET
Did you see the news this week that the two major personal DNA analysis companies, 23andMe and Navigenics, got licensed in California? What a brouhaha it's been--regulators issuing cease-and-desist letters, apparently aiming to protect consumers from sham operators in this nascent industry.
I just visited 23andMe's Linda Avey, who founded the company with Anne Wojcicki. Wojcicki happens to be the wife of Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google (GOOG), and Google MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Aug 21, 2008 6:10 PM ET
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