Has it ever occurred to you how your diet and genetics could be studied to give you more personalized medical advice? Well, that’s exactly what 3X4 Genetics is all about and founder Yael Joffe tells us all about the world of nutrigenomics and how 3X4 Genetics is changing the way healthcare professionals treat patients.
Initially starting out in architecture, Yael pivoted to the health sciences, specifically in dietetics and then later on to genetics. After discovering her love for genetics and nutrition and being upset with how little advancements she felt took place back then, she went on the path of hoping to redefine the industry of genetics. Hence, 3X4 Genetics was born.
Yael gives us a rundown on the basics of genetics and what their product is, who it is for, their four main pillars, and how these pillars ultimately contribute to all the advancements they are achieving. She explains the difference between their product and the rest of the direct-to-consumer products out there in this same space. Yael also shares the struggles she faced as she tried to raise funding and how she almost gave up but soldiered on until she found the right investors. More importantly, she shares her advice to early stage entrepreneurs like yourself and emphasizes the importance of courage and boldness.
Maiko Schaffrath 00:02
You are listening to Impact Hustlers, and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems. And for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems such as food waste, climate change, poverty, and homelessness. My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting an impact business yourself, by joining the team of one, or by taking a small step, whatever that may be, towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems. In today's episode, I speak to Yael Joffe, founder of 3X4 Genetics, a company enabling doctors to use genetic testing to make personalized health recommendations to their patients. With an academic background and having worked as a dietitian, she got frustrated with how generic health advice was, especially around nutrition. She was part of the team that built the first nutrigenomic test in 2000, actually, three years before the human genome was successfully mapped. Next, her entrepreneurial work, Yael is an adjunct professor teaching nutrigenomics at Rutgers University in the US. I'm really excited to have you on the show. Thanks for joining me.
Yael Joffe 01:29
Thanks, Maiko. Thanks for the introduction, and I'm very happy to be here.
Maiko Schaffrath 01:33
Great to have you. So, you spent actually a large share of your career as a dietitian before you even got into entrepreneurship, setting up your own company. Tell us about that time and that frustration that you felt at the time about the profession.
Yael Joffe 01:54
Yeah, so actually, I spent as little time as I possibly could being a dietitian. I actually started out in architecture. That's obviously not in my bio, but I started as an architect. I had no interest in science whatsoever, and my grandmother died from cancer. I was very close to my grandmother and decided I needed to pursue a career that would really understand cancer better and prevent cancer. It was just so frustrating about how she was treated and the lack of understanding. So, I left architecture and went to look for a degree in health which didn't exist, so I landed up in dietetics and after three weeks, literally, I was like, "This is this a terrible idea." It had nothing to do with health. It was all chocolate cake, ice cream, processed foods. It was awful. Margarine. It was terrible. I was like, "This is not the health that I was looking for." But I needed a degree, so I finished that degree as a dietitian and the entire time knowing that being a dietitian was never going to be enough for me. So, I got the degree, and then went traveling, landed up in London, as South Africans often are, and got a job working at a nutrition clinic in Holly Street to earn money. And while I was there, I met this extraordinary woman, Dr. Roslyn Gill-Garrison, who was a geneticist in 2000, and she had this idea that you could build a company around nutrition and genetics. I remember meeting her and thinking, "I don't even know. Is there really a connection between-?" I couldn't even imagine what this connection was, but there was something about what she was saying that was really intriguing to me. So, she was looking for a dietician who specialized in genetics, but that simply didn't exist in 2000. I was trying to get as far away from dietetics as possible, and so I was like, "I'll learn on the job. I'll study the textbooks. You'll teach me what you know." So, I joined this company called Sciona that started out in Southampton and eventually moved to Colorado. I moved to the States. I was the third employee, and I knew nothing. I mean, I literally knew nothing. It was a real case of "fake it until you make it," and I was literally sitting with a biology textbook going, "What is a chromosome? What is a gene?" And then, about three, four years into working with Sciona, so Sciona was the first company to build a nutrigenomics test in the world. I was part of that team. I realized that I really, really loved the world of genetics and how the nutrition that I was looking for all those years back when I started dietetics, I was starting to find in the genetic space. And so, I went back to university and realized that I actually needed to properly understand genetics, so I did a PhD in genetics, but I specialized in this amazing area called nutrigenomics, which is literally just nutrition and genetics and how they influence each other and how they, what is the relationship between them? So, that's how I landed up in this amazing space 21 years ago when no one else was talking about it. And people will say, "How did you get so lucky to specialize in nutrigenomics such a long time ago?" I was like, "Not sure it was luck." I mean, there's a little bit of luck. But a lot of it was just dissatisfaction and disillusionment with what was available to me and looking for answers and being the person who's always looking for an opportunity. I think even in my most academic days, I always had this streak of entrepreneur that was looking for a different angle or looking for something new that would challenge it. So, that's where my journey began.
Maiko Schaffrath 05:56
Amazing. So, bring us back to that time in 2000. Again, the human genome wasn't sequenced yet. I think both the state of nutrition science was probably pretty basic based on what you just shared, and genetics probably similarly basic compared to what we know today, even though there's still lots of progress to be made. Tell us more about the state of things back then. I assume a lot of people would have looked at you and the team you were in as pretty crazy and weird.
Yael Joffe 06:31
Yeah, I mean, we're seen crazy that I was a complete leper is the only way to describe it. As a dietitian, I was seen as a leper. I was excluded from everything. I wasn't invited to conferences. No one took me seriously. I never got asked to speak. They always used to tell me what a career-limiting move it was, that it was science fiction, that it was not real science. And so, there was one conference a year in nutrigenomics, and Roslyn and I used to go every year, and it would be the same 50 people from all around the world. There were 50 of us, and we would all come and talk, because no one else would talk to us. There would be one journal article, one scientific article a month, and we would all be sitting reading the same article a hundred times over. Now, if I spent all day and all night reading, I wouldn't come close to reading all the literature, but in those days, we were holding on to anything we could. We were like the diehards that were holding onto anything we could to show that the science was going to be the future, but I was completely excluded, and I think that's what it was like when people tell me I was lucky. It wasn't that I was lucky. I don't think I'm particularly a brilliant scientist, but what I was very courageous. I was very bold, and I was fearless, and I wasn't scared of being ostracized or criticized. In fact, there's probably a part of me that enjoyed being the outsider. There were many times where it was very hard. I first noticed people had 13 genes and 13. That was a big deal, because as you said, the human genome hadn't even been drafted yet, so we were completely ahead of our time and really ahead of the game. The sad thing is that company, Sciona, closed after seven years, with lots of funding but just could not make it in the marketplace. I spent a long time trying to figure out, because it was a true startup as in being first to market. What went wrong? And what are the lessons that I could learn when I build other businesses that why they closed? And I think in many ways, there is such a thing as being too early.
Maiko Schaffrath 09:05
So, do you think at that time, that was definitely too early, and you found the right spot now with your own company?
Yael Joffe 09:14
Yeah, I think then was too early. I think that no matter what we would have done, I mean, we could have done some things differently. But I think we were so early; it would have been very hard to survive. And everything was so expensive in those days. Obviously, with technology over the last couple of decades, everything has become much cheaper from the genetic testing and processing and extracting DNA. So, the interesting thing about the company, about 3X4 Genetics is that one of the reasons I founded this company is because about four or five years ago, I had a real moment of introspection, as I'm sure most of us do, when you look back on your career, and I looked back at the 15 years that I had been with working in this space and was actually extremely disappointed. I was disappointed in the industry. I was disappointed in my dream and vision of where I thought I would be 15 years down the line, and I really didn't believe that we had achieved the potential that we should have in the time. I mean, I've worked so hard for so long, and when I looked at what I'd achieved, I was like, "No. We didn't move the needle, actually. We didn't evolve the science. We didn't evolve the industry." And in fact, in my opinion, we've failed quite a lot, and I don't just mean me. I mean, as an industry as a whole, we really had failed the consumer. We had failed the practitioner. We had failed the public. And so, I was in a position where I had to decide either to step out and say, "Okay, well, I've done my 15 years. That was great. We had a good ride, but it hasn't been what I hoped it to be," or I needed to go back in and build something that tried to fix everything that I saw was broken. I was still young enough and energetic enough that I decided that I would give it one last go, that I would build a company that tried to not build the best genetic test but completely reimagine the industry of genetics and how we couldn't just fix one thing like a test, we actually had to fix everything. So, everything we did had to be better than it had ever been done before, and that was really my vision for 3X4, that we would change the gold standard for how genetics was offered to both the end user, the consumer, but also to practitioners from the user experience, the design work, design thinking right through to the science, the technology, and everything. I was like, go big or go home, and that for me, it has been 3X4 Genetics.
Maiko Schaffrath 12:05
I'd love to talk about that journey in a second, but maybe for everybody new to the field as well, can you give us a bit of a summary of what's the state of the science at the moment in terms of the connection of nutrition and genetics, the state of nutrigenomics, basically, and how that also relates to your company?
Yael Joffe 12:27
Yeah, so just to make sure it's a very good point just to explain what we mean. So, basically, we have a genetic code, we all have a genetic code. That's our DNA sequence, and it's just like a language, except it's a DNA language, and it has four letters in it, ACGT. When we think of code, like computer code or a language of spelling, we're 99.9% identical in our code. You and me, we're 99.9%. But the 0.1%, our code is different, and that means in our spelling of A's, and G's, and T's and C's, at 0.1%, we're going to have a different code, and it's this difference in code that makes you and me different. I would say it makes us different in who we are in the world and how we experience our world and how we respond to our world, how we respond to the food we eat, the supplements we take, the toxins in our environment, the trauma we might encounter, the stressors that we have. Everything about us that makes us different in this world can be down to this code. So, imagine now if we can test for this code, I can measure this code, and I can have a look [at] why you are different from me. So, when we talk about building a genetic testing company, the tests that we're doing, which we do what we call a buccal swab, which is just a cheek swab, so you wrap the inside of the cheek with a Q-tip and we get cheek cells, I mean, get your DNA out of there. What we're actually looking at is these, what I call spelling changes, these differences in code, which give us insights into who you are and how your body works. Because if we can understand how your body works differently from mine, then we can personalize everything for you. We can personalize your nutrition, your supplements, your exercise plans, your stress management, your lifestyle choices, everything about you. So, it speaks to the language of personalization. Often, we talk about precision medicine or personalized medicine and particularly the ability to use nutrition, food, supplements, exercise to change the way your genes switch on and off in your body. Because if we can understand who you are at a genetic level, we can give you advice on how to switch on and switch off genes to optimize your health and whether that's preventing disease, or managing disease, or sports performance, or weight management, it's all about, who are you and how can we personalize your diet and lifestyle for you?
Maiko Schaffrath 15:14
Got it. So, if we start, it doesn't just affect nutrition. It affects all kinds of health aspects, but if you start with nutrition, is it as simple as basically doing the test and almost receiving a personalized nutrition advice based on that? How does it actually work and what does the science say at the moment?
Yael Joffe 15:37
Yeah, there are many companies that do that where you'll buy it online and they'll send you a report and you read it; I don't do that. One of my strong beliefs is that if you want to, first of all, we are not only about genetics. We are, what we eat, what we do, who we are, our history, our family, our connection with other individuals, and we are our genes. In 3X4, we believe that you need to really personalize someone's diet and lifestyle. You need to know who they are. Plus, you need to know who their genes are. We don't have what we call direct-to-consumer testing. You can't buy our report directly online and just get a report. What we do is we train health practitioners, dieticians, doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors, nutritionists on how to interpret your genetic report and how to use it to be able to personalize your diet and lifestyle. You would buy a 3X4 genetic test from one of our practitioners, and they would personalize your interventions based on what they understood about who you are, your goals of why you came to them, and what your genetics were telling them. So, there's a big difference between, say, 23andMe, who will just send your report, but that isn't real personalization. So, as I said, we really want to make sure that whoever is working with you knows how to interpret genetics to give you the greatest value you can get out of the information.
Maiko Schaffrath 17:15
Got it. So, if we compare it to what they would have done before, before, I assume they would have given relatively generic advice based on a few factors that they asked you about and now, they're able to personalize that more, give us a little bit of a contrast of before and after?
Yael Joffe 17:32
Yeah, because the problem with direct-to-consumer is, if you don't know who the person is and you don't know what their medical history is, you don't know what is going on with him or why they did the test, when you offer them a report, you have to dumb it down, because you don't know who they are. So, you dumb it down and dumb it down to the point where it's like is, did I sell this person data, or did I sell them clinical valuable information and insights about themselves? So, whenever we go direct-to-consumer, we're dumbing it down to be generic, because we also don't want to land up at the FDA or at some regulatory environment, because we offered advice about something that we don't actually know about. That's why I'm a big fan of working with health professionals who've been highly trained to make sure that you're getting the greatest value from the genetics. I think what's happened in the marketplace is they've been so- I call it the mushroom effect, where everyday, there's a new genetic testing company in the marketplace, because it's the cool thing, genetics is in, and it's easy to build a genetic test. But, they copy and paste all the DNA tests in the marketplace, and then the public are being completely underwhelmed by what they're getting. They're like, "This promised me personalization, but this feels like I could Google this information." So, that's one of the reasons why I work with highly trained professionals who really will make sure that you get the personalization that you really deserve if you're going to do genetics.
Maiko Schaffrath 19:03
Got it. And I assume a lot of these professionals would have previously not actually worked with genetics. I assume a large part of your company is about education of those professionals. How do you approach that and what's some of the experience in that space?
Yael Joffe 19:21
Yeah, so when I mentioned about, we didn't want to just build the best science and the best tests, we wanted to fix the industry, part of that is we built the company on four pillars. One is the best science and the best reports, but we have three other departments: education, mentorship, and community. I took a five-year sabbatical from building genetic tests, because I was so disillusioned, and I built an online company in education, what we call Translational Nutrigenomics. How do I use genetics in my practice with my patients, so that it really makes me a better practitioner? And I built an online course, courses actually, and have been training health professionals around the world. When I started 3X4, I took my education company, which is called Manuka Science, and brought it into 3X4, now called 3X4.Ed, so that anyone who came into our world of 3X4 went through training, and we have multiple levels depending on how expert you want to be. And then, I realized that educating at a content level was not enough, so you do your 10 modules. You'd actually learn content knowledge wasn't enough, because when your first patient walks in the door, you've got to know how to take that report and really integrate it and merge it with what your patient's presenting with. So, we added a third pillar to the company, which is mentorship. We have incredible mentors who work with practitioners through the early stages, holding their hand, nurturing them, and actually working with them saying, "Let's have a look at your patient. Did you look at this? Did you think about this?," until they are confident enough to be able to go off and by themselves. And then, the fourth pillar was community, that all these practitioners have somewhere to go where they can ask questions, they can find other practitioners, they can learn from each other, they can teach each other. So, it wasn't just about building the next test, we needed to make sure that we would raise the level completely for everyone, and that's what we've been doing.
Maiko Schaffrath 21:37
Amazing. That's a really interesting approach with- do you find there are a lot of companies having a similar approach of involving practitioners? Because everything I've seen is so far pretty much direct-to-consumer-focused? Is that right or are there more moving into that space as well?
Yael Joffe 21:57
I think the majority of testing is still happening in the direct-to-consumer space, but there are definitely other practitioner companies. I think where we have really tried to do things better, as I said in the beginning, is most practitioner companies will offer an education course, but no one has an entire company just focusing on education, and they don't have the mentorship, because it's mentorship that really gets practitioners to be brilliant at what they do. I think there are other practitioner companies which I'm very grateful for, but no one's taken on the job of making practitioners what we call experts, guiding them on a journey, no matter if they've never heard the word genetics before. We'll take them right from the beginning through to as far as they want to go, and I think that's where we're getting stronger and stronger.
Maiko Schaffrath 23:01
To some degree, you shared earlier, you had to go through this journey yourself a while ago when you first got involved in the space of nutrigenomics. And with that, I'd love to shift a little bit into your entrepreneurial journey, a bit more into some of the lessons learned. We have early stage entrepreneurs listening to this, and I think one of the very typical things that I see in your story is really seeing a frustration in your daily life or in your professional life. And it seems like your frustration grew and grew, and you've been on it for quite a while until then you're able to start the company. I'd love to understand, how did you actually then decide to pull the trigger on starting the company? Did you form collaborators? Did you get other people involved? How did you get onto this journey of being like, "Okay, now, I can do this. I can solve this problem"?
Yael Joffe 24:12
Yeah, so this is where the pain comes in. I made a very clear decision that I wanted to start a company, and I had an idea. I didn't have a product; I had an idea. I had been involved in many startups before, but I'd never been responsible for starting a startup. I was always the second employee or the third employee. So, I was incredibly naive about what it took to start a company, which I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's probably a good thing, because I probably wouldn't have done it otherwise. The two things that I did was I realized I needed- so I funded the beginning where literally, you don't take a salary for a couple of years while you're trying to build out your idea while you're trying to find funding. I then used up all my savings, horrible time, and paying other people's salaries. So, that was the end of those savings. But I did two things. One is I formed an amazing partnership with a company called Sea Monster, which was a gamification company, because one of the issues I realized when I was formulating my idea is that as a scientist, all the companies I've been involved in, scientists had built product, and that's a really bad idea. What you really want is people who understand UX and user experience and product to build products. So, I reached out to a company called Sea Monster, which was a gamification, VR, AR, design thinking, amazing company in Cape Town, and I sold them on this idea that I knew everything about genetics, but how do I build something that people will want to engage with, whether you're a doctor or a consumer, that you will be super excited to interact with it and engage with it? And I knew that I didn't have that expertise. So, I managed to convince them. That was my first big one, and they didn't want to invest, but they were happy to do work at a discount, and they would build up like a loan account, and when eventually I got funding, I would pay them the discounted amount. So, they obviously believed in it enough to do the work before I'd got the funding, then the problem was getting the funding. So, we had an idea, and we spent a lot of time with Sea Monster to get an idea. And I have to say, it was probably one of the hardest years of my life, not earning, paying salaries, trying to earn a little bit of money. I ran a nutrigenomics clinic and ran the education company at the same time as trying to fund my new idea, which was 3X4 Genetics, so working three jobs and trying to find funding, and just the experience of the pitch over and over again, of investors or angel investors saying how amazing, exciting and then saying, "It's not the right time," or, "It's not the right profile," and I think that was a solid year. I don't even remember how many conversations I've had. We applied for an incubator at Illumina in San Francisco. I funded myself flying over there, pitched to them, came second, which doesn't help if you come second. And so, you're like, "Well, we're obviously on the right track, but we came second, and we just spent $50,000 flying to San Francisco." And in fact, what happened was after a year, I was broken. I was exhausted from running three companies, and I had lost faith. Actually, it was coming back from San Francisco after having come second in these finals of this incubator competition where I gave myself another month and I said, "If I don't find money at the end of this month, I'm done. I'll carry on with education and my clinic, but I'm shelving the idea of a new company. I can't carry on." I actually couldn't, didn't have money to carry on, and I actually just couldn't. I went for dinner at a friend who kept on inviting me for dinner, for Friday night dinner, and I kept canceling. I flew in on the Thursday and I had done on the Friday night. I was like, "I am so jet lagged. I can't believe I have to go and sit and have dinner. I'm going to fall asleep in the soup." Anyway, I went because I felt so bad and these friends, he had just sold his company. He had a very successful retail clothing company, and he was like, "What are you up to these days, Yael?," and I'm like, "Well, I've got this company." I didn't even want to talk about it. I was so sick of pitching that I didn't even want. I was like, "I'm out for dinner with my children. I don't want to talk about it." But they just kept on saying, "What are you doing?" Anyway, so I was like, "Well, I've got this idea." Very half-hearted, "I've got this idea," and he's like, "That sounds amazing. Are you looking for money?" I'm like, "Yeah, I'm looking for money," and he's like, "Well, I sold my company and I've got some money to invest and I'm looking to invest," and I'm like, "Yeah, sure. I've heard that story a hundred times." Monday morning, he phones me, and he goes, "Should we have coffee?" I was like, "Sure." By then, I had slept a bit. We had coffee and I tell him my idea remembering I have no product and he goes, "Hmm. Let's try and do our due diligence quite quickly. I know you need the money now," and that was it. Within four weeks, the money was in the bank account, and he came in as an angel investor. He was absolutely fantastic. He gave me enough money to build the product, to have an MVP, to get into the market, to pay myself a minimal salary, to get some premises. When I look back, I was so close. I always call him my "angel squared," because he hung in with us until I could get proper funding in the US. It never gets easier, Maiko. That's the only thing I would say, is in the beginning, you're looking for whatever like half a million, and you think that's the hugest money in the world. And then, you get that, and then you start employing people, and then you run out of that money so quickly, and then you're looking for your next million or two million. And so, if you're the founder of a company, you never, ever stop looking for money, unless you've got a brilliant business idea that's generating cash, but that's not the nature of the business I'm in. So, the one thing that's been the hardest for me in this space is the acceptance and the realization that that never goes away. It never goes away. The number changes. So, you go from 500 to 2 million to 5 million to 10 million, but the need to always be pitching for your company and always be selling yourself and selling the future never goes away.
Maiko Schaffrath 31:16
Got it. Especially in the early days, I feel you when you just shared the story on how hard this can be in the early days when you're basically working on your savings, and you're seeing slowly the end of your savings and at the same time, you don't really have the product yet. And I think a lot of advice out there is it's really difficult to raise anything pre-product, you need to have something and show something. But in the space you're in, that's super difficult or pretty much impossible unless you've already developed it in an academic environment or something like that. So, what would your advice be for founders going into a similar space as yours, maybe into the medical field or some space that requires quite some resources to pull off the product? How do you actually raise a lot of product? Is it-
Yael Joffe 32:17
Maiko Schaffrath 32:18
You've just got to keep at it like you did?
Yael Joffe 32:22
Here's what I used to say. People used to say to me, "Why did you do this? Just go get a job." I mean, it's easy for me to get a job. And my comment has always been that you don't actually choose to be an entrepreneur. It chooses you. Part of the journey for me was the acceptance that that's who I am. I am an entrepreneur and that I needed to own that, and I needed to own the joy and the pain. Because at any point, I could have gotten a job. And yet, I was never going to be that person. I always wanted to be the person who's pushing the boundaries, innovating, owning something. That would be my first comment. If you are an entrepreneur, you are an entrepreneur. Own it, accept it, and it'll come with the greatest moments in your life and the hardest moments in your life. The other thing I'd say is, the reason why I think, I mean if you call me successful, and I guess in many ways I have been successful, the company has grown beautifully now, is courage, courage and boldness. People are like, "Why do I succeed over someone else?" Two reasons. One is to be brave. If you've got to be one thing, you've got to be brave. Even if you don't always feel brave inside, you have to act brave and you have to be brave. I always had this in my head that, "What would it be like to have nothing?" My kids and I would move to a small flat. I'd get a job, but God forbid become a dietician and have to see patients. So, I always say to myself, "What is the worst case scenario of complete and total failure? And if I still had my degrees, I still had a profession, what would be the worst thing that could happen to us? Would my children starve? Would they not be able to go to school?" And I worked out that I would be fine. I would survive. We would move to a suburb that I didn't love. We would move to an apartment, and my children would go to public school, and we would not shop at great- but I had a great profession. I was pretty smart, and we would start again. So, once I gave up on the fear of losing everything, I felt much braver in pushing myself to the point of nothing, because I realized that savings are just savings. That's exactly what they are, and that's exactly what they're there for and we came pretty close. But now, of course, you build them up, and then you lose them again. I think for me, the big acceptance is never to be attached to the wealth of entrepreneurship, because it's an illusion. If you're going to be an entrepreneur, how much money you have will flow in and out for the rest of your life. That's how it's going to be. Because even if you succeed and sell your business, you're going to invest it in the next thing that comes along, because you can't help yourself, so you're going to be back to zero. So, for me, it was really important to say, "What does it look like to me when I have nothing?," and I could get my head around it. So, I stopped being fearful, so for me, bravery, courage. The other thing I would say is, when you don't have a product and you have an idea, the only thing you're selling is yourself. That's it. So, make sure and when I talk to my early stage investors, my angel, I mean, I have a few investors now and I ask them why they've invested when, really, they shouldn't have. It really wasn't a great idea. And all of them will say, "It was you. We believed in you. We believed that you would execute, and you would actually be able to build something." So, if you're an early stage entrepreneur and you've got an idea, but you've got no revenue or no product, you've got to understand who you are, what your vision is, what your competency is, and how to sell yourself in a very, very authentic way, because what they don't want is what I call the schmooze. They don't want that. They want to know why you are eating, sleeping, and dreaming this business, why you're prepared to live in a council flat rather than not build what you have to build, because that's the only reason they're going to invest because on every other metric, they're not going to invest.
Maiko Schaffrath 37:09
Love the advice. One point I'm wondering about as well is, you're from South Africa, you're actually in South Africa right now. One question I would ask is around markets as well. So, South Africa, and you're about to move to the US. Your company is based in the US, heavily focused on the US. Obviously, it's very logical generally to focus on the US market versus a much smaller South African market. But how did you think about that in the early days and what would your advice be for founders coming from smaller markets? Should everybody be focusing on the biggest possible and move there or did you actually start out in South Africa initially? How did you go about it?
Yael Joffe 38:03
Yeah, absolutely. So, we started in South Africa. We launched in May 2018 in South Africa, and I always had the intention of going to the States, but my idea was build a South African market. I remember we launched with an MVP, develop the product to the point where I was happy, and once I was comfortable that our systems, our technology and our product was mature enough, then I would try get into the US also understanding that I had no idea how I was going to break into the US, although I had been working and building my reputation in the academic world in the US for many, many years, and I lived in the US for a while. So, what happened is I used to travel to conferences three, four times a year in the US, and I used to see the same people all the time. And when you're a founder of a company, you need to talk a lot. You need to talk a lot. So, I used to go to these conferences. I would barely attend a single talk. I would stand by where they serve coffee and tea. Most people drink coffee in America, and I was the tea drinker. I had to take my own tea bags, which as you know, in England, they understand that because the American tea bags are terrible. I would make tea and I will chat, and I will talk, and I met some extraordinary people. One of the conferences I went to, I took some sample reports, printed beautifully sample reports from South Africa. I took four, only four and I actually had two back-to-back conferences. I was standing chatting to someone called Tom Blue who is like a thought leader in the industry of personalized medicine, a fantastic guy, and both of us weren't in the talk and both of us were making tea. So, I got chatting and he's like, "What are you up to nowadays?," and I was like, "Well, I founded this South African company and etc." He says, "Oh, that sounds great. Can I have a look at it?" So, I said, "Yeah, let me just go to my hotel room," came back with a report, and he looks at those reports and he says, "Why is it in South Africa?" I was like, "Well, it's an MVP, and we're not ready for America," and he says, "Are you mad?" He said, "There is nothing like this in the United States. I have never seen anything better than what you showed me, and you're telling me that you're not ready for the States, that you want to perfect the product in South Africa before you come here? This is insane." He said, "You need to be here, and you need to be here in two months' time," and I was like, "Really? You think so? But it's an MVP." He says, "Yes, your MVP is better than anyone else's product." So, I met another person at the coffee stand, showed them the report, and I got the same. I showed quite a few people, and I got the same response from everyone. So, I came back home, and I told my team, "We're going to pivot the company. We're going to pivot the company. We're going to be super brave and super bold. We're going to maintain South Africa, because it generates revenue and it's easy for us to run it. But we're going to focus all our resources and find an investor for the US and launching in the US." And one of the people I've met at the tea station is very wealthy, and she has a foundation, and she invests in health a lot. I was going back to the States one month later to speak at a conference, and she said she was going to come to listen to me speak, and she was going to bring her wealth manager, she called him, her wealth manager, and he was going to come listen to me speak. So, I flew back, went and did my presentation. She was sitting in the front row with him. I call her my fairy godmother, Ruth Westra, and she booked us for lunch, and we went for lunch afterwards. His name is Tony Su. And he says to me, "Fantastic presentation. Love your thinking. So, how much money are you looking for?" And I'm like, "I don't know." "And what are your plans for the USA?" "I don't know." He's like, "Are you coming to the USA?" I'm like, "I don't know," as if I knew nothing. I knew nothing. And he's like, "You need to go back and build the business plan for the USA, and you need to tell me how much money you need, and then you need to fly back to Seattle and come do a pitch," and that's literally what happened. I flew back, we worked on a pitch, I flew back to Seattle to do a pitch with him. Our pitch was terrible. He kept on saying, "What is your exit strategy?," and I'm like, "I'm not even sure I understand what that means," and he was like, "Don't worry, we'll figure that out," and he absolutely loved it and he funded it. Within two months, we had launched into the US. Unfortunately, we launched straight into COVID which was horrific. So, we launched in February 2020, and we had one month of trading and then COVID hit, and we had to shut down. By some miracle, we had found the best investor in the US, because literally, he invested and had one month of trading and then zero. And he came back to us, and he said, "I believe in you guys. I'm going to carry on funding you through COVID even without sales, but at the end of it, you better have produced not an MVP, but your next version. So, focus on R&D. But no, don't cut any salaries. And in fact, if you need to hire, hire, because I think that you're worth investing." And so, we were just extremely lucky that we had the best investor who could have just said, "You know what? It was only a million. Let's move on." So, that's how we landed up coming into the US and since, yeah, for about the last year, year and a half, we're now starting to get amazing traction and amazing growth, and we're now going for a series B fundraise, yeah.
Maiko Schaffrath 44:18
Wow. What a story and you're about to move there full-time. I feel we could record a bunch of other follow-on podcasts from this, but I only have one question left for this one, which is all about maybe very fitting given that you're focusing more on the US, but let's focus on the world. What do you think does the world look like in 10 years if 3X4 Genetics succeeds?
Yael Joffe 44:50
Yeah, so we are focusing on the US, but actually, we're looking to come into the UK next year. And so, where I think we're going to land up is we have some really exciting IP that we're building up now. I think we will become the number one practitioner-based genetic testing company. I think we're well on our way to that. I think our recipe is working. But our next level, which is the 10X level, so to speak, is when you talk about the Intel Inside or powered by Intel idea, is we have some extraordinary IP around genetics that we believe we'll be able to partner with pretty much every healthcare company in the world irrespective of geography or industry, whether it's exercise and wearables, if it's nutrition and glucose monitoring, if it's cardiovascular and hypertension, anything that's measurable, if it's peloton, it doesn't matter. We believe that we will become the genetic company that powers other health companies and that won't have a geographic limitation or boundary to it in the way that what we're doing currently does. So, we see what I've been talking about now as our foundational business, we'll be building credibility, reputation, some revenue, but really building our strength. The next level will be where we bring our extraordinary science and user experience to power other companies, and I hope that in 10 years, it'll be powered by 3X4 that you'll be seeing everywhere.
Maiko Schaffrath 46:43
Let's catch up then or hopefully earlier than that, but would love to keep track of your journey, and it sounds like an exciting journey. Thanks so much, Yael, for sharing that with us.
Yael Joffe 46:57
Thanks, Maiko. It's been really fun.