Vator Box opens the kimono (Zivity, 23andMe)
This week, the theme on Vator Box is transparency. We look at two women-started social networking sites that reveal who we are at some core level. The first one is Zivity, a $7-million-funded company that founder Cyan Banister describes in her video pitch as a beauty site that "sits at the intersection of MySpace, Playboy and American Idol and Playboy." This is not your mother's iVillage. We also looked at 23andMe, a personal genomics company with $10 million in funding from Genentech and Google, that hopes to create social networks around a person's haplotype. (Watch interview with 23andMe cofounder Linda Avey in 23andMe ushers in social 'DNA' networks.)
The high-profile startup lets people get access to their genetic information and learn their predispositions for health conditions, or get a better understanding of their ancestry and traits. Our guest host and Simon Cowell for this segment was Deva Hazarika, founder of enterprise software company ClearContext. Even though Deva applied 27 times and has been rejected for the Zivity beta program, he still gave worthwhile observations, like this one: "What we can do is use the genomic social network to get the early indicators of who's going to be able to be on Zivity later."
In all seriousness, the conversation around Zivity really zeroed in on whether the site - with 50% of all photos being in the nude - could maintain a level of integrity and standards around high-brow, tastefully-shot females. The jury is still out. To that end, it was unclear to us just how Zivity reaches its goal of having 100,000 subscribers paying $10 a month for a subscription. But one thing was agreed upon, it's pretty clear that most sites that show a little flesh are probably going to be popular businesses.
Even though we dove into the concerns around privacy and discrimination and health care, the big question for us was how much genetic testing improves people's health. Studies are mixed. One study on smokers conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center found that "giving smokers information about their genetic risk of lung cancer upped the motivation to quit -- but a year afterward, they were not more likely to quit smoking than people who received counseling," according to a Los Angeles Times article. Another study at Boston University tested people for Alzheimer's. According to the same article, people who were tested for high risk for Alzheimer's changed their behavior in favor of a healthier lifestyle, but it was unclear if that change in behavior could ultimately prevent the disease. We were mixed on the price point. Deva thought $1,000 was minimal for the information. Ezra and I were skeptical about whether that fee was low enough for the average person to pay.
Overall, we liked both companies.