Editor’s Note: This story originally published on May 3, 2018
Othman Laraki’s decision to test his DNA changed his life – and his career.
That’s when the former Twitter executive found out he is at risk of developing certain types of cancer. The results spurred him to found Color in 2013. The at-home genetic testing service helps people assess their risk for common hereditary cancers and heart conditions, so they can decide whether to take preventive action.
Other DNA testing services, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, specialize in helping people discover their family history and ethnicity. But Color solely tests for hereditary health issues, such as cancer, heart disease and cholesterol.
CNNMoney asked Laraki to share his experience creating Color and his advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
My inspiration for Color was …
The history of cancer in my family. I have a gene myself known as BRCA2, which increases one’s predisposition to cancer, particularly melanoma, prostate, pancreatic and breast cancer. These experiences have given me a firsthand understanding of the life saving benefits of having access to one’s genetic information – and the tragic cost of not.
This personal experience, as well as that of many of my colleagues at Color, have been the drivers behind our mission. We seek to make it possible for everyone to understand their hereditary risk for serious conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, and enable individuals and their physicians to take a proactive approach to treatment.
The scariest part of my job is …
Not being able to move faster. Every year, millions of people die from cancer or heart disease. Many of these deaths could have been predicted and even prevented through genetic testing, which allows patients to understand their disease risk and take action.
The knowledge gained from medically actionable genetic testing like Color’s could save some of those lives by helping people understand if they’re at risk for cancer or heart disease before they’re actually diagnosed. And at Color, we feel a great responsibility to reach everyone who could benefit from this knowledge, as soon as possible.
If I could tell my 18-year-old self one thing, it would be …
You’re going to meet these two really nerdy guys named Larry and Sergey, Google’s co-founders. Join their company the first time they ask you to. (Laraki worked at Google from 2004 to 2008).
I’m kidding; the real answer is, focus on surrounding yourself with the right people; everything else tends to take care of itself.
The thing that brings me the most joy is …
Personally, cuddling up with my three boys and my amazing wife. Professionally, getting to meet the people whose lives we’ve impacted, and knowing we’ve helped those folks be there with their families, too.
If I could have dinner with any influential figure from any time period, it would be…
Henrietta Lacks, who donated her cells to cancer research more than 60 years ago. I’d tell her how big of an impact she’s had on medicine and science for generations to come, and make sure she knows how much she’s meant to the world.
Also: Alexander Hamilton, so I can tell him to skip the duel.
I’d like to be remembered as …
Someone who assembled an amazing team that helped change health care forever by removing barriers to preventive health care, thus making it possible for hundreds of millions of people to live the healthiest lives that science and medicine allow.
The thing you probably don’t know about me is …
Growing up in Morocco, I was a pretty bad student. I didn’t start doing well in school until one quarter when I was 16, and it happened almost by accident.
A great computer science teacher got me into coding; I became obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, which helped me get good grades in English; and I became weirdly fascinated by mathematical proofs. If it weren’t for the programming language Pascal, those hobbits and the satisfaction of writing “QED,” I might not have gone to college.
If I weren’t CEO of Color I’d be …
Living in Maui spending my days kitesurfing, cycling and hanging out with my family. Oh, and at night I’d be an electronic music DJ.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is …
When I was an intern at Microsoft in 1998 or so, I had lunch at Bill Gates’ house. I asked him, ‘Hey, given how big Microsoft is, how do you manage to keep everyone focused and motivated?’
I thought he was going to give me some elaborate management suggestion. Instead, he just said, “Hire the right people.”
My advice to people searching for their inspiration is …
Sometimes the most important missions in life aren’t ones you choose, but ones that choose you.
Being a BRCA2 carrier is a big part of why I’m working on Color. It is intimately connected to who I am.
Take a look at who you are, not at your ambitions. When you look at ambitions, you look at other people’s successes and often end up trying to model your successes after other people. The best pursuits are intimately tied to who you are and what you want to be doing.
Color genomics ceo othram loraki cancer dna testing entrepreneur startup health care