On Sunday, March 16th, 2014, the Houston Chronicle features an article about Houston’s own entrepreneurs, Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan who founded Gene by Gene, parent company of Family Tree DNA. Below, in a photo from the Chronicle, they hold samples of DNA trayed and ready to run in their Gene by Gene lab.
How many of you know that the pair began as a photographic film salesman and a watchmaker? This just proves what passion and innovation can and will do. Impossible is not a word either man knows.
Begun in 2000 as a retirement business, today Family Tree DNA has tested over 600,000 people directly and another half a million people through National Geographic through the Genographic and Geno 2.0 projects.
Their business model: Buy what you can afford. Don’t hire anyone you might have to lay off. Invest in automation and technology.
This seems to be working, as they are profitable and have provided a total of over 5 million discrete tests, between Family Tree DNA and the other Gene by Gene testing companies which provide medical and paternity testing.
The story of how the company began is legendary in DNA circles. Bennett Greenspan, a frustrated genealogist who had hit a dead end approached Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona. One might suggest that approached isn’t really the correct word. Hounded might be better. Bennett understood that his Y chromosome would match that of someone else who shared a paternal ancestor, and he wanted to find a lab to do that test. Michael Hammer finally simply acquiesced to get rid of Bennett, with the now infamous throw away line, “You know, someone should start a business doing this.” Never, never say that to an entrepreneur.
As reported in the Chronicle, reflectively, Dr. Hammer, an adviser to Gene by Gene and a regular speaker at the Family Tree DNA annual genetics conference, says today, “It was just the right time, right place. No one thought this was going to turn into anything.” Michael had obviously never met a man like Bennett.
I’ve known Bennett for 13 or 14 years now. It’s easy to see him as a successful businessman. But to know Bennett is to remember that he is truly a genealogist at heart, and everything he does with Family Tree DNA has genealogy as its heart and soul. If you walk into his office, you will be immediately reminded of this fact, and it’s hard to see Bennett as anything else other than one of us – just a kind-hearted genealogist seeking answers. In the photo below from the Chronicle, Bennett stands in front of his ancestor timeline which resides on his office wall. I wonder how many of these ancestors he has represented by DNA haplogroups today.
Thank you so much Bennett, for pushing that envelope, hounding Dr. Hammer and birthing genetic genealogy. Today, Max and Bennett are truly shepherding consumer genetics to the next step.
“We took science that was performed in a stuffy lab and brought it into the general public,” Greenspan said.
Thank Heavens they did. We are all the beneficiaries.
To read the rest of the article and for more photos, click here.