The CEO of Twist Bioscience on why writable DNA will change just about everything
Continuing our exploration of health-related companies that are fundamentally shifting our understanding of the industry, meet Emily Leproust, the Parisian founder of Twist Bioscience. An industrial chemist with a PhD in bioscience, Leproust and her team are reimagining industrial processes using nature’s most powerful mechanisms. The results are stunning: replacements for oil-based products, spider silk at scale, and a new kind of digital storage that lasts for generations. Below is Leproust’s presentation at NewCo Shift Forum, and a transcript, edited for clarity.
Emily Leproust: I learned English in Texas, but I didn’t pick up the accent.
Rob Reid argues that perhaps the best answer is “Ideally, no.”
Rob Reid’s career has spanned founding successful Internet companies (he created Real’s Rhapsody service), a stint in venture investing, and a well received non-fiction book (Architects of the Web profiled the first wave of internet entrepreneurs). But it was in fiction where Reid found his groove. Reid’s novels are rife with arch and hilarious observations about the state of the tech industry, but are also painstakingly researched and carefully constructed. His first work of fiction, Year Zero, lampooned the music industry (with a heavy dose of alien-driven satire), but his second, set to debut later this year, is far more ambitious. Titled After On, the story turns on the emergence of machine-native super intelligence (laced with a heavy dose of biotech), in the form of an pervasive social network called Phluttr. I won’t spoil it for you — but at the NewCo Shift Forum earlier this year, Reid outlined some of the deep thinking that went into his latest creation. Reid delivered his thoughts as an Ignite talk — the five minute format created by Brady Forrest, who introduced Reid from the stage. Below is the video and a transcript of Reid’s talk.
Brady Forrest: We’ve had kind of an arc here at Ignite. We began in the past, we talked about the present, and now with our last speaker, we’re going to go look in the future. Please welcome up, Rob Reid.
Rob Reid: If you want to become an expert in something you know nothing about, I suggest you sign up to write a book about it. The prospect of awful reviews will terrify you, and as this guy will tell you, fear is a very powerful motivator. Now the other great thing about writing is that authors get amazing access to experts. I learned this twenty years ago, when I wrote a book about the rise of the internet. Practically everybody who mattered in the industry sat down for interviews with me, because smart people believe in books. They want them to be accurate, and no school could have taught me what I learned from these folks, which inspired me later to start my own company which built the Rhapsody music service, but I only started getting really high quality time and attention from top scientists and technologists when I gave up writing non-fiction and started writing science fiction.
Any leader of a growing company knows that hiring is crucial, and hiring is hard. You need to move fast or you can’t meet goals. But you need to move carefully because the wrong people will run your organization aground.
So far, the new Trump administration, despite its business background, has flunked the hiring test: It has moved slowly, yet it has failed to properly vet its picks, and it now faces a “personnel crisis” (The New York Times). Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Sharon LaFraniere write: “Many federal agencies and offices are in states of suspended animation, their career civil servants answering to temporary bosses whose influence and staying power are unclear, and who are sometimes awaiting policy direction from appointees whose arrival may be weeks or months away.”
Turns out, not as much as you — and they — would like to think
A journalist once asked me how many jobs NAFTA had created or destroyed. I told him I had no reliable idea. Certainly jobs had been lost when factories closed and moved to Mexico but other jobs had been gained because Americans now had more resources and increased their demand for products that would not be easy to identify. Why not? Because thousands and thousands of jobs are created every month and it is very difficult, perhaps impossible to know which ones are related to NAFTA allowing Americans to buy less expensive goods from Mexico. I also told him that I believed that trade neither destroyed nor created jobs on net. It’s main impact was to change the kinds of jobs and what they paid.
The journalist got annoyed. “You’re a professional economist. You’re ducking my question.” I disagreed. I am answering your question, I told him. You just don’t like the answer.
When a tech company hits the peak of its dominance, it believes it can be all things to all users. Think Microsoft in the ’90s, or Google in the aughts. Today, it’s Facebook’s turn.
This week, Facebook announced that, among all the other roles it now plays in your life — connecting you with friends, delivering your news, processing your text messages, and so forth — it will help you find a job (Kurt Wagner in Recode). Maybe you thought Facebook was supposed to be for your personal profile, and LinkedIn was for your resume? That’s so 2011 of you! Now Facebook wants companies to post job openings on their pages, and the service will pre-populate application forms with the user’s Facebook data before sending it in (via Messenger, of course). Where LinkedIn and Craigslist charge employers for listings, Facebook’s plan is free.