Youtube CEO, biotech founder, and doctor – the Wojcicki’s are considered a successful family in America’s technology space. They think it has something to do with their upbringing.
It is well known that there is competition among siblings. The success of your own brother or sister can spur you on like nothing else – think of the storyteller’s Brothers Grimm, the music band Jackson Five or the tennis players Venus and Serena Williams.
The prototype of such a successful family in Silicon Valley is the Wojcicki sisters. Susan is the CEO of the YouTube video platform, Anne founded the biotech startup 23andMe and Janet is a resident at one of the top hospitals in the country, the University of California San Francisco. The three are probably the best-known siblings of Silicon Valley.
As children, they fought a lot and were friends at the same time, Susan Wojcicki recalled last year at an event organized by the Atlantic Council think tank. “Janet is eighteen months younger than me and has always had the goal of catching up and being better than me. And my goal was to stay one step ahead of her. That drove us both a lot.”
The three women grew up on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, a 45-minute drive south of San Francisco. Her father, who was born in Poland, headed the physics faculty there. The three girls were constantly surrounded by outstanding academics. At university barbecues, the daughters regularly questioned the guests. “We have learned not to be intimidated. It was never that we couldn’t challenge someone just because he or she was important,” Susan said in a video interview with Bloomberg Technology.
Google started as a startup in Susan’s garage
Susan, now 53, is the eldest of the sisters. She is best known in Silicon Valley for the fact that the garage in her family home was the first Google headquarters. At the time, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were graduate students at Stanford University, had just founded their startup, and were looking for affordable office space.
Susan had recently bought a house with her husband in Menlo Park and had a mortgage to pay off, so she rented out the garage to Page and Brin. “I wasn’t sure what they were doing there,” she recalls. “But I understood that their project would help me find information, and as an academic kid I found that fascinating.” The following year she started at Google herself as the 16th employee; today the group has more than 135,000 employees and in 2020 had sales of more than 182 billion dollars.
In the early years, Wojcicki, who studied history and literature at Harvard University, took on all sorts of tasks in the start-up: She had the idea for the small cartoon characters that still adorn the search engine’s start page on special occasions.
As the first marketing manager, she designed Google’s advertising model, which already accounted for 95 percent of sales at the time. Most importantly, she convinced Brin and Page to buy the YouTube video platform in 2006. 1.65 billion dollars was a proud price for it at the time. But Wojcicki was correct in her assessment: Today, the platform is worth more than ten times and contributes almost 20 percent to Google’s sales.
Susan Wojcicki has been the managing director of Youtube since 2014. Among other things, the mother of three ensured that Google now has its own parking spaces for pregnant women and breastfeeding rooms.
As CEO, she is now also fighting against problems such as hate speech and conspiracy theories on the platform – and currently with the question of when Donald Trump’s YouTube account should be unblocked again.
“When we find that the danger of new riots has passed, we will activate the account again. Trump is subject to the same rules like any other user,” she said at the Atlantic Council event.Susan Wojcicki, Managing Director of YouTube
Anne runs a biotech company with a huge genetic database
Meeting her lodgers, who founded one of the most successful corporations of the 21st century, Google, was fateful for Susan – but also for her sister Anne.
Anne Wojcicki, now 48 and the youngest of the three sisters, met her future husband, Sergey Brin, in Susan’s house. Anne is also a successful entrepreneur: in 2006 she founded the biotech company 23andMe, which has been public for a year and is valued at $1.3 billion.
23andMe develops and sells genetic testing for consumers. With a $99 saliva test, the platform analyzes its customers’ ancestral history, and for an additional $100, they learn more about their predispositions to genetic diseases. Anne Wojcicki herself studied biology at Yale University and then did research in molecular biology.
23andMe now has a huge gene bank with data from more than 12 million users, which it uses – with the consent of the customers – for the development of drugs. For example, 23andMe entered into a collaboration with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and the group also invested 300 million dollars in the startup.
Anne Wojcicki now also knows that she has a genetically increased risk of breast cancer and therefore does not drink alcohol, which is a risk factor for this. Like many customers, the Wojcicki sisters unexpectedly found new family members via the 23andMe platform: An uncle had a son he didn’t know about. “We always wanted cousins, and suddenly there is a cousin with children. We’re going on vacation together,” Anne Wojcicki told the Financial Times.
She has been divorced from Brin since 2015, but the two still have a joint foundation to this day. With her sister Susan, she also awards funds through the Anne Wojcicki Foundation, including for medical research.
Jane is a Doctor at a top university
Janet Wojcicki, 52 years old and the middle of the three sisters, has taken a completely different path. She has become a doctor. She is also extremely successful in her profession and works as a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco, one of the best hospitals in the country. Her research focuses on the causes of obesity in children. She is also investigating how malnutrition in childhood affects the course of HIV infection and is taking part in a long-term research project in Zambia.
Compared to her celebrity sisters, Janet Wojcicki keeps out of the public eye. But she also sees the roots of the family’s success in upbringing. Above all, she remembers how her parents had drummed it into them from an early age to think for themselves. “I remember how they always told us: Don’t be afraid if someone doesn’t agree with you,” she said in an interview.
The mother of the three women, Esther Wojcicki, has now recorded this and other approaches to education in a book: “How to Raise Successful People”, which is an international bestseller.
The three sisters can now implement their mother’s advice in raising their own children: Susan has five children, Anne three, and Janet two. “I’m trying to live by what our parents showed us,” Anne told the Financial Times. But she has also had her own experiences with parenting and gives advice, especially to working parents. “My trick is that the children sleep in their clothes for the next day,” says Anne. “That way I don’t have to put them on first thing in the morning.”