Living DNA: David Nicholson and Hannah Morden
With Who Do You Think You Are? creating a renewed interest in personal ancestry, this start-up allows you learn more about where you come from
Tell us what your business does:
Living DNA is a personalised DNA testing service that launched towards the end of September 2016, following two years of hard work from a team of over 100 people around the world.
It has been designed to help people understand more about themselves and where they come from in unparalleled detail, and is the world’s first DNA ancestry test allowing people to break down their British ancestry to 80 worldwide regions (including any of 21 regions in the UK) and see how their worldwide ancestry has evolved over history.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
My wife Hannah and I founded Living DNA to show just how intrinsically connected we all are; this is deeply needed in today’s society.
Our understanding of where we come from as individuals depends entirely on how far back in history we look, and our goal as a business is to put people’s past into context in a way that has never been done before.
Our aim is to allow people to understand the truth about their ancestry, and the fact that we are all connected and all share ancestors.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Global interest in personal ancestry has soared in recent years, and this has been driven in part by popular TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? The market is growing rapidly, and we believe a new approach to DNA testing is called for.
We’re looking to use complex science to share an important message in an accessible way, and the time is right for this: a recent survey we commissioned found that many Brits would be surprised to discover they had ancestry from outside the UK.
What were you doing before starting up?
Living DNA Ltd was launched in September 2016, however I have been managing director of DNA Worldwide Ltd for over 12 years. As a company we provide forensic quality DNA testing across the UK and internationally.
We set up the business to take the world of DNA and make it simple for people, and Living DNA is a very exciting next step for us.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
From a young age running a business was something that came very naturally to me, from selling ice-creams outside the front of my house to setting up a t-shirt printing business aged 16. In recent years, I’ve wanted to run my own business in order to offer something that is needed and that makes commercial sense.
How did you raise the money?
The money for the business came from the profits generated over a number of years from DNA Worldwide Group, as well as loans and support from personal funds and family. We’ve also worked up a number of collaboration partnerships that have helped greatly with the funding needs.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
Our model is simple; we enable individuals to understand more about themselves through their DNA. We provide a complete end-to-end service whereby a customer orders and pays for a DNA kit and then Living DNA conducts testing and analyses the data.
The results are delivered through a secure online platform that provides a lifetime membership. Results are updated as our science and research evolves, and the customer is in charge of their DNA, meaning we don’t sell it on.
In the future we will be expanding out the services offered to these customers and in return earning revenue from each of these.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Setting up a personal DNA service is a very hard task, but to accomplish this in seven regions of the world at the same time is even harder. The millions of dollars that this would normally cost to achieve have been saved through the solid relationships we have built with key partners and academics.
Having the support of our laboratory partner Eurofins, who employ 27,000 people in over 40 countries, has been a big help.
What was your first big breakthrough?
The world of DNA is incredibly complex, so we have committed to making things simple. By working to make the results customers receive easily understandable, it suddenly opens up a whole new market.
This, combined with a commitment to collaboration and partnerships, has really enabled Living DNA to take off. For us it’s about first growing the entire DNA industry and then in turn, the company.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Trust what your heart is saying and follow this. Rather than focus on beating or competing with another, instead ask the question: what does this industry need and how could a product or service support people?
Then work on growing the entire industry, i.e. delivering the truth of what DNA testing can provide, instead of just making the best product.
This approach supports everyone and all companies to expand, as well as delivers products and services that really change people’s lives. Success will naturally follow from this.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
The purpose of Living DNA allows us all to see how connected we are. Therefore, in five years’ time it would be amazing to have Living DNA serving customers across the globe in a whole range of languages, ensuring there is no barrier for individuals wanting to explore their DNA.