23andme founder Anne Wojcicki married into wealth and was ignored until she made her own fortune: ‘There are people who wouldn’t talk to me for years and years’
Anne Wojcicki knows what it’s like to be dismissed as “only” a wife—even when it comes to her enormous wealth.
“There are people who wouldn’t talk to me for years and years,” Wojcicki, the cofounder and CEO of 23andMe, said in an interview for Fortune’s December/January cover story. “I remember those days really well.”
Wojcicki became an on-paper billionaire earlier this year, when her genetics testing company went public in a SPAC that valued 23andMe at $3.5 billion. But for the first nine years of her company’s life, Wojcicki was also married to Sergey Brin, the cofounder of Google and now the world’s sixth-wealthiest man. (Brin, and Google, also invested in 23andMe.) The couple divorced in 2015; the terms of their settlement have not been disclosed, but they shared a family office until late 2017.
While she was married to Brin—and getting her own company off the ground—Wojcicki recalls ritual slights when accompanying her husband to events including the World Economic Forum in Davos, where the attendees’ color-coded name tags create a notorious caste system of the well-heeled. (Wives “are the on the bottom rung of the Davos ladder,” Anya Schiffrin, a veteran journalist and Columbia University professor who happens to be married to economist Joseph Stiglitz, wrote for Reuters in 2011.)
“I remember specifically how people would just look at your badge and be like, ‘Oh, you’re a partner,’” Wojcicki says. “And then they ignore you.”
She’s not being ignored anymore. Wojcicki’s self-made wealth soared earlier this year, when 23andMe went public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company created by Virgin Group’s Richard Branson. The deal left Wojcicki holding about 99 million publicly-traded shares worth $13.32 each by the end of their first day of trading—putting her stake at more than $1.3 billion. (The company’s share price has since fallen and was $7.54 at the end of Wednesday, shaving the on-paper value of her holdings to about $750 million.)
Wojcicki says she “never” looks at her company’s stock price, but she readily acknowledges the impact that having wealth, first through marriage and now through her own entrepreneurial efforts, has had on her life.
“I feel super, super lucky. I have money—and I absolutely try to use my money to drive change,” she says. “I try to invest in higher-risk companies of people I believe in, or who are doing good things.”
According to a Crunchbase analysis for Fortune, Wojcicki has invested in 14 startups with at least one female founder (out of 29 overall investments). That’s by far the most gender-diverse track record among all the founders whose companies went public or sold this year, in deals valued at $1 billion or more, and who have made public investments in other startups. No single male founder in this group has invested in as many female-founded companies as Wojcicki, according to Crunchbase.
This year, at least two other American women joined Wojcicki in crossing the billionaire threshold by selling or taking public their companies, as we report in Fortune’s December/January cover story: Spanx founder Sara Blakely and Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd. All three women are taking steps to reinvest in other female and underrepresented founders, and to try to make their individual wealth milestones make a difference in the larger ecosystem.
“Having been surrounded by money for a while, I have seen that it’s heavily male-dominated,” Wojcicki says. “I think that you have a lot of women out there who have been underdogs for a while, and are going to drive change.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com