The Hustle

🐶23andMe for dogs, explained

The Hustle - Silicon Valley Tech News


August 3, 2021

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Yesterday, Google said it plans to start making its own smartphone chips. Now, how much more interesting would it’ve been if they said they’d start making their own tortilla chips?

Today’s rundown:

  • Scooby-Doo’s genetics: The $700m startup analyzing dogs.
  • Not an afterthought: Square buys Australia’s Afterpay for $29B.
  • Greener bricks: Lego is turning bottles and sugarcane into pieces.

Let’s do it.

The big idea

How a $700m startup plans to help dogs live longer

The world’s oldest dog was a 30-year-old Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey.

But for most dogs, the average life span is just 10-15 years, depending on the breed. And Embark Veterinary — a Boston-based genetics startup now valued at $700m — wants to change that.

Per Bloomberg, the company recently raised $75m to use DNA testing to avoid preventable illnesses and increase dog life spans by 3 years by 2030.

Brothers Adam and Ryan Boyko co-founded Embark…

with Blue Apron founder Matt Salzberg and geneticist Dr. Spencer Wells in 2015.

Adam Boyko is an associate professor of biomedical sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which acts as Embark’s official research partner.

Here’s how Embark works:

  • Customers buy a Breed ID kit starting at $129, swab their dog’s cheek, and send it back.
  • Embark tests the dog’s DNA for 350+ breeds, including wolves, coyotes, and dingos. Its advanced kit also tests for 200+ health issues and physical traits.
  • In 2-4 weeks, the customer receives a full report, including any dog relatives in Embark’s database — like 23andMe for pups.
  • Owners can use this info to learn about where their dog came from and make healthy choices for their pet (though experts and Embark say DNA testing isn’t a substitute for the vet).

Embark’s research includes village dogs

The Boykos spent years studying village dogs — dogs that live outside and breed freely — all over the world to better understand the history and traits of domestic dogs.

  • For example, a high genetic diversity among village dogs in Central Asia showed they descended from the OG domesticated dogs.

It was out of this research that the idea for Embark grew, and its testing includes DNA from village dogs, too.

At the very least, customers will learn how we got from wolves to this.

SNIPPETS

Green mining: Clean crypto could be a massive opportunity. #clean-energy

Anti-fragile Apple: How Apple transformed its business model to thrive during the pandemic. #big-tech

Access denied: NASA denied Blue Origin’s bid to stop its moon lander deal with SpaceX. #emerging-tech

The new Tiffany & Co.: A recent acquisition could mean big changes to the 184-year-old retailer’s stores. #ecommerce-retail

Tech Acquisitions, Fintech

Square scoops up Afterpay in the battle of BNPL

“Buy now, pay later” (BNPL) — which at one point seemed to be reserved for Pelotons — has officially reached the masses.

The most recent news?

Jack Dorsey’s Square has agreed to purchase Afterpay, an Australian BNPL leader, for $29B.

The model lets consumers break big purchases into smaller payments, often without interest

Usage has exploded during the pandemic:

  • 60% of consumers say they have used BNPL
  • 51% have used it during the pandemic
  • 215% increase in YoY usage in January and February

The spike in usage has been matched by a flurry of activity in the space, including:

  • Affirm’s IPO in January
  • Klarna’s acquisitions of Hero and APPRL (and fundraising from A$AP Rocky)

Unsurprisingly, competition is heating up

In a recent tweet, 2PM’s Web Smith shared a timeline of Affirm’s US market share, highlighting just how crowded the space has become:

  • Q4 2018: 78%
  • Q1 2021: 16%

And it’s about to get even hotter

Last month, Apple announced that it’s working on a BNPL product of its own.

Looking at the price tag, some analysts are wondering why Square didn’t do the same when they’ve shown the ability to build products in-house (e.g., Cash App, a merchant Point-of-sale (POS) system, etc.).

Regardless, we agree with this take that it only makes sense for the acquisition to be paid out in 4 equal installments.

Invention

Lego’s latest project: Greener bricks

While a part of us wishes this were a story about a new Lego brick that inflicts less pain when stepped on, that’ll have to wait.

Recently, Lego engineers have been hard at work developing recipes for cleaner, greener bricks.

The company recently announced a recycled brick prototype

Over the last 3 years, a 150-person team at Lego has tested 250+ formulations to create a brick from recycled plastics.

The prototype, which uses plastic from recycled bottles, is the 1st to meet Lego’s quality and safety requirements. According to Lego, a 1-liter plastic bottle contains enough plastic to make 10 2×4 bricks.

The hard part: building recycled bricks that are just as strong as the old ones.

Researchers have found that a single Lego brick can withstand 950 lbs. of force, or the weight of 375k bricks on top of it.

It’s not Lego’s 1st sustainability play

The company has said it’ll invest $400m in sustainability through 2022.

  • In 2018, Lego started using bio-polyethylene made from sugar cane to produce some of its softer pieces. (Does that mean there are sweet Legos?)
  • In 2020, Lego said it’ll start eliminating single-use plastic from sets.

This is cool and all, but we’ll truly be impressed the day they announce that painless brick.

AROUND THE WEB

🎱 That’s cool: Paper bags, pool balls, and other noisy objects are recreated as “silent props” for TV and film. Here’s how.

🎥 Podcast: The Ringer’s Brian Raftery explores how 2 Chicago film critics had an unforgettable effect on modern media in the new series “Gene and Roger.”

🏃‍♀️That’s interesting: Snails may seem slow but they look real fast compared to the speed of hair growth. See how far all kinds of things can travel in 1 minute in this 3D animation.

🌌 Wild Story: More Americans are taking advantage of “dark sky tourism” to behold our night sky. Here’s where they’re going.

🦃 On this day: In 1946, theme park Santa Claus Land opened in Santa Claus, Indiana. Today, it’s known as Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari and includes various holiday attractions — like this Thanksgiving-themed Gobbler Getaway ride.

Wow: The Cardboard Boat Museum in New Richmond, Ohio, features boats created specifically for the town’s annual river race. Some are pretty impressive.

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Dog of the day

The Hachiko Statue (Source: Takashi Aoyama / Getty Images)

Hachiko was a Japanese Akita remembered for his legendary loyalty to his owner.

  • Hachiko would meet him at the train station every day after his commute home.
  • After his owner passed away at work and didn’t come home one day, Hachiko continued waiting for him for over 9 years.

Hachiko is revered in Japanese culture as a symbol of fidelity and loyalty, and was memorialized with a statue outside Shibuya Station.

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