Kamal Obbad of Nebula Genomics: “No one knows your situation better than yourself”

Take everyone’s advice with a healthy dose of skepticism (including mine!). No one knows your situation better than yourself. You’re probably the best positioned to know the right thing to do for yourself and your career. As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kamal Obbad. Kamal […]

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Take everyone’s advice with a healthy dose of skepticism (including mine!). No one knows your situation better than yourself. You’re probably the best positioned to know the right thing to do for yourself and your career.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kamal Obbad.

Kamal Obbad is the Chief Executive Officer of Nebula Genomics. Previously, he was a product manager at Google working within Google Research and ChromeOS. Kamal was a Gates-Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge and is a graduate of Harvard University. Additionally, he is a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was always very excited by the potential of next-generation sequencing technologies. During college, I was able to work in a lab and saw firsthand how rapidly the space was developing. But I always wondered why many use cases for next-gen DNA sequencing were confined to research settings. I started following companies like 23&me and AncestryDNA and felt that the personal genomics industry was more focused on “infotainment” than actually providing meaningful data to users. After a short stint in Silicon Valley, I co-founded Nebula with the goal of making personal genomics more mainstream, accessible, and impactful.

Can you tell us a little bit about Nebula Genomics?

Nebula Genomics is a personal genomics company that seeks to help individuals better understand what their DNA says about them. We believe everyone should have access to 100% of their DNA and be able to benefit from it in a way that doesn’t compromise privacy. Our customers are able to explore their genes using our web site and stay up to date with what new research is saying about their genetics.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

We launched the world’s cheapest whole genome sequencing test. The cost of whole genome sequencing is something that’s closely tracked by DNA enthusiasts and scientists. Before our launch, it was 1000 dollars for a whole genome sequence. We were able to get that cost to 300 dollars. It was really exciting to contribute to history and see the impact it made. We even made it into some college textbooks.

Can you tell us about the Cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

At Nebula, we want to build the first privacy-preserving genetic test. We’ve partnered with a company called Oasis Labs to develop technology that can guarantee that user data is protected using a long list of cool technologies including secure computation and blockchain.

How do you think this might change the world?

Nebula’s genetic testing product lets users’ access and explore all of their DNA. We can help you understand what your DNA says about your health and keep track of new research that’s coming out every day.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Sometimes, interpreting DNA is difficult. Genetics aren’t the only defining aspect of a person’s health and wellness. There is exercise, diet, sleep, etc. That’s why you should always take the results of a genetic test with a grain of salt and discuss them with an expert. Nebula’s DNA test is no exception.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Our tipping point was being able to offer 30x WGS for 300 dollars. Before, it was just too expensive for the average person. Even today it’s a bit pricey but we’re working hard to get the cost down.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Most other DNA testing companies use a technology that can only look at <1% of a person’s DNA. This has limited utility because it is becoming more and more obvious that many genes are involved in impacting a single trait. It’s actually relatively rare that one gene has a strong impact on someone’s health. With Nebula, we look at all of your DNA and can improve the accuracy of our reporting and analysis as new research is published and validated. We’re able to look at many genes at once and sum up the many little effects they may have on a person.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We have partnered with a PR Firm to help tell our story.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Dr. George Church is in large part responsible for the widespread adoption of personal genomics. He’s one of the co-founders of Nebula and it has been great to work closely with him and witness his commitment to making sure everyone can benefit from DNA sequencing. Nebula’s vision is tied closely to George’s.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Though Nebula is still a fairly young company, we’ve learned a lot of lessons on this journey and have been eager to pass those on to any other entrepreneurs looking to build interesting products and ideas. I love helping people find ways to take their ideas and bring them to life.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Don’t be in a rush. I wish I wasn’t in such a rush to start my career and spent some more time exploring different opportunities. We have our whole lives to work.
  2. Find what you’re interested in. It’s not easy to find a job that you’re genuinely interested in. I suspect many people never find their passion. But, working is much more fulfilling if you spend the time to actually learn what you like.
  3. Find mentors. I was able to find some early mentors that were able to answer a lot of questions that I had. Sometimes it’s easier to learn from other’s experiences.
  4. Invest in yourself. I spend a lot of time investing in my own learning and health. I think this makes me more productive and more effective.
  5. Take everyone’s advice with a healthy dose of skepticism (including mine!). No one knows your situation better than yourself. You’re probably the best positioned to know the right thing to do for yourself and your career.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think everyone should be invested in learning how to think scientifically and empirically. I’d wager that if everyone learned to consider evidence and critically challenge ideas we would find that many of us have a lot more in common than we think.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Don’t minimize the importance of luck in determining life’s course.

There’s only so much you can control. This is especially true in startups. At Nebula, we’ve faced headwinds and benefited from tailwinds that we had no part in manufacturing. Sometimes, things work out and sometimes they don’t. So, at the risk of being cliche, it’s important to enjoy the ride.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @ObbadKamal

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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