Shannon Kieran is co-founder and head of operations at Exploragen, a new DNA lifestyle company that delivers useful DNA-based apps directly to consumers.
What part of Arizona do you call home?
I grew up and currently live in Scottsdale. Go Sabercats!
What sparked an initial interest in tech?
During my undergraduate education at Northern Arizona University, biology was my clear calling. After pursuing a graduate degree in genetics at the University of Arizona, I moved to Silicon Valley and was able to merge my love of genetics and tech by working at biotech startups. Ever since then I have been obsessed with innovative, technology-driven ways to enable consumers access to their most personal information: their DNA!
What was your very first entrepreneurial venture?
My very first entrepreneurial venture was a Kool-Aid stand at the age of eight. After graduate school in 2005, my first solo venture was the establishment of a cancer genetic counseling service within an oncology center in the San Jose, CA area. At the center, we offered genetic counseling and DNA testing to men and women suspected to have a hereditary form of cancer.
What do you currently do?
In January of this year I teamed up with Sara Riordan and Ronnie Andrews, both veterans in the personal genomics space, to found Exploragen. Our apps use the science of hundreds of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies to deliver proprietary algorithms that utilize DNA to inform on lifestyle traits like sleep and caffeine metabolism.
As the head of operations at the company, I continue my mission to bring consumers access to novel and interesting insights into their DNA via the apps that we build. Our first app, Slumbertype, unlocks an individual’s biology around the genetics of sleep. Users can discover their chronotype, or propensity towards being an early bird or a night owl, as well as other genetic factors related to sleep—such as how long it takes one to fall asleep and the quality of that sleep. Likewise, SlumberType also provides tools and trackers for monitoring everyday behaviors that affect sleep.
Later this year we will have a new DNA-based app that unlocks caffeine metabolism, answering questions like how much coffee is too much coffee, and when will that last diet soda be cleared from your system—all from information available within the user’s DNA that has been unlocked by our team.
How did you come up with the idea for your current business?
After starting a company in 2015 that tailors wine recommendations to folks based on their genetic ability to detect certain smells and flavors (Vinome), some of the co-founders of Vinome saw an opportunity to translate other non-medical genetic findings into useful and entertaining apps for individuals. We partnered with Helix to help populate a marketplace of apps that allows consumers to take a single DNA test, called the exome, and then unlock insights as they wish through purchasing partner apps, such as those developed by Exploragen.
What is your favorite part about running a business?
The energy of running a small startup is undeniably addictive. I am surrounded by an amazing group of like-minded individuals, all working towards a common goal. We work hard, but we make time to play too!
What was the biggest challenge in executing this idea?
With a background in genetics, learning the engineering side of developing web and mobile applications has certainly been an exciting challenge. I think for my next educational venture, I will learn computer programming.
How long have you lived or worked in Arizona?
After growing up in Arizona and then leaving for a decade, it was astonishing to see how much the city grew. In 2001, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGEN) was moving in as I was leaving. When I returned in 2010, there was a whole thriving community of tech that had grown up around it.
If you could only describe your city with one word, which word would it be?
What’s your favorite thing about living in Arizona?
Three seasons of outdoor living. And, the pool during that “other” season.
What’s your least favorite thing about living in Arizona?
The allergens! Boy, have I grown allergic to this state.
In what area do you think Arizona still has a long way to go?
Arizona has a huge opportunity to expand the use of solar energy. In the next decade, I would love to see more people and businesses take advantage of the sun and increase production of solar renewable energy. And to be honest, I’d love solar covered parking structures in every grocery store parking lot!
The foodie scene is growing bigger and bigger by the day here in Arizona. What is your favorite place to get breakfast in your city?
I like to grab a coffee at Altitude, and then stroll over to Butters. Their skillets and crepes make a fabulous combination of salty and sweet.
What’s your favorite place to grab lunch?
Flower Child. Nothing beats Flower Child in the middle of the work day.
What’s your favorite dinner spot?
For a special treat, I really enjoy Dominick’s at the Scottsdale Quarter.
What’s your favorite place to work in your city aside from your office?
I love heading over to The Henry for a long work day.
Best place for a meeting over drinks?
The Salty Sow for an end-of-the day bite to eat and laptop session.
What is your favorite memory from Arizona?
Growing up as a kid in Arizona, I loved heading north to summer camp each year at the Chauncey Ranch horse camp. Giddy-up cowgirl!
What is something about living in Arizona that only a local would know of?
Often Phoenix is described by outsiders as a town lacking in culture. This could not be farther from the truth. First Fridays, spring training, museums, farmers markets . . . need I say more?
Any tips for new Arizona residents?
Use online resources to learn about what is happening each week, then get out and explore!