Talking 20 is a young biotechnology start-up in California that aims at making low-cost, at home blood tests that could be used to track twenty essential amino acids (hence the name). In October 2012, I responded to their call for support on Twitter and purchased “T20 Starter Pack” home kit for ten dollars. I paid 12 dollars (2 dollars to cover shipping), and a couple of weeks later received the kit, which I mailed back to them in December. After waiting patiently for ten months, I can finally share with you what I learned from my blood test. Drumroll, please…
NOTE: this post was originally published on this blog in September 2013. I am unarchiving and reposting it as a part of the Measured Me 2.0 initiative. You may see comments that date back to the time of the original posts.
[Please scroll for the update at the end of this post].
Nothing. I learned absolutely nothing. Not only I have not received any results, but I also have not received any single update from the company since June. So I decided to write this post to tell what I know about Talking 20 so far.
In the beginning, it was love from first sight. I liked the idea the moment I saw their website. If I am not mistaken, Talking 20 was the first company that promised truly convenient blood tests that use just a few drops of blood from your finger (as opposed to drawing it from your veins) and do not require going to the labor inviting lab technician to your house. When I received my kit, I became even more impressed. The entire process took less than an hour, from the moment I opened the package and until I placed the card with my blood samples in the envelope. I actually documented every step by taking photos, hoping to publish a full review after I get the results. Since I have not received any results yet, I won’t post any pictures, but you can check out the wonderful post by Winslow Strong of Biohack Yourself who beat me by sharing his experiences with T20 kit. Judging by the absence of updates to his post, he has not received his results either.
Around the same time I mailed my kit back to California, Talking 20 launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, in which they offered early supporters slightly more expensive and advanced test packages. Unfortunately, they did not meet the target goal of 100k but still took in over 53k in funding. All this time, the Quantified Self page on Facebook was flooded by posts from Talking20 staff touting their services almost every day (at some point, some group members even accused T20 of spamming the wall). The company blog was also updated relatively regularly, often with interesting posts. Their store was also doing well, they were selling out of their kits (some of which by then cost thousands of dollars), and the company even launched an affiliate program. I could not wait to see my results, so I could share my enthusiasm about Talking 20 with other fellow self-trackers.
By June 2013, however, my patience ran thin and I emailed Talking 20, inquiring about results of my tests. Not sure if it was the subject of my message (“Talking 20 Update – where are my results?!!!”) or simply because T20 has a great customer support team, but I received a response on the same day. The COO, Scarlett Trillia, urged me to sign up for their mailing list , “because you purchased a kit right at the beginning we may not have captured your email in our master customer list.”, hinted that results may be rolled out at the end of the summer, and even promised not to forget their early supporters and reward their patience with additional free cards:
“We really appreciate your early support of our work and the Talking20 concept. The presale that we ran starting in October is what made the launch of this company possible and we have high expectations for what will come next. Would you mind replying and letting us know what kit you originally purchased? We intend to send additional cards to each of early supporters as a way of acknowledging your patience while we get up and running. Please also include your address in your reply.”
I thanked Scarlett and signed up for their updates. The next day I received their first, and last email update, in which they promised to release the first wave of data very soon. I have not heard anything from Talking 20 since then. Neither have I received additional cards that they promised to send to their early supporters. Occasionally, I would still go to their website and click on “My Results” which bring me to the same page with lonely message “Coming soon! Please sign up for our Mailing List to find out when our data platform will be ready! “ As the summer went on, my already diminished enthusiasm was replaced with confusion and disappointment. WTF, Talking 20?! Talk to me!
Please do not get me wrong, I understand that development of high-quality products requires a lot of time and money and that startups (especially in high tech areas like biotechnology) often face technical challenges in their early years. The company has cited problems with equipment, in particular, need for a new spectrometer, and this is all completely acceptable. What I do not understand is the lack of communication and updates, which, by the way, is the number one reason for startup failures, according to Elevation Partners. All that “tentative customers” like me need is an occasional tweet, blog post, or an email update letting us know that the company is still in business.
In the meantime, I can only wait and hope that my blood spots haven’t dried out by now to the point that they can’t be analyzed anymore. After all, I really want to know what my cholesterol levels were about a year ago.
Update: I finally received the following email from Talking 20.
We are overdue for an update to all of you. As we travel the rocky road of starting an ambitious new venture, we think often about our early supporters. It is your belief in the value of our work that keeps us motivated every day!
There have been delays in the delivery of our data and you have all been waiting patiently for your results. We feel it is time to bring everyone into the loop so there is no mystery about the status of our efforts to date.
Early in our development, we received feedback from the US Food & Drug Administration regarding our testing method and results platform. After months of teamwork between Talking20, legal advisors, regulatory officers, and peers in the digital health space a conclusion was reached: Our collection methods are safe, but it is unclear whether it is safe for you all to see your own personal health results directly from us.
Undeterred by this hurdle, we are exploring new collaborations with approved analysis labs that will produce results that meet our standards for accuracy and can be used on the platform that we have been working to create. While we are disappointed with the delay caused by this setback, we are happy that there is a clear path forward. Yes, there is data in your future!
You may notice a few other changes here at T20. Due to these delays, we have temporarily closed our online stores. Our focus now is meeting our commitment to our existing customers. We will send additional updates when we are ready to begin full data analysis.
As always, we greatly appreciate your interest and your patience while work to make our contribution to the personal health data revolution.
The future lies ahead!
Heather Heine, MD PhD
Talking20 Founder & CEO
Well, this is very disappointing. Talking 20 was a truly innovative and amazing product. Their only fault was that they should have hired better lawyers. Let’s hope they can fix this mess!