The Generalist - Twist Bio: DNA & APIs 🧬


Hey friends,

I’m really excited to share something special this week.

For several years, I’ve been a reader and admirer of Alex Danco's newsletter. Not only is Alex a delightful writer β€” slippery, fun, infuriatingly clever β€” he’s also one of the most adventurous thinkers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in tech. Naturally, I was thrilled to have him profile The Generalist earlier this year, and still feel he captured something of this publication’s spirit that even I haven’t articulated perfectly.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Alex was my first call when looking for someone to cameo this week. In the piece below, you’ll hear his take on Twist Bioscience, one of his personal fascinations and a rather mesmerizing business.

Alex wants me to note that he does own shares in Twist, so we shouldn’t take his work as investment advice β€” rather the impassioned explanation of an admirer.

I hope you enjoy it β€” I certainly learned a lot.

We'll resume normal service next week with a piece from yours truly. And if you don’t already, I’d recommend signing up to Alex’s newsletter. I am a happy subscriber.​


Actionable insights

If you only have a couple minutes to spare, here’s what investors, operators, and founders can learn from Twist Bioscience.

  • Old technologies can inspire breakthroughs. Modern DNA manufacturing was improved by taking inspiration from inkjet printers. New methods like those used by Twist "print" sequences at a reduced cost and with increased flexibility.
  • Discount rate environments have helped companies like Twist. Biotech businesses like Twist tend to be capital intensive; they need considerable funding to get off the ground and grow. That might have been a tough sell in the past, but the current environment allows for such an approach.
  • Biotech companies can earn SaaS multiples. Twist trades at around 30x of sales. That's a reflection of its (mostly) recurring revenue, and investors' belief that a biotech inflection may be on the horizon.
  • Twist may help shift biotech's "founding" paradigm. Traditional tech businesses are often forged by a singular founder, responsible for defining and driving the vision. Biotech businesses have typically followed a different model with a "scientist" de-risking the tech while a "manager" handles commercialization. This structure can limit the types of companies created. Twist's infrastructure and tooling may allow for more founder-led experimentation.


Last Friday Ginkgo Bioworks went public through a SPAC merger.

It was a joyful day for the synthetic biology community, and for an ideological movement, best described as "solarpunk aesthetic." In contrast to today's parade of software IPOs, which are usually great companies but not particularly radical in the grand scheme of things, Ginkgo Bioworks and the solarpunks have an actually wild and fascinating vision of the future. It's the idea that we're going to build the future by growing living things. The movement has a name: synthetic biology.​

The past thirty years of software have conditioned us to think about value creation through the lens of the infinite leverage. There's no ceiling to how well-crafted the world's information and communication streams can be logically arranged; that's why we say that "Software is eating the world." If the solarpunks have their way, the next thirty years will show us the same thing is true for physical things. We catch occasional glimpses of this future, like this bioengineered fireproofing material for airplane wings, reminding us: "There's no reason we can't build a better version of anything, with the right tools and the right founders." And the arms race is on to build those tools.

That's why today, I'm not going to tell you about Ginkgo Bioworks, as awesome a company as they may be. I'm going to tell you about the platform behind them, a factory for building the DNA strands upon which all of life science is subsequently abstracted. That company is called Twist Bioscience. It's one of my favorite companies in the world.

Twist is a DNA factory. They start with inputs β€” the A, C, T and G chemical letters that make up the base-4 code for life on earth. And they produce outputs: sequences of DNA, called oligonucleotides, whose code gets compiled by cells into molecular products and molecular work. In that sense, they are a manufacturing company.

Twist is also a software company. Led by a brilliant founder, Dr. Emily LeProust, Twist isn't a traditional biotech success story β€” it's the beginning of a new kind of founder-led, product-oriented bio business that looks much more like a tech startup than a life sciences bet.

Today, I'm going to tell you all about them.


For the visual learners, here's today's piece in an image.



All guesses welcome and clues given to anyone that would like one. Just respond to this email for a hint.

What are the next three letters in this combination?

Jim W kept his streak going, and proved himself the master forager once again. He was joined by William M, and Dan M in supplying them stated answer to last week's riddle:

What room has neither doors nor windows?

The answer? A mushroom. Those that enjoyed that savory wordplay may also enjoy the surfeit of clever alternative answers. Here were some of my favorites:

  • Legroom (Kaitlyn R)
  • Chatroom (Kaitlyn R, Sven K, Michl O)
  • Broom (Keshav J, Raghu)
  • Room for improvement (Dan M)

Excellent work, across the board.

It's raining in my neck of the woods, making it a perfect day to do some reading and storm-watching. I'm currently working my way through Confederacy of Dunces, which is quite funny, if rather different than I'd imagined. Hope that you all have a chance for some reading and relaxing wherever you are.

See you soon,


Key phrases

Older messages

Sushi and the Founding Murder

Sunday, September 12, 2021

​ Happy fall, my friends. With summer officially departing the northern hemisphere for the year, I'm excited to leap into autumn, aka the best season for reading 😊 One of the most fun parts of

The Generalist Turns 1

Sunday, August 29, 2021

​ Good morning friends, Today's email is a special one for me. Last week marked the anniversary of my decision to go full-time on The Generalist. It has been an incredible, absurdly fulfilling 12

FTX: The Everything Exchange

Sunday, August 15, 2021

​ Hey friends, I hope everyone's having a great weekend. This edition marks the finale of the FTX Trilogy, an investigation into crypto's wildest and fastest-growing exchange. If you're

FTX's speedrun

Sunday, August 8, 2021

​ Welcome to the 39797 kind and curious readers of The Generalist. It's so great to have you here! Today's piece is coming to you from Las Vegas, where I have been stealing away from a bachelor

The Prince of Risk

Sunday, August 1, 2021

​ Friends, A very happy Sunday to you all. I am so excited to be sharing this newest edition of The Generalist. When I started this week, I planned to do a traditional deep dive into FTX. As many of

[Now Open] EcomCrew Premium

Monday, September 27, 2021

Get Unlimited 1-on-1 Help for $125/month Hey Reader, Ecommerce multiples are at an all-time high with most businesses now getting 3.7x to 5x multiple of Seller's Discretionary Income (thank you,

Where the NBA and its players' union are failing on COVID-19

Monday, September 27, 2021

Why should a few anti-vaxxers and vaccine skeptics set the vaccination policies and narrative of the league? β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ

Startup Digest Reading List - Chief Product Officer, Asking Dumb Questions, U.S. Super Apps

Monday, October 25, 2021

Gm. One quick personal update this week: FTX, one of our portfolio companies at Race, raised $420M f Startup Digest Reading List Issue #177 β€” View online β€” Suggest a link Startup Digest Reading List A

Growth Bite: Increase ebook sales by highlighting shareable quotes

Monday, October 25, 2021

Writing an ebook? Help people help you by emphasizing specific quotes and making it easy for readers to share them. When writing content, it can be helpful to include shareable assets β€” eg highlighted

A Special 20% Discount on All Our Development Services

Monday, October 25, 2021

Don't hesitate! Make it happen. Take your idea to the next level. We are moblers - an experienced, professional, award-winning digital development powerhouse, and we are giving a Special 20%

Butternut, SquareOne, SmartPaste, Text Me Crypto, WiziShop, and more

Monday, October 25, 2021

Share photos and videos privately with the friends you were with BetaList BetaList Daily Entourage Share photos and videos privately with the friends you were with WiziShop Exclusive Perk SEO-powered e

Today's startups in 10 words

Monday, October 25, 2021 Discover new apps and startups in 10 words or less Valotalive: Workplace Digital Signage Software Mossy Globe: Discover Curated Guides To America's National Parks SMSDripp: Most

Opening Gates to The Culture of Experimentation

Monday, October 25, 2021

Curated content from the world of growth in your inbox! Sign up for GrowthHackers Conference We are opening the gates! GrowthHackers Conference starts in a few minutes, at 9 am PDT! If you already have

πŸ¦„ Bilt Rewards: Earn rewards by paying rent

Monday, October 25, 2021

Bilt earns you rewards points each time you make your rent payments. It does this with its credit card, the Bilt Mastercard, which allows you to make your rent payments with a card (as opposed to cash)

- Once in a lifetime opportunity

Monday, October 25, 2021

- Hands down this is the biggest opportunity in online marketing that we've seen since the very first Google and Facebook ads. We've seen it take a brand new E-commerce business from $0 in

The Packy McCormick Universe

Monday, October 25, 2021

How he grew Not Boring from 500 to 80000 subscribers β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ β€Œ

[Inverted Passion] Marketing needs to deliver more than it asks

Monday, October 25, 2021

Here's a new post on Marketing needs to deliver more than it asks By Paras Chopra on Oct 24, 2021 02:19 am There's typically an information asymmetry between what sellers