Jared Rosenthal - NPR interview with Lizzie O'Leary

NPR got curious, so they came by the Who's Your Daddy truck to have a look; I had a nice conversation with Lizzie O'Leary about DNA testing.

Jared Rosenthal
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Transcript of radio show, originally aired on NPR's Weekend Marketplace nationally on November 8, 2014:

Narrator: You're listening to Marketplace weekend. From 8 PM every day you and I interact with the world of tech.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice: "Tell me who is your daddy and what does he do?"

Lizzie O'Leary (NPR): This week we're doing something a little different often on the segment. We'd like to profile a business that embodies how technology shapes our lives. Not too long ago, we spotted the technology to test who you are and where you come from, parked across the street from New York's Grand Central station. It's a mobile DNA truck, offering access to a technology that not too long ago wasn't readily available. We met the owner Jared Rosenthal outside his truck, and there's a reason crowds gathered to take pictures.

Jared: It's a big blue RV, and we have a big painted logo in graffiti style that says "DNA testing," and underneath "DNA testing" we have a slogan, "Who's your daddy?" Do you guys want to come inside?

Lizzy: Yeah, yeah we wanna come inside. (sounds of going inside the truck). So we are sitting in the RV. How did you get into this business? What were you doing before?

Jared: Initially I painted the RV myself, and I got this sticker (to advertise the drug testing side of the business). I basically blew up a sticker of a cup of pee and I put it on the side of the truck. We would pull up at a job site to test the workers, and they would see the big cup of pee coming! Some of them would be taking off, you know, running away. Companies started asking me, please don't bring the pee mobile the next time. I decided we had to really change the branding.

Right around the same time, my best friend got contacted by this girl saying that she was his 18-year-old daughter that he never knew about. He came to me, and I said alright, lets figure this out. I figured I was already working with labs doing drug testing, so it was an easy add on.

Lizzie: Was she his daughter?

Jared: Yeah. Yeah, she was.

Lizzie: Walk me through what kind of test you guys do?

Jared: The most common is the paternity test.

Lizzie: The "Who is your daddy test".

Jared: Right! The namesake test of the company, who's your daddy.

Lizzie: These test are pretty expensive; some of them, you know, more than 200 bucks, 300 bucks. How's business?

Jared: It depends how you define success, I guess. Financially, it's a grind but, you know, I get to be there at some incredible moments. For example, I've had brothers that met for the first time right here in this truck, and I get to open up the results right in front of them and tell them things like, "That's your long lost brother." I mean, it's a pretty incredible thing that I get to experience. So from that standpoint, it's very successful.

Lizzie: How does this work? One question I have walking up to the truck is, you drive around going to different neighborhoods. Who spots the truck on the street and is like, you know what, forget it, I'm not gonna go on Maury Povich, I'm going to go into that truck right now and figure out if this is my kid.

Jared: Its a lot more common than people think. I think what's happening with shows like Maury and the daytime talk shows is that it's perpetuated this stereotype of DNA testing, that it is only in certain communities and it's only certain income groups. And that these people don't want to be the father of their kids, and they want to jump up and dance if it turns out they're not the father. And you know all of that is just wrong! I mean all of it! I see it every single day just how many people need a paternity test, from many different walks of life. Every neighborhood I go to, we have customers. It's a lot more people than is generally understood. You see, it's not the kind thing where you go out with your friends and say I slept with a man who is not my husband, and I'm not sure if my husband is the father of my kid.

Lizzie: How do you decide where your going to park the truck?

Jared: Based on what I'm in the mood to eat for lunch.

Lizzie: Really?

Jared: Yeah, I mean that's the misconception right there. People always say, "Oh park this in my neighborhood, park this uptown, park this in the Bronx." But it's everywhere. Anywhere I go, there is interest in paternity testing.

Lizzie: tell me the story of a big surprise you've seen in this truck?

Jared: Wow the toughest ones are when people don't have a suspicion. So they are not getting the test because they suspected they might not be related, but rather because they are required to get a test for whatever legal reason. And then they find out that they're not related to the person that they always thought they were related to.

Lizzie: I wonder if there's something you've learned about what it actually means to be family.

Jared: (When people get results), half the people put an incredible emphasis on the biological side, and then there is another half who say (things like), "She could be my kid or not, I'm going to adopt her either way," or, "I'm going to raise her and I'm going to love her the same," and they really mean it. So, it's a very personal decision.

Lizzie: Do you think people are little sketched out by getting their DNA tested in an old RV?

Jared : I think it's the opposite you know.

Lizzie: Really ? How?

Jared : Theres a lot of great doctors out there that get people to open up to them, but a lot of them scare people (the white coat effect). Something pretty cool happens when people come in the RV and you know they just kind of open up. It's more comfortable to them and it's more natural. It's right here on the street. I'm not wearing a white coat; I'm in a hoodie. It's the hoodie effect maybe! And what's amazing is that it's so simple! Its just a cheek swab. 10 seconds. And some people are waiting 30 years to get the test.

Lizzie: So what happens you swab my cheek and then?

Jared: Then we package it up send it to our laboratory is professionally analyzed.

Lizzie: How long does it take to get the results back?

Jared: About a week

Lizzie: I got to supply you with whoever's DNA right? If we are trying to test me against somebody else?

Jared: Yeah thats the thing. We do need two people. It's not as if you just swab yourself and we can find your long-lost mom or something like that. However there are cases where people bring specimens like hair or teeth. Or if somebody is deceased, I've gone into funeral homes, morgues, and cut a chunk of somebody's leg to test.

Lizzie: How much money you make?

Jared: Money? You know, I'm just outrunning all the parking tickets and the gas. You gotta stay ahead of the bills. It's not easy, but what I thought, in doing this as a mobile business, was instead of being in one office in one neighborhood, I can put this out there and be in every neighborhood. With rent being what it is in New York, it's not a bad deal for me.

Health Street has over 100 DNA & drug testing locations in New York, and over 2500 locations nationwide. Here is a list of locations by state.

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