uBiome’s founder repeatedly presented herself as years younger than she was, in the latest sign of trouble at the embattled $600 million poop-testing startup
- uBiome; Yutong Yuan/Business Insider
- The buzzy Silicon Valley startup uBiome, which was geared toward highlighting the importance of the microbiome for human health, is under federal investigation.
- The FBI raided the company’s San Francisco offices last month, reportedly in regard to issues with how it was billing customers.
- Insiders previously said that, in their view, uBiome cut corners on its science in a quest for growth.
- Now, additional reporting by Business Insider reveals that uBiome cofounder Jessica Richman misled reporters about her age several times, in an apparent effort to be included in articles showcasing young founders.
- Richman and her cofounder, Zachary Apte, are quietly in a relationship, according to former employees, with one saying they were encouraged not to discuss the relationship publicly.
- The company was found to have used stock photos for testimonials on its site, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On the heels of an FBI raid of its offices in San Francisco, the buzzy health startup uBiome is under investigation.
The company, which has raised $105 million and achieved a $600 million valuation, is reportedly being investigated for issues related to how it billed customers for its tests, which were geared toward highlighting the role the microbiome plays in human health.
uBiome portrayed its tests as free to patients and said insurance companies would foot the bill. In reality, customers were sometimes saddled with thousands of dollars of bills when their insurance declined to pay. Interviews that Business Insider previously conducted with several former uBiome employees suggested that the company may have cut corners on its science as well.
Read more: Silicon Valley startup uBiome raised $105 million on the promise of exploring a ‘forgotten organ.’ After an FBI raid, ex-employees say it cut corners in its quest for growth.
Now, additional reporting by Business Insider reveals that uBiome’s CEOs and cofounders, Jessica Richman and Zachary Apte, may have tried to conceal personal details, including their relationship and Richman’s age. Richman and Apte were placed on leave from their co-CEO roles after the FBI raid.
Richman repeatedly presented herself as years younger than she was, in an apparent effort to be included in articles showcasing young founders.
Apte and Richman lived together in at least two states, according to public documents viewed by Business Insider. The two are in a romantic relationship, according to six former uBiome employees. The people asked not to be identified because they signed agreements not to reveal company information publicly.
One former employee said the relationship was widely known at uBiome but that employees were discouraged from discussing it.
“It was an open secret at the company,” a former uBiome employee told Business Insider. “Everyone knew, but we weren’t allowed to talk about it.”
As for her age, voting records and a personal document seen by Business Insider show that Richman is 45.
In one instance in 2014, Richman told a Business Insider reporter that she was “under 30” but declined to provide her specific age. As a result, she was included in a list titled “The 30 most important women under 30 in tech.”
She was 40 at the time.
The following year, when Richman was 41, she was included on a CNN list highlighting innovative companies led by founders under 40. A CNN spokesperson told Business Insider that Richman confirmed to a CNN reporter in an email that she was under 40.
In 2018, Richman told a different Business Insider reporter that she was “under 40” and again declined to give her age. It earned her a spot on another list: “Meet the 30 healthcare leaders under 40 who are using technology to shape the future of medicine.” She was 44.
Richman and Apte did not respond to requests for comment.
To be sure, ageism is a recognized problem in society and in Silicon Valley’s tech industry. Young founders can be more likely to get attention from venture capitalists in search of the next Mark Zuckerberg, who famously started Facebook from his Harvard dorm room.
Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that uBiome was using stock photos to illustrate customer testimonials on its website. The company removed the testimonials from its site after questions from The Journal, the newspaper said.