Health

Q&A: The Proprietor of New York’s Mobile Paternity Truck


Q&A: The Proprietor of New York’s Mobile Paternity Truck

Courtesy Health Street

Starting a business felt like a calling to New York native Jared Rosenthal. So in 2010, he used his experience in health-care administration and mobile marketing to start Health Street, a company that provides DNA testing, alcohol testing, and background check services, not just on-site, but also from a traveling recreational vehicle that asks the profound question, “Who’s Your Daddy?” in boldly written text across its side. Health Street started in an RV originally because Rosenthal could not afford to lease an office, but now, he says, the curious truck helps bring in people to get tested on a whim.

Do you feel there’s a stigma to doing this work from a truck?
Some people prefer to be more discreet. In 2012, I don’t think there’s a stigma associated with getting a DNA test. It touches a nerve that generally moves toward humor in people. Right beneath the surface it makes them think about their own family or kid. As a company, it’s not our place to judge anyone. This is a major turning point in people’s lives that we’re a part of.

What actually happens in the truck?
DNA testing is nothing more than rubbing the inside of the cheek with Q-tip. It takes about 10 minutes. Well, it’s 10 seconds on each cheek, so the actual DNA part is 20 seconds. Then there’s a lot of paperwork: We take pictures of them, they sign documents, and we print out some things. It’s mostly administrative. The process is amazingly simple, but people go 20 years and never resolve this issue.

Where was the RV today?
We’ve been all over. Now we’re in Midtown, on the east side on 2nd Avenue, by 50th Street.

How do you pick your locations?
We try to vary it to reach as many communities as possible. One of the things about DNA testing is the impression people get from TV and talk shows. We get people from all over the world, every ethnicity, every economic class who might have had that question on their mind for years but didn’t act on it. When they see the truck, they come and make an appointment from there.

How many “Who’s Your Daddy” trucks does the company have?
Only one truck that’s usually in New York. We also have mobile collectors throughout U.S. The RV is a great marketing tool. Right now two people are outside taking pictures of it. By people taking pics and tweeting it, it multiplies the reach we have. The RV does that—no one tweets, “Hey I just got a DNA test.”

How many DNA tests do you do?
Five DNA tests a day, maybe 100 per month. It costs $299, or $425 per couple, and $100 per person after that.

Is it good business?
A mobile business is really a labor of love. We deal with generators going down. People back cars into us. We get tickets all the time. You have to be out early because of the traffic—if you have an office, people will you never say, well, the office didn’t get there on time. It’s a 24/7 operation: People will call you at night for a blood test. Washing the RV, keeping it clean is an ongoing expense. To fill the tank is $200. We also have an office operation, a call center, Internet work. It’s a full operation: accounting, legalities, everything. We have five people on staff and another 10 independent workers who do mobile collecting.

Can you get rich doing this?
I don’t know. I hope so!

Seems like you have a sense of humor about this stuff.
I think it’s a fun job. No two days are alike. We get crazy questions. Like, how can I get a sample from my husband without him knowing it? And we have to say, “Well, a toothbrush is only [this] accurate.” One woman found a condom in her husband’s car and wanted it tested. People try to bribe us. It’s nothing like what you see on TV. There’s a ton of drama, but it’s not what people think.

Venessa-wong-190x190
Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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