The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of a multibillion-dollar startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end in the face of pressure and threats from the CEO and her lawyers.
In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup "unicorn" promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes's worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn't work.
For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company's value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.
"The resignations infuriated Elizabeth and Sunny. The following day, they summoned the staff for an all-hands meeting in the cafeteria. Copies of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho had been placed on every chair. Elizabeth told the gathered employees that she was building a religion. If there was anyone not prepared to show complete devotion and unmitigated loyalty to the company they should “get the fuck out.”
The Steve Jobs Syndrome
I have covered Silicon Valley as a journalist and author for three decades now. I’m not big on attending conferences, but made a point to go to an awards event at a favorite forum in September 2015. Among the recipients that year was Silicon Valley legend, Andy Grove, getting the lifetime achievement award.
Also on the list, getting the “global benefactor” award at this 2015 event, was someone I had never heard of, Elizabeth Holmes. I had also never heard of her company, Theranos. Though I once worked for a business magazine, I never read any others. And Theranos was in the medical device “space,” which is pretty different from software and social media.
Her presentation was last. Joining her on stage was her Stanford professor and mentor, Channing Robertson. He spoke first. He told this story of Holmes as a kind of prodigy who camped out at the doors of his office and lab until he admitted her as a freshman into his upper division courses in chemical engineering. I would learn later that he considered Holmes a once-in-a-generation genius, comparing her to Newton, Einstein, Mozart, and Leonardo da Vinci. Heavy praise, indeed.
Holmes was up next. She wore a black, mock turtleneck that reminded me of Steve Jobs. Her dyed blond hair was up, slightly skewed, that struck me as a bit calculated. She had large, unblinking blue eyes and spoke in a low baritone. By the end of her talk, it struck me that she had essentially said nothing of substance about her product or her company. Instead, it was high-falutin’ claims that reminded me of the rhetoric Steve Jobs used when rolling out a new product, except that he had a real product he was demonstrating each time. I was immediately suspicious of Holmes and Theranos. I had seen too much over the years to take something like this at face value.
When I got home, I did a computer search and learned that Holmes had been on the cover of numerous business magazines as the first female tech billionaire. (My wife would always add: “on paper.”) In some photos she posed with a tiny vial of blood that was supposed to represent all that would be needed to do numerous tests with the company device.
Almost a month later, the first in a series of Wall Street Journal articles about Theranos, by the author of this book, were published. It reported that their technology did not work. (I was to learn later that the author interviewed 60 former Theranos employees for his research). My suspicions were confirmed. I eagerly read every new installment of the WSJ series.
But “Bad Blood” goes much deeper than those articles. It turns out that Channing Robertson was not the only older man over whom Holmes had a kind of hypnotic power, like the mythical Mata Hari. There was veteran venture capitalist, Donald L. Lucas, whose backing and connections enabled Holmes to keep raising money. Then Dr. J and Wade Miquelon at Walgreens and Safeway CEO Steve Burd, as well as General James Mattis (now Trump’s Secretary of Defense), George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger.
All of these men served as enablers, when they were in positions where they could have put a stop to the fraud. Most of these operations had experts who knew the science and tried to warn their superiors, but were ignored. And there’s no doubt that the medical miracles Theranos promised were very appealing to these older men, as well as to so many others who heard her spiel.
One of the most important older men was Sunny Balwani, her romantic partner 20 years her senior. He knew nothing about science, but was essentially her primary henchman for bullying dissenters in the company, heading up employee surveillance and doing the dirty work of firing people. He also subbed as CFO after the only one they had was fired for questioning company honesty. Balwani would pull numbers out of his butt and claim they were legitimate revenue projections.
Those who weren’t fooled were veteran venture capitalists who had been investing in the medical device space for years. During one of her pitches to these firms, she was asked so many questions she couldn’t answer that she stormed out of the conference room. In a one-on-one encounter with another successful venture capitalist he asked to see her device. Instead, she slapped her notebook shut and said: “if you can’t trust me, I can’t work with you” and slammed the door behind her as she departed.
In turns out that in spite of her time at Stanford, Holmes didn’t know much science. She described the process of her device as follows….
“A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.”
The selling point was no more needles, just a slight lance of a fingertip could provide enough blood to do countless tests. When the author queried Timothy Hamill, from the UCSF Department of Laboratory Science, he told him…
"….the pitfalls of using blood pricked from a finger. Unlike venous blood drawn from the arm, capillary blood was polluted by fluids from tissues and cells that interfered with tests and made measurements less accurate. “I’d be less surprised if they told us they were time travelers who came back from the twenty-seventh century than if they told us they cracked that nut,” he added.
[It's odd that Holmes continues to be referred to as "brilliant" when she lacked knowledge of the basic science noted above]
The whole concept was flawed from the beginning. Holmes used non-company technology to try to cover this up. In a PowerPoint presentation she made to investors one slide showed scatter plots purporting to favorably compare test data from Theranos’s proprietary analyzers to data from conventional lab machines. But all the data came from non-Theranos technology. They often used other tech than company technology that could not generate accurate results for patients. Theranos even resorted to using hypodermic needles, instead of the promised fingertip prick.
Meanwhile, Holmes continued to expand her Steve Jobs persona. She drank green kale shakes (Jobs was vegan), leased cars with no license plates (as he had), had several bodyguards who referred to her as Eagle1 (Eagle2 was Balwani) and flew in a Gulfstream Jet. She referred to her device as the i-Pod of Health. And even hired the ad and pr firm that Apple once used, Chiat-Day, even though Theranos could not afford them. And looking back, it appeared that her dropping out of college was part of a script, just the way Jobs and Gates dropped out to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
When she went on the Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” show to denounce the WSJ, she sounded very Jobs-like when she said: “First they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, and then, all of a sudden, you change the world.“
Not surprisingly, Theranos kept missing their deadlines. Its contract with Safeway fell through, but Walgreen’s was more important to them. Several stores in Arizona went “live” with testing. Most tests done there were way off, resulting in unnecessary trips to the ER and potential over-treatment. Various doctors and patients published negative reviews on Yelp.
This put the company in the realm of reckless endangerment: “a crime consisting of acts that create a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.”
This reality upset many employees who wanted no part of a fraud that would harm people.
At company meetings, Holmes would say: “If anyone here believes you are not working on the best thing humans have ever built, then you should leave.”
Many took her up on that, but it was never without controversy.
Meanwhile, bulldog Sunny was dispatched to Arizona to intimidate those who had posted negative Yelp reviews. And the company had hired super-lawyer David Boies to threaten suit against anyone who revealed insider info on the company. Just as one example, it cost the Schulz family $400k in legal fees to defend George’s nephew Tyler. Theranos knew Tyler had met with the author because they had a tail on both Tyler and the author.
When I finished the book I thought back on that awards ceremony I had attended where I first saw Holmes. I recalled Andy Grove, whose lifetime achievement award represented the original Silicon Valley of sweat equity. Grove lived through the Nazi occupation of his native country of Hungary and escaped after it became Communist. In New York, he worked as a busboy while he learned English and obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from City College of New York. Graduate work took him to the west coast, where he earned a Ph.D from U.C. Berkeley in chemical engineering. He would go on to help found chip maker, Intel, a company that truly changed the world.
These days, what I see in Silicon Valley is an increasing obsession with wealth and an absence of ethics, and the spread of the Steve Jobs Syndrome, like some kind of disease. Theranos epitomized all of this. The result is a lack of the honest work that Grove epitomized, in which wealth and notoriety were by-products not goals. The real goal was to do good work, first and foremost. And always tell the truth.
More recent "fake it until you make it" fraudsters....
I don’t read a lot of page turners. I often find myself unable to put a book down—but they’re not the kinds of books that would keep most people glued to their chairs. Still, I recently found myself reading a book so compelling that I couldn’t turn away.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou details the rise and fall of Theranos. If you aren’t familiar with the Theranos story, here’s the short version: the company promised to quickly give you a complete picture of your health using only a small amount of blood. Elizabeth Holmes founded it when she was just 19 years old, and both she and Theranos quickly became the darlings of Silicon Valley. She gave massively popular TED talks and appeared on the covers of Forbes and Fortune.
By 2013, Theranos was valued at nearly $10 billion and even partnered with Walgreens to put their blood tests in stores around the country. The problem? Their technology never worked. It never came close to working. But Holmes was so good at selling her vision that she wasn’t stopped until after real patients were using the company’s “tests” to make decisions about their health. She and her former business partner are now facing potential jail time on fraud charges, and Theranos officially shut down in August.
The public didn’t know about Theranos’ deception until Carreyrou broke the story as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Because he was so integral to the company’s demise, Bad Blood offers a remarkable inside look.
Some of the details he shares are—for lack of a better word—insane. Holmes would invite prospective investors to the lab, so they could get their blood tested on a Theranos machine. The device had been programmed to show a really slow progress bar instead of an error message. When results didn’t come back right away, Holmes sent the investors home and promised to follow up with results.
As soon as they left, an employee would remove the blood sample from the device and transfer it to a commercial blood analyzer. Her investors got their blood tested by the same machines available in any lab in the country, and they had no idea.
There’s a lot Silicon Valley can learn from the Theranos mess. To start, a company needs relevant experts on its board of directors. The Theranos board had some heavy hitters—including several former Cabinet secretaries and senators—but for most of the company’s existence, none of them had any expertise in diagnostics. If they had, they might have noticed the red flags a lot sooner.
Health technology requires a different approach than other kinds of technology, because human lives are on the line. Carreyrou writes a lot about how Holmes idolized Steve Jobs and his unwillingness to compromise on his vision. That approach is okay for consumer electronics—if a new phone doesn’t work as promised, no one gets hurt—but it’s irresponsible for a health company. Holmes pushed a vision of what Theranos could be, not what it actually was, and people suffered as a result.
Bad Blood is also a cautionary tale about the virtues of celebrity. On the surface, Holmes was everything Silicon Valley loves in a CEO: charismatic and convincing with a memorable personal story made for magazine profiles. There’s nothing wrong with that on its own. A rock star CEO can be a huge boon for a startup. But you can’t let fame become the most important thing.
Theranos is the worst-case scenario of what happens when a CEO prioritizes personal legacy above all else—but I hope that people don’t use it as an excuse to write off the next young woman with a big idea. I also don’t want Bad Blood to scare people away from next-gen diagnostics. Theranos went to extraordinary lengths to get around quality standards. The industry is highly regulated, and new diagnostics undergo rigorous testing.
Bad Blood tackles some serious ethical questions, but it is ultimately a thriller with a tragic ending. It’s a fun read full of bizarre details that will make you gasp out loud. The story almost feels too ridiculous to be real at points (no wonder Hollywood is already planning to turn it into a movie). I think it’s the perfect book to read by the fire this winter.
Fascinating accounting of the Theranos scam and I do mean SCAM. Exhaustively reported. I do wish there had been more analysis of how a scam of this magnitude was made possible and enabled. This girl dropped out of college and convinced Henry Kissinger, George Schulz, Rupert Murdoch and a bunch of other famous and/or incredibly talented people to give her money or work with her even though there was no there, there. WHAT? There are so many incredible WTF moments. Just wow. Privilege is a hell of a drug, I guess.
Last night when I finished this I just wanted to write a review that was haha repeated like four hundred times. I've gotten some sleep since then and calmed down though. This was really good, like I stayed up until 3 am reading because I didn't want to put it down good. Most I'm just befuddled that this happened at all and at the fact that most of the people implicated in this are just probably never going to face any repercussions. I don't even necessarily mean legal repercussions but like just there seems like there's zero contrition or embarrassment on the part of people like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, James N. Mattis, or Channing Robertson. Like just their instance until even recently that Theranos has proprietary technology that was novel and that there wasn't merit to anything being said, or the way Mattis was even confirmed as Secretary of Defense not too long ago. I'm just baffled and I think the book shouldn't have said Holmes was solely responsible for the mess that was Theranos when so many people who we're supposed to think as credible couldn't be bothered to do any due diligence. When Schultz's own grandson came to him to tell him that things weren't right at Theranos and he just disregarded him. I honestly couldn't even comprehend how someone could be like that, but I guess what else can you expect from someone involved in something like the Iran-Contra affair. Really good book, would totally recommend, personally could not look away from this god damn train wreck of a situation that was entirely preventable.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is a 2018 Knopf Publishing Group publication.
‘Super high turnover rate means you’re never bored at work. Also good if you’re an introvert because each shift is short-staffed. Especially if you’re swing or graveyard. You essentially don’t exist to the company. Why be bothered with lab coats and safety goggles? You don’t need to use PPE at all. Who cares if you catch something like HIV or Syphilis? This company sure doesn’t!! Brown nosing, or having a brown nose, will get you far. How to make money at Theranos: 1. Lie to venture capitalists 2. Lie to doctors, patients, FDA, CDC, government. While also committing highly unethical and immoral (and possibly illegal) acts.
This is the story of Elizabeth Holmes’ meteoric rise and her swift and spectacular fall from grace-
I didn’t closely follow this case in the same way I do some true crime stories, but I did keep up with it enough to get the gist of what had transpired, who some of the players were, and why the company was sued. So, when I saw this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I had to know all the details, the how, when, where, and why because it was just such a bizarre situation.
However, after I read this book, I sat back in complete shock. Sometimes, I just could not believe what I was reading!! I also couldn’t believe all the names that popped up in this book!! Before anyone starts pointing fingers at one side of the other, people from all political stripes were misled by the charismatic Holmes. These people are supposed to be the best and the brightest, but frankly, every one of them left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
For those who many not have kept up with the news stories-
Elizabeth Holmes, barely out of her teens, was behind a Silicon Valley startup called Theranos. The company claimed to have invented a device that could take a very small amount a blood, usually from a single finger prick, and perform as many as eight hundred different tests on it, often promising instant results or diagnosis. The demonstrations showed mixed results, so to be sure the results wowed the potential investor, the tests were often rigged. Any unfavorable statistics were simply tossed out or ignored. The device and its potential capabilities were pitched to Safeway, Walgreens, and even the Military. Elizabeth’s magnetic personality was enthralling, and she had a way of convincing people to do what she wanted them to, persuading even the most skeptical to put their faith and trust in her.
However, multitudes of her employees found out the hard way, what might happen if they challenged her, or her Svengali -like lover Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani.
Many people were disturbed by the false claims Elizabeth made and were very concerned about the false positive results the blood tests produced on real patients. Employees at the company dropped like flies. Eventually, one employee, Tyler Shultz, grandson of former secretary of state, George Shultz, became a whistleblower, bringing down a nine -billion -dollar operation in the process.
This story is utterly chilling, and mind boggling. I marveled at the gullibility of people we entrust our lives to, not only at the base level of health care, but at high levels of the government and the military. I’d have thought some of the people were smarter than that. Apparently not.
Look, even someone like me, from Podunk, Texas, would know better than to take a medical claim such as this one at face value. I wouldn’t invest in it, promote it, or test it on patients until the thing had been approved by the FDA or whoever else had to put the seal of approval on it. I damn sure wouldn’t allow our military to be subjected to something so unreliable. Good God! Is common sense dead in the water? It just seemed too far-fetched to me and I really struggled to believe so many wealthy and even powerful people fell under Holmes’ spell so completely.
Which of course brings us to the core issue: At the center of all this is Elizabeth Holmes- a greedy sociopath, a megalomaniac- or whatever word you want to use. This woman’s behavior is unconscionable!! She really should be behind bars!!
This is a crazy story, just nuts!! You will have to read it to believe it.
Now, as far an investigative or true crime book goes- this one is above average, especially give the journalistic background of the author. At times all the medical testing and lab jargon was a bit dry, and sometimes the information or patterns of all the players felt repetitive. The organization of the material was well done, but not as tight as I would have liked. Still, I am thankful the author pursued this story for the WSJ, writing an article which helped to bring down this dangerous company before any truly horrific damage was done!!
Theranos ceased operations in August of 2018- Thank God!
Holmes and Balwani face up to twenty years in prison-
1. Elizabeth Holmes speaks in an unusually deep voice. 2. What matters is who you know. If you look good and have the right connections, you can get millions of dollars for your imaginary device, particularly if you model it on the iPhone and dress like Steve Jobs. 3. Even very rich people can be stupid with money. 4. Sometimes the people that aren’t stupid are just supporting you for the grift.
Rather outside my normal genres of mystery, sci-fi and fantasy, Bad Blood intrigued me both because of its medical focus and because I heard it was a particularly well-done story. Although I will once again offer up a more appropriate title: Bad Blood Tech, because the blood itself here is perfectly fine. Absolutely normal, in fact. Perfectly healthy blood that’s put into a nefarious machine, sold by a flim-flam operator of the highest level.
The storytelling is very straight-forward, generally devoid of literary flourishes and with only minor asides. In fact, at times the writing seems simplistic. On reflection, I think Carreyrou had to keep his sentences as factual as possible, knowing that Holmes’ lawyers would go over every word looking to dispute it. As such, it reads quickly.
Until, that is, you you develop Toxic Exposure Syndrome, the experience of immersing yourself in the world of unrepentant and awful people. I found I had to take a break, and once stopped, was reluctant to pick it up. I solved my little dilemma by reading backwards, and was relieved to discover that the narrative eventually switches from the meteoric ‘rise’ of Thantos to the development of the Wall Street Journal‘s expose. That’s when the crazy took an actively evil direction with Thantos harassing former employees, potential sources, and anyone who might speak to Carreyrou about Thantos.
What surprised me the most about this story is how many people Elizabeth Holmes was able to convince to part with their money. Sure, it seems she genuinely believed in her product and its potential. But the goal was a product used to test blood for diagnostic purposes. Even the most simple nurse (cough-cough) could tell you that there’s certification involved. This isn’t a Kickstarter for your new book, or a new design for luggage, or even an up-and-coming app that will tell you if the concert you are at will burst your eardrums (this is a thing). Tests almost always have to be run past the FDA. And Holmes never showed anyone proof of such things.
Essentially, thanks to an impressive amount of seed money through family connections, she was able to keep her pyramid scam going by finding new people and just enough opportunities to parlay small successes into looking like big ones. Until they turned to outright lies. I will note that many of the scientists and engineers she hired did ultimately quit after sharing their (ethical) concerns with their boss, whose response seems to have been, 'don't worry about it.'
I do have to thank Carreyrou, though. We were sitting around work in the break room the other day, in our fifteen by fifteen space shared by roughly twenty people a shift, and someone was commiserating on how awful our jobs were right now. “Well,” I said, “at least we have our souls.”
Three stars, through no fault of the Author. I just didn't enjoy reading about a rampant narcissist and her team of parasitic lawyers.
If you are working in the Health care or the Engineering sector, or if you are interested in Business, start-ups, or Tech firms, or if you love page-turners, this is one of the best books you can read. CEOs like Elizabeth Holmes, who were manipulative and lacked empathy, should never come to the Health care, which will put millions of innocent people's lives in jeopardy just like what Theranos did by giving false Medical reports.
Early in my career I worked at a next-generation sequencing startup with Theranos-level ambitions. In fact, it went further. The founders’ mission was to cure aging. Literally, the goal was immortality.
There were other similarities: The company was founded by wunderkinds, they won the attention and support of a prominent professor in the field, they dropped out and raised millions of dollars from non-hard tech investors off the back of a concept, then tens of millions of dollars off the back of a glued together prototype, all while pursuing a fantastical goal.
The company was wild but not fraudulent. Quite the contrary: When the founders realized that the technology was not going to work (or would take many more years to validate) they decided to fold the company. All of the scientists - even the skeptics - were shocked and disappointed. We were on the verge of breaking through in key areas. But, it was over.
And, the irony? Many of those scientists went on to work at Theranos. It was just down the street.
By 2012 they had all left Theranos. ‘It's too crazy’. ‘It’s way worse’. Way worse than an immature company that blew up on a whim? I started following Theranos: the Glassdoor reviews, the funding announcements, the glowing press coverage. It was surreal to know that the company was a fraud and yet to see it rise.
Carreyrou exposed it all. How Holmes and Balwani drove an employee to suicide, how they strong-armed employees, investors, even generals and statesmen, how they lied to win multi-million dollar deals from credulous partners. The pulp in Bad Blood is juicy. I read the book on one overseas flight.
Theranos is extreme but not singular. Silicon Valley lionizes founders and ‘overnight’, 100X successes. Investors are pushed & pulled toward a hands-off approach. Founders retain board control and investors don’t meddle. This environment is prime for fraud. My management philosophy: In a vacuum, everyone cuts corners. Everyone gets lazy. And, unscrupulous people do worse.
A couple years ago I tweeted: ‘At what point do high-profile unicorn frauds irreparably damage the philosophy and practice of founder-friendly investors?’ That was about Hampton Creek. It could have been about Zenefits, or Uber (in a sense), or, of course, Theranos. Who will be next? The odds-on favorite is WeWork. Does Tesla (a public company) count? The whisper-consensus has many candidates.
There are many frauds left to be exposed. But, none as big as Theranos. Well, maybe one or two.
I have been guilty of the grave fault of idealism in much of my professional life. Consequently I cringe when I read of the young Elizabeth Holmes and her idealistic trajectory from the thrilling emotionally-laden launch of Theranos, which promised a breakthrough in medical technology, to its ignominious destruction as a fraudulent scam. In her I see myself - not in her level of talent or her self-confidence but in her profound self-delusion. It is this self-delusion which seems the universal cost of idealism, a cost which is borne not just by the promoter of an ideal but by the rest of the world as well - in her case about a billion dollars in round figures.
Idealism sells. What it primarily sells is itself - its promise, its enthusiasm, its own inherent goodness. Modern serial idealists in places like Silicon Valley are idealists about idealism. It is their idealistic energy and talent for putting together pieces in a technological/conceptual/commercial puzzle that gets them what they need: ideas, contacts, talented colleagues, reputation, and money.
The code phrase of the idealist is ‘Making a Difference.’ So Holmes “wanted to truly leave her mark on the world, she would need to accomplish something that furthered the greater good, not just become rich.” But most of all their energy and enthusiasm gets them power, the power to promote their own idealistic self-image.
Idealism is always couched in terms of abstract altruism, that is, improving the human condition. But no matter what the area in which a particular ideal is to be pursued - business, politics, medicine, academia - the idealist imperative, his or her sine qua non, is the acquisition and maintenance of power for themselves.
Power is a logical and practical prerequisite for the realisation of any ideal. Idealists therefore want to enrol the rest of us in their ideal. This is their route to power. Their role model is not that of Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa and the selfless doing of good but that of Pericles and the talking of doing good, usually about what others are required to do to prove their goodness.
The world of the idealist is constrained and defined by power regardless of the merits of the ideal put forth as its rationale. Power is the elephant in the room that no one talks about but that must be constantly fed. Eventually there is room for nothing else. The ideal one has started with becomes a nostalgic memory, restored to mind only at the behest of power to increase itself. This is the essential paradox 0f idealism: it will always end in tears.
The more articulate and forceful idealists are in presenting their ideal, the more power they accumulate. The idealist is a visionary, a prophet who deserves power because of the strength of their vision and prophetic acumen. Holmes made it clear to her employees that she was “starting a religion.” It is faith which justifies, for the idealist as for any believer, those actions necessary to acquire power. Chief among such actions is lying.
Chronic mendacity is not incidental or exceptional for the idealist. It is a necessary virtue of technique and substance. Lying is expected because all communication is negotiation, is it not? This is the common thread among idealists of diverse backgrounds, views, and personalities. Donald Trump is an entrepreneurial idealist; Benedict XVI is a religious idealist; Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are high-tech idealists; as indeed is Elizabeth Holmes. However else they differ, they share this distinctive trait: they lie instinctively and routinely, and without remorse, indeed, I suspect, without consciousness of lying at all.
Although idealists have to be enthusiastic salesmen, they are not mere evangelists who tout the advantages of their ideal, while staying silent about its possible defects or adverse consequences. Idealists are true believers. Unlike typical salesmen they do not present half truths, distortions, overstatement, and tendentious arguments knowing them to be such. They believe firmly in everything they say. They are compelling, even for hard-bitten venture capitalists. The guy Holmes recruited to do the engineering was mesmerised by her take of difference-making: “Edmond, who went by Ed, felt himself drawn in by the young woman sitting across from him who was staring at him intently without blinking. The mission she was describing was admirable, he thought.”
The ideal consumes idealists, including their awareness of reality. In their own minds they do not lie, they convince - themselves as much as others - in order to further the ideal. Lies are aspirational statements not false claims. Their repetition is constructive truth, an embodiment of hope, and a demonstration of that very Christian virtue of faith. So from the start of Theranos, Holmes was faking the results of her diagnostic devices through high-tech trickery - believing, much like Bernie Madoff (another idealist), that the breakthrough was at hand. She was selling nanobot snake oil to West Coast money men at the same time as Goldman Sachs (an exceptionally idealistic firm, just ask them) was pushing its sub-prime portfolios into German pension funds. Same product - efficiency - just different labels, one procedural, the other financial.
In short idealism is not merely a neurosis; it is a sociopathology. Idealists don’t simply have ideals; they seek to impose them on the rest of us - at a profit. Idealism is an infection spread from mouth to ear to mouth. As both a philosophy and a practical ethic it is the secular residue of the Christian idea of faith. It may not move mountains directly but it certainly can generate the cash to develop the machines which can. And idealism justifies anything for those who have it; it makes the idealist immune from self-criticism, and indifferent to the consequences of his actions. Idealism certainly gets things done in a world which expects and respects it. But what it gets done is rarely discussed.
In business the consequence is constant low-level deceit punctuated by not infrequent criminal fraud; in politics the consequence is extremism and ultimately terrorism; in religion, fundamentalism and doctrinally-justified inhumanity. Idealism, like its progenitor of faith, is something we culturally value. The central question that Bad Blood raises is not legal, or organisational; nor is it essentially about the moral code of Silicon Valley. It is about whether this legacy of what we glibly call Christian civilisation is a salvific virtue or a destructive vice.
How does a woman who was once lauded as the youngest self-made female billionaire find herself now broke and charged with fraud? Her face was on the cover of many financial magazines as the golden girl of Silicon Valley, the female Steve Jobs. In her black turtlenecks, she even dressed like Jobs.
Elizabeth Holmes had an idea for a medical device that used breakthrough technology that could provide lab results from a simple finger prick and a minuscule drop of blood, and thereby revolutionize the health care industry. Founded in 2003, she raised millions of dollars from investors and named her company Theranos.
The problem? The medical device didn’t work. It was all an elaborate scam. Still, the company managed to get Walgreens and Safeway onboard to build on-site clinics and she received multiple awards for her work. Elizabeth was a master manipulator and a dynamic force to be dealt with. She didn’t start out with a plan to scam but she would not accept the fact that her device simply didn’t work. Many people were fooled and she worked her way into rubbing elbows with people like Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Henry Kissinger, and Rupert Murdoch.
The story is so unbelievable, it reads like fiction. How did she do it? Partly because the company had a culture of intimidation and obsessive secrecy to cover up the fact that it was all smoke and mirrors. And partly because Ms. Holmes had a massive ego. She was charismatic and brilliant but couldn't accept failure.
After finishing the book, I spent some time online, still in disbelief that something like this could happen. Kudos to the author, the investigative journalist who blew the cover on this massive fraud. The bigger question? If someone like Elizabeth Holmes could pull off such an elaborate scheme, one that ultimately put patient’s lives at risk, how do we prevent it in the future?
A riveting page-turner, and a must-read for everyone! Soon to be a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence.
“Bad Blood” details the fascinating journey of a brilliant, soulless, young entrepreneur in pursuit of riches and fame. The story has heroes and villains, twisting and turning subplots, political intrigue and -even while we know the eventual outcome- plenty of surprises. It has all the elements of a good fictional thriller, but what makes this story most shocking and intriguing -- is the fact that it really happened. The details in this book will leave you shaking in your boots when you realize the scale of Elizabeth Holmes’ deception and the impact it might have had on public health.
While aware of the Theranos story playing out at the time, “Bad Blood” provides a more detailed accounting of events. This book doesn't sugar coat the bitter pill and is a triumph of investigative journalism. John Carreyrou's research and reporting for this book were outstanding! By exposing the fraud that Holmes and Theranos were, we now know that intelligent people were duped, money and resources were wasted, and lives were saved. Non-fiction is not really my cup of tea, but I find this captivating , well documented, and it’s narrated like a novel. Don’t let the blood testing science specifics in the first half drive you away --the second half more than makes up for it in drama, and it ramps up at the end.
I do carry some doubt that every word written in the book is true. Most of us will never know the whole story, and even every story has two sides. But Holmes certainly didn't make it easy to see her side of the story when all the facts were laid out. I felt Carreyrou tried to give an even hand as much as possible, but the evidence is too damning to be sympathetic on the very long term deception.
Transparency and accountability should be paramount in corporate governance, government, and personal relationships --and this is certainly reinforced in this book. While I find it disgusting what Holmes and Balwani did, I’m even more disappointed our society would allow such a sham to be perpetuated. No one brave enough to say “the emperor has no clothes!”Everyone wanted to believe in the story so badly, that no one did the basic due diligence on many of Theranos’ claims. We should all be grateful that there are people like Tyler Shultz and John Carreyrou out there.
Elizabeth told the gathered employees that she was building a religion. If there were any among them who didn’t believe, they should leave.
Wow! What a powerful story. I'm a fan of financial stories and I personally work in the tech industry so when I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. If you like shows like Shark Tank, I think you will find this story interesting.
Elizabeth Holmes is 19 and an incredibly smart girl. She decides to dropout of Stanford because she has an idea for a medical device that could literally change the entire medical industry. The device is supposed to eliminate drawing blood through a large needle and instead simply prick your finger and get results faster. She becomes romantically involved with a guy 20 years her senior named Sunny who becomes a powerhouse at the company. They name the company Theranos. Elisabeth is called the next Steve Jobs. Her company goes and eventually is valued at 9 Billion dollars and she becomes the most valuable female CEO ever. Walgreens and Safeway buy into the idea and invest millions. Other famous names invest as well such as, Rupert Murdoch.
This all sounds good and well right? Well what if you worked at a company and found out the entire product was a lie and didn't actually work? What if you realized that the company you are working for made a product that can potentially kill people because the company is faking results and putting innocent lives at risk? Would you quit or say something? If you quit you get harassed & sued (you have to sign an NDA) if you speak a word. If you speak up you immediately get fired and harassed. Let's just say the grass isn't always greener. One day the lies start to come out from a WSJ article when ex-Theranos employees start to speak anonymously...
But how could this woman continue to keep this lie going for over 10 years?
This story honestly blew me away. I have no idea how large companies such as Walgreens and Safeway were able to not see through the lies. Maybe Elizabeth was an amazing negotiator but if I invested hundreds of millions of dollars and the product wasn't hitting timelines I would end that ASAP. I think that the companies had FOMO (fear of missing out), at least Walgreens did. They were afraid of CVS getting the business instead, only to be duped.
The author, who is also the WSJ journalist who broke this story, calls Elizabeth a sociopath. He says they are defined by: not having a conscience in regards to actions they've taken. I'm not sure I would have pegged her as that but when you think about it, she literally could have killed people if doctors actually believe this medical device worked. Luckily, the WSJ article broke before it became a real problem. But morally how can someone do that? Oh and if you look Elizabeth up online she's already starting to try to get people to invest in a new business idea she has. I guess she's moved on...
This story was so interesting and I highly recommend for those who enjoy good business scandals/investment stories. It was a wild ride and I also learned a lot about blood science! This definitely lives up to the hype.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup is a nonfiction book by journalist John Carreyrou, released May 21, 2018.
This book is a triumph of investigative journalism. It covers the rise and fall of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes.
In late 2015, Carreyrou began a series of investigative articles on Theranos, published in The Wall Street Journal on the blood-testing startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes.
The articles questioned the company's claim to be able to run a wide range of lab tests from a tiny sample of blood from a finger prick.
Holmes and his company soon became so popular with Silicon Valley that he was nicknamed "Steve Jobs" in the medical field, and his picture was constantly featured on the covers of magazines such as Forbes and Fortune. Everything was fine and the value of Theranos was increasing day by day until suddenly everything collapsed.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش
عنوان: خون بد: رازها و دروغها در استارتاپی در سیلیکان ولی؛ نویسنده: جان کریرو؛ مترجم میلاد بشیری؛ نشر دنگ، 1398؛ در 320ص؛ شابک9786226593182؛ موضوع داستانهای واقعی از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م
عنوان: خون بد (کینه و دشمنی): رازها و دروغها در شهرک سیلیکون ولی شروع شده؛ نویسنده: جان کریرو؛ مترجم سیدحمید پورموسوی؛ تهران، الماس دانش، 1398؛ در 288ص؛ شابک 9786001892059؛ عنوان دیگر شرکت ترانوس؛
عنوان: خون کثیف: رازها و دروغهای استارتاپی در سیلیکون ولی؛ نویسنده جان کریرو؛ مترجم محیا حسینقلی؛ تهران، معیار علم، 1398؛ در 471ص؛ شابک 9786226247689؛ عنوان دیگر: رازها و دروغهای استارتاپی در سیلیکون ولی؛ فهرست: سخن نویسنده؛ مقدمه، اول: «زندگی هدفمند»؛ دوم: «ربات مایع ریز»؛ سوم: «حسادت به اپل»؛ چهارم: «خداحافظ ایست پلی»؛ پنجم: «همسایه دوران کودکی»؛ ششم: «سانی»؛ هفتم: «دکتر جی»؛ هشتم: «مینی لب»؛ نهم: «بازی سلامتی»؛ دهم: «سرهنگ دوم شومیکر کیست؟»؛ یازدهم: «نابودی فیوش»؛ دوازدهم: «ایبن گیینز»؛ سیزدهم: «آژانس تبلیغاتی کیات / دی»؛ چهاردهم: «عرضه به بازار»؛ پانزدهم: «اسب تک شاخ»؛ شانزدهم: «نوه»؛ هفدهم: «شهرت»؛ هجدهم: «سوگند بقراط»؛ نوزدهم: «سرنخ»؛ بیستم: «کمین گاه»؛ بیست و یکم: «اسرار تجاری»؛ بیست و دوم: «لا ماتانزا»، بیست و سوم: «کنترل خسارت»؛ بیست و چهارم: «ملکه لباس ندارد»؛ سخن آخر؛ تقدیر و تشکر؛ یادداشتها؛ درباره نویسنده؛
عنوان: خون نحس: پشت پرده رازها و دروغهای یک «استارتآپ» در «سیلیکون ولی»؛ نویسنده جان کریرو؛ مترجمها: صدرا امامی، ثمین امامی؛ ویراستار علمی: عادل طالبی؛ ویراستاران: یوسف اسدی، شهره زمانی، سجاد محمدی؛ تهران، برآیند، 1398؛ در 364ص؛ شابک9786006466552؛ چاپ دوم 1398؛
عنوان: دشمن خونی: رازها و دروغهای استارتآپهای سیلیکونولی؛ نویسنده: جان کارییرو (کریرو)؛ مترجم محمد علینژاد؛ تهران: موسسه انتشاراتی دانش ماندگار عصر، 1399؛ در 382ص؛ شابک 9786008608387؛ عنوان دیگر: رازها و دروغهای استارتآپهای سیلیکونولی؛
عنوان: خون بد؛ نویسنده: جان کریرو؛ مترجم: سجاد غلامی؛ تهران، سروش دانش، 1399؛ در 358ص؛ شابک 9786007099704؛
شرکت «ترانوس» وعده میداد با استفاده از مقدار کمی خون، به سرعت، تصویری کامل از وضعیت سلامتی بیمار ارائه میکند؛ «هولمز» و شرکتش خیلی زود محبوب «سیلیکونولی» شدند تا جایی که به او لقب «استیو جابز» حوزۀ پزشکی دادند، و مدام عکسش روی جلد مجلاتی چون «فوربس» و «فورچون» چاپ میشد؛ همه چیز خوب بود و ارزش «ترانوس» روز به روز افزایش مییافت تا اینکه ناگهان همه چیز فروریخت
نقل از متن: (تاریخچه شرکت «ترانوس» را بیان میکند؛. این شرکت چند میلیارد دلاری برای کلاهبرداری تعطیل شد، و مدیرعامل آن «الیزابت هولمز»، در حال محاکمه است؛ داستان براساس صدها مصاحبه با بیش از یکصد و پنجاه نفر، شامل بیش از شصت کارمند پیشین «ترانوس» نوشته شده است؛ بیشتر مردان و زنانی که در نقش راوی حضور دارند، با نامهای حقیقیشان در مصاحبهها شرکت کرده اند، اما برخی از آنها درخواست کرده اند هویتشان را پنهان کنم، آنها یا میترسیدند شرکت «ترانوس» تلافی کند، و یا نگران بودند که درگیر تحقیقات کیفری وزارت دادگستری شوند، یا درخواست حفاظت از حریم شخصیشان را داشتند؛ به منظور ارائه حقایق کاملتر و دقیقتر، موافقت کردم این افراد را با نام مستعار نام ببرم؛ با این وجود هر مطلب دیگری که در مورد آنها و تجربیاتشان شرح میدهم، درست و حقیقی است؛ همه نقلقولهایی که طبق ایمیلها یا اسناد به کار برده ام، دقیقاً براساس اسناد خودشان هستند؛ نقلقولهایی که در گفتگوها به اشخاص نسبت دادهام، از خاطرات شرکت کنندگان در مصاحبهها بازسازی شده اند؛ بعضی از فصلها مبتنی بر مدارک موجود در دادرسیها، مانند شهادتهای رسمی در دادگاهها، هستند؛ در صورت وجود چنین مدارکی، آنها را مفصلاً در بخش یادداشتها در پایان این روایت آوردهام؛ تیم «کِمپ» خبرهای خوبی برای گروهش داشت؛ مدیر اجراییِ پیشین «آیبیام»، مسئول بیوانفورماتیک در «ترانوس» بود؛ «استارتآپ ترانوس» روی سیستم آزمایش خون پیشرفته ای کار میکرد؛ به تازگی «ترانوس» اولین نمایش بزرگش را برای یک شرکت دارویی به انجام رسانده بود؛ «الیزابت هولمز»، بنیانگذار بیستودو ساله «ترانوس»، به «سوئیس» رفته و قابلیتهای این سیستم را به رخ مدیران «نوارتیس»، غول داروی «اروپا»، کشیده بود؛ «کِمپ ایمیلی» با این مضمون به تیم پانزده نفره اش نوشت، «امروز صبح، الیزابت با من تماس گرفت، اظهار تشکر کرد و گفت، عالی بود! خصوصاً از من خواست از شما تشکر کنم و مراتب قدردانیاش را به شما برسانم؛ به علاوه گفت «نوارتیس» آنچنان تحت تأثیر قرار گرفته، که درخواست طرح پیشنهادی کرده، و برای نوشتن توافقنامه ای مالی در رابطه با این پروژه اظهار علاقه کرده است؛ کاری را که میخواستیم، انجام دادیم!» برهه ی بسیار مهمی برای «ترانوس» بود؛ «استارتآپ سه ساله هولمز» پیشرفت کرده بود، و ایده ی بلند پروازانه اش که در اتاق خوابگاهش در دانشگاه «استفورد» در سر میپروراند، به محصولی واقعی تبدیل شده بود، که شرکتهای چند ملیتی خواهان استفاده از آن بودند؛ خبر موفقیت نسخه ی نمایشی به طبقه دوم، که دفاتر مدیران ارشد اجرایی قرار داشت، رسید؛ یکی از این مدیران، «هنری موزلی»، مدیر ارشد امور مالی «ترانوس» بود؛ «موزلی» هشت ماه قبل، در مارس سال 2006میلادی به «ترانوس» ملحق شده بود؛ فردی شلخته با چشمان سبز نافذ و خونسرد، که در صحنه ی فناوری «سیلیکون ولی» کار کشته بود؛ در «واشنگتن دیسی» بزرگ شده بود، و پس از اینکه از دانشگاه «یوتا» مدرک «امبیای» خود را گرفت، اواخر دهه ی 1970میلادی به «کالیفرنیا» رفته و دیگر باز نگشته بود؛ اولین شغلش در شرکت تراشه سازی «اینتل»، یکی از پیشگامان «سیلیکون ولی» بود؛ سپس با راه اندازی بخش مالی چهار شرکت فناوری مختلف، ادامه داده بود، که دو تا از آنها سهامی عام شدند؛ بنابراین کار در «ترانوس» برایش راحت بود؛ آنچه «موزلی» را، به «ترانوس» کشاند، استعداد و تجربه ی گرد آمده، در اطراف «الیزابت» بود؛ اگرچه او جوان بود، اما ستاره های تمام عیار پیرامونش بود؛ رئیس هیئت مدیره اش «دونالد آل لوکاس»، سرمایه گذار ریسک پذیری بود، که کارآفرین میلیاردر نرمافزاری، «لری الیسون» را حمایت کرده، و به او کمک کرده بود، تا شرکت «اوراکل» را در اواسط دهه ی 1980میلادی، به سهامی عام تبدیل کند؛ «لوکاس» و «الیسون»، مقداری پول در «ترانوس»، سرمایه گذاری کرده بودند؛ یکی دیگر از اعضای هیئت مدیره، که حسن شهرتی عالی داشت، «چَنینگ رابرتسون» معاون دانشکده ی مهندسی، و یکی از ستاره های هیئت علمی دانشگاه «استنفورد» بود؛ اظهارات کارشناسانه اش، در مورد خواص اعتیاد آور سیگار، صنعت دخانیات را، وادار کرده بود، که در اواخر دهه ی 1990میلادی خسارتی بالغ بر شش و نیم میلیون دلار، به ایالت «مینسوتا» پرداخت کند؛ براساس تعاملاتی که «موزلی» با او داشت، واضح بود، که «رابرتسون» نسبت به «الیزابت»، نظر مساعدی داشت، و او را تحسین میکرد؛ «ترانوس» همچنین تیم مدیریتی توانمند داشت؛ «کِمپ» سی سال را، در «آیبیام» گذرانده بود؛ «دایان پارکس»، مدیر ارشد امور بازرگانی، بیست و پنج سال تجربه کاری در شرکتهای دارویی و زیست فناوری داشت؛ «جان هوارد»، معاون ارشد تولیدات، شرکت وابسته تراشه سازی «پاناسونیک» را، سرپرستی کرده بود؛ غالباً مدیران اجرایی با این میزان کارایی در «استارتآپی» کوچک، پیدا نمیکردید.)؛ پایان
تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 05/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Fascinating! Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup is a detailed account of the (perceived) rise and demise of Theranos, a blood testing startup once valued at nearly $9B. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and barely wanted to put it down. It was baffling to read about the scams, stunts and lies this company pulled, led by founder Elizabeth Holmes and her former boyfriend, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. The red flags surrounding Theranos were rampant, and Carreyrou does an excellent job presenting the full scope of the situation and the company’s timeline.
“Why had Holmes always been so secretive about her technology? Why had she never recruited a board member with even basic knowledge of blood science? And why hadn’t a single venture capital firm with expertise in health care put money into the company?”
Holmes was a Stanford dropout who at the age of 19, started Theranos with the intent to revolutionize blood testing using just enough from a finger prick size sample. She exaggerated the company’s technological capabilities and grossly inflated its financial projections, as well as use of its device(s), regulatory approvals obtained, and partnership agreements.
“Theranos operates under a culture of secrecy and fear.” The company was a revolving door for the majority of its existence - Employees were frequently fired for raising any concerns and forced to deal with Balwani, Holmes’ second in command, who, according to the book, was perceived as a tyrant by many. There are plenty of supporting examples for this description of Balwani too. Numerous employees also resigned, unwilling to engage in deceptive, unethical practices and/or impatient with Holmes’ lack of direction, lies, and sharp corner-cutting.
In addition to establishing the secretive culture and work environment of Theranos, there is a fair amount of information in Bad Blood regarding the science and technology attempted by the company, as well as its involvement in legal proceedings. Both topics are easily digestible and not written with overly technical language. I am dumbfounded that so many investors just went along with the pitch and that more of them didn’t challenge the constantly ambiguous information being provided. Due diligence is real! It makes you wonder how some people got to where they are.
Bad Blood mentions several times that Holmes has a deep voice, often taking many people by surprise. Finally, after reading about it for the 7th time, I Googled a video of her to hear it for myself and I too was taken by surprise - It was not a voice I was expecting! Some former employees noted they suspected it was a front Holmes put on, to be treated equally and gain the same level of respect as men in the male-dominate culture of SV. Maybe, though this seems exhausting - I know I’d be tired from changing my voice that drastically ever time I spoke at work.
Holmes had an unabashed fascination with Steve Jobs. It is clear she liked the idea of being perceived as an innovative genius, though she is far from one herself. She wasn’t truly willing to do the hard work with a genuine “whatever it takes” attitude to get there. Hence the drastic cutting of corners, faulty devices, and unreliable work product of Theranos. She just wanted the fame and fortune, and inflated her sense of worth along the way, hiring excessive security detail and taking up most invitations to speak at industry events.
After I finished the book, I found myself reading more about the company and Holmes online, still in disbelief that this BS actually went on for so many years. The following quote from an October 2018 MarketWatch article notes: “After Holmes burned through executives, cash, investor goodwill and regulatory patience, nothing of value was left but the company’s patents.”
Though Holmes settled her “massive fraud” charges with the SEC in early 2018, I am extremely curious to see how the remaining various lawsuits will pan out. Part of me suspects wealth and privilege will play a role in saving the day for Holmes, but given the critical nature of Theranos’ deceit (human health), I am hopeful this will not be the case. At some point, we need to bring down the hammer and demand enough is enough - False test results impacting doctors’ treatment plans and patients’ medical decisions seem like a great opportunity to do so.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. I sped through this audiobook in a few days because I just could not stop listening to it. There were so many unbelievable things in this true account of the Theranos scam that my mouth dropped open in a way I wouldn't have thought happens in real life.
John Carreyrou traces the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her medical start-up Theranos from the beginning with the help of countless interviews and other insights. The picture he paints is breathtaking: of a firm run like a cult, of incompetence that can only be explained by a complete lack of understanding of science by nearly everyone involved, of unethical hounding of those who did see the bad science for what it was. I can tell you, if I can see the science as flawed it is really flawed – my knowledge of biology and chemistry is lacklustre to say the least.
While I overall enjoyed this book a whole lot, there were a few things that did not quite work for me. First and foremost the framing of the story – as Elizabeth Holmes did not give any interviews for this book, her story is told from the other end, which I am absolutely fine with and I do think Carreyrou did an exceptional job with this, but his clear distaste for Holmes shines through in a way that I did not always appreciate. For example, early on he uses an anecdote of her playing Monopoly with her brothers and being a super sore loser as an indication for how horrible and competitive a person she is – and I don’t buy that. Lots of kids are sore losers, most of them grow up not scamming patients. I do agree with his assessment that Holmes scammed her investors purposefully and did not care about the patients being misdiagnosed because of her flawed technology but I wish he had let me come to this assessment on my own a bit more.
As a case study of how the lack of diverse knowledge can harm a company, this book is priceless. There were many instances where having somebody on the board of directors with just a little bit of knowledge of the science between the big idea would have led to a totally different ending. I would have liked to have seen an analysis of the social structures in place that enabled Holmes to build her company and run it for many years without any pertinent experience as a 19-year-old college dropout just based on knowing the right people and acting the part. But still, this book is amazing in achieving what it set out to do.
You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction books. I love the imagination of fiction. When I heard about this book from a television show, it sounded unbelievable. The fact that this was a true story that seemed stranger than fiction, I had to give it a read. I’m really glad I did because this was really good.
This story is about the youngest woman, to become a self-made billionaire, and the giant fraud she committed on Silicon Valley. Elizabeth Holmes, was a Stanford drop-out that used her knowledge and family connections to build a billion dollar start-up name Theranos. Theranos invented a blood testing portable machine that could test all the different blood tests a major lab would with just a drop of blood. This was a major breakthrough as it could stop the need for needles and vials of blood sick patients have to constantly be subjected to. Not only that but these machines were to be rolled out in Safeway (a supermarket) and Walgreens (a drug store) all over the USA so everyone could afford to be tested. The problem with this great idea; the machines never actually worked!
This truly is one of the biggest scams Silicon Valley had ever seen. The cheating and lies and manipulation are unbelievable. The amount of people Elizabeth managed to bewitch is staggering. These were smart people she swindled. If you live in the USA, you will be shocked by many of the big names that totally fell for the scam. Actually, the names are so big you will probably recognize them even living outside the USA.
At one point Elizabeth was worth close to 5 billion dollars. This book is written by the Wall Street Journalist that fought to bring her lies to light. This book is also about the brave men and women who were ex and current employees that risked lawsuits and bullying to blow the whistle.
If you have heard about this book and were considering reading it I absolutely recommend it. This is not my normal fiction I love to read, instead it’s the unbelievable truth.
A Sanford dropout with no extensive engineering or medical or science or business knowledge 'created' an idea for a product and company that required all of those things. It not only ultimately failed but also put untold numbers of people at risk and harm? You don't say. One thing, for me, that was truly surprising in this story is that the dropout in question wasn't a white male, instead it was a woman, Elizabeth Holmes.
Elizabeth Holmes had on the surface a brilliant idea - what if just a couple drops of blood could be used to test multiple health indicators/diseases/chemical levels instead of the large and painful blood draws typically used? Unfortunately this idea was not built on any knowledge of how different types of blood tests work, the limits of accuracy when diluting blood, the difficulties in preventing minute amounts of blood from drying out, and the medicals risks incurred when blood tests cannot be held to the same level of accuracy as normal larger blood draws. So basically her idea was more magical thinking without any actual plan on how to implement it, but that didn't give her pause never mind stop her.
This story of how corporate greed and ignorance went unchecked for so long kept me up way past my bedtime. I was completely engrossed, shocked, and dismayed by how this fraud was perpetrated. Even the pharmacy company Walgreen's, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and now ex-Secretary of Defense General Mattis were ultimately involved!
When we get our blood tested, we naturally assume the results that come back are trustworthy. High LDL cholesterol levels? We're either going to change our diet (whole food plant based is the way to go!), start exercising more, or decide to take statins (tip: WFPB diet and exercise are much better for your overall health than statins). Same thing if our blood work comes back saying we're diabetic. Or any other number of disorders. One thing is certain, when our blood work comes back saying there's something wrong, most of us are going to do something to remedy the problem. We take the results at their word, not second guess them and decide to do nothing. Imagine getting blood work back saying you have cancer. You're going to have a whole lot of stress and worry, hope you have decent health insurance to cover the expensive tests you now need to have before you can start treatment, lose money taking time off work to get tests done, etc. We don't usually question the results of blood work; instead we rely on them to diagnose medical issues or to assure us that we are healthy. Doctors also rely on them, basing 70 percent of their treatment decisions on lab results.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos didn't care about the reliability of blood tests. In the early 2000s, she started a company that would, she promised, revolutionize the medical industry. She guaranteed a medical device that patients could have in their own homes which performed hundreds of different blood tests, safely and quickly, and with only a tiny drop of blood. Sounds awesome, doesn't it? No more waiting at least a couple days for results. No more feeling and seeing long needles plunge into your veins, watching (or not watching, in my case!) your blood pour from your body into small tubes. Ick! I get grossed out just thinking about it!
Moving along..... the idea Elizabeth Holmes had was brilliant.... and yet it was just that, an idea. She raised billions of dollars assuring investors that she had a machine that worked and accurately tested blood, quickly and safely. She sold machines to the Mexican government to test for Swine flu (even though she was told you could more accurately test for it through a nasal swab). She signed deals with Walgreens and Safeway and the US military. She became the youngest person to win the Horatio Alger Award. President Obama made her a U.S. ambassador for global entrepreneurship.
There was one problem though: the machines didn't actually work. This didn't bother Elizabeth Holmes; she consistently ignored faulty tests and wouldn't listen to her employees when they suggested something was wrong with the technology. She showed not an ounce of regard for patients' well-being; the only thing she seemed to care about was money and fame. She likened herself to Steve Jobs, even going so far as to dress like him, name parts of her lab like he did, and lower her voice several notches to speak more like him.
Unfortunately for patients, Ms. Holmes' technology rarely worked, but that didn't stop her from raising billions of dollars and hoodwinking investors and company CEOs alike. I am amazed at how she was able to manipulate people and how these (usually) men took her word that her machines worked, this equipment that could cause suffering and even death to patients if it didn't work. No matter how evasive and dishonest she was, many people couldn't see past her blonde hair and red lips.
Thankfully it eventually came out that her technology was not reliable, before it became responsible for the death of anyone. As the author notes, there are "two nightmare scenarios false blood-test results could lead to. A false positive might cause a patient to have an unnecessary medical procedure. But a false negative was worse: a patient with a serious condition that went undiagnosed could die". As of the writing of this review, Elizabeth Holmes is awaiting trial on fraud charges, along with her former boyfriend and the company COO “Sunny” Balwani.
This book is meticulously researched. For me, there was a bit too much detail (I don't care what kind of cars the people in the book drove or where they went to eat) and I think I would have preferred a lengthy magazine article about the story to such a detailed book. I don't care what individual emails said (unless they revealed something new) or who said what about whom. At times, this felt like a gossipy tabloid and at others it was overwhelming with the details. However, it is well-written and well researched and so, whilst it's 3 stars for how much I personally liked it, I think it deserves 4 stars.
Unfortunately, I am already cynical and have a difficult time trusting doctors (who often seem to care more about the profits of pharmaceutical companies than about the well-being of their patients) and the for-profit medical system in this country. I think my level of distrust has risen by what I learned in this book. Still, it's always better to be informed.
From an early age Elizabeth Holmes, wanted to become an entrepreneur, maker her own fortune. Going to Standford, she revered Steve Jobs, and wanted to succeed in a life changing invention of her own. She dropped out of Standford and started her own company. She would Implement, invent and sell a small machine that would only take a pin prick of blood, getting instantaneous results that would allow doctors to make medication changes, much more quickly. Sounds good, many thought so, she raised millions, contracts from leading companies. Many including Joe Biden and Betsy de Boss, contributed money to this promising silicon valley startup. She hired top people in different fields, but soon her company became revolving door as the littlest thing to get someone fired.
So what went wrong? How was she able to pull the wool over do many eyes. Smart people, CEOs of leading companies, and the public at large? That is the story Carreyrou uncovered and made public. This journalist from The Wall Street Journal exposes Elizabeth and her company Theranos.
This is an engrossing read and another that proves the adage that truth is do often stranger than fiction.
A Fascinating story, a tale of corporate fraud and a Journalist who uncovers the biggest corporate fraud since Enron.
An intriguing story about a college dropout by the name of Elizabeth Holmes who becomes by the age of twenty nine, CEO of a company called Theranos and Silicon Valley’s first ever female billionaire entrepreneur but by 2018 was facing federal charges of massive fraud which could see her facing up to 20 years in prison.
I knew nothing about Elizabeth Homes or Theranos but this was an interesting and detailed account about of her amazing rise to fame and her demise and how one reporter uncovered a massive fraud.
I think what shocked me most about this book was the gullibility of people in power and how the wealthiest are held in such high esteem that a fraud of this nature could go unnoticed for so long.
There are a lot of employees names, medical and legal jargon to get through in this story and it was by times quite repetitive but I do understand it was necessary to the story, however I felt it dragged the story down and hence my 3 star rating.
Having said that what an eye opener of a story that has to be read to be believed.
There are photos included in the book but I did a little googling after I had finished as I just had to hear “ the voice of Elizabeth Holmes”
Well, friends, by now I’ve read this here book, I’ve listened to The Dropout podcast, and I’ve watched that crazy ole HBO documentary where Elizabeth Holmes stared at me with those creepy, unblinking eyes in front of a white background. I think I’ve covered the story from every angle, consumed it in three different ways, and now I’m wondering how I missed this story when it was a thing. Before all the books and documentaries and stuff. Oh well.
It’s always good to read a book directly from the source/ in this case WSJ’s own John Carreyou. He’s the guy who busted this thing open, and when he gets to that point in his little book here you can almost picture him all giddy at his computer, furiously typing away with his fingers just bouncing off the keys and his legs shaking under the table, a big grin on his face, standing up to clap and throw his hand into the air with a loud Ric Flair “Woo!” as he wraps up the chapter.
But it’s the details he pulls out along the way that make this book so captivating. He unravels things slowly, introducing us to the vast amount of characters and the Theranos headquarters, making us feel like we’re an employee working in a fake lab. But it’s the story the book is telling that is so unbelievable, as if this must actually be a fiction book because this couldn’t actually happen, right? Somewhere along he way this guy must be embellishing or maybe this is just based on true events and not a true event itself. There’s no way this could have actually been pulled off.
It’s a cautionary tale of what money and power can do. I still don’t know if Holmes started with good intentions of changing the healthcare industry and saving lives only to get in way too deep, or was her goal always to just lie and cheat her way into fame and fortune? And why the scary low voice? There are so many intriguing things surrounding this story. It’s now spawned a movie and a Hulu series so we are nowhere close to done with this. There’s also a real life trial coming with real life consequences. This is the only the beginning, and now I’m fully invested to find out where this all ends.
A "bloody" gripping true crime, reads like a thriller A story on how everyone wants to believe a conman, or in the Theranos case, Elizabeth Holmes. She is a Stanford dropout with a mix of youth, charisma, vision and ruthless sueing and suppressing people who do not agree with her.
Meteoric rise against the odds It’s really amazing how so many people had negative experiences with either Elizabeth as CEO and Sunny Balwani, her lover and COO, and how Theranos could still just march onwards for such a long time. Basic checks are bulshitted out of or overridden because everyone wants to believe in the vision of Elizabeth or is awed/afraid of her C level connections and expensive lawyers. A board with almost no knowledge in the medical field, not critical to their young dropout CEO, who they think will be the next Steve Jobs and a fear of missing out by established parties like Walgreens, helps even more in keeping things covered up.
Fear also ruled internally at Theranos, with secrecy between departments and very high employee turnover masking people having troubles with their conscious. Loyalty and long hours were key and anyone critical would be put on a side track or fired on the spot and got warnings from lawyers. Holmes is evangelical in the importance and transformative quality of her products, calling a Theranos miniLab “the lost important thing humanity produced” during a Christmas party and actually referring to Theranos as a religion in an office meeting.
Playing with lives and the fall of the company However Theranos was really playing with lives, much more so than for instance Tesla, an other company that came to my mind when reading this book, also strong in being cool, having a vision and making claims that are sometimes more future oriented than based in reality. Clinical tests were done (poorly, by unqualified staff) without any disregard to the people relying on the results. People being diagnosed with cancer or diabetes, and worse, people who think there is nothing wrong with them even though they do have a disease. Some people were rushed to the intensive care and paid $3.000 in hospital bills because of false positives; others were pregnant and could have lost their baby when they’d adjusted their medication based on the outcomes of the Theranos tests.
The soaring popularity of Elizabeth, who became a paper billionaire when a funding round valued Theranos at $ 9 billion puts the faulty quality of the products to scrutiny. Despite top lawyers working for Theranos more and more people contact Carreyrou and in the end the authorities ban Holmes from running a company for 10 years and the trials for fraud will start in 2020.
Bad Blood is a chilling read of ambition trying to defy reality, without any due care to people and read like a thriller: I enjoyed it a lot!
Elizabeth Holmes must be the Queen of self-hype to get so many powerful (and allegedly smart) men to support this scheme (Jim Mattis! Henry Kissinger!). I would enjoy seeing both her and Sunny Balwani in jail, for what they'd done not only to their customers, but their employees.
Although I am not a fan of Wall Street Journal and the baloney they peddle in their opinion pieces, I was impressed by how their investigative department stood up against legal pressures from Theranos. Real journalism is great!
I loved (and was disturbed by) every second of this. It's the exact kind of investigative story that I find fascinating filled with strange figures, secrecy, and moments that will make you say "how is that possible?!" Not only an incredible story, but Carreyrou does an absolutely wonderful job in telling it. Though some of the science is fairly complex, he's able to explain it clearly enough to show you just how critical Theranos' missteps were and the impact it had on real people's lives. I powered through because I just had to know how it all would play out; and even though I knew the general outcome in the end from the news, that didn't take away from the power of the story.
Stories like this really make you question important things like, do you ever really know a person? How can we be so blinded by what's right in front of us? What is our duty when it comes to protecting ourselves versus protecting others? And how do we allow our desires and fantasies to keep us from seeing reality? Incredibly thought-provoking, well told, and simultaneously infuriating, this all makes for a great read.
3 "important and brave work but underwhelming telling" stars !!!
Third Most Disappointing Read of 2020 Award
There are so many reviews of this that I am going to keep this very short
-courageous and admirable work in unearthing a huge medical scam that could have put thousands of patients at risk -a good sequenced telling of events as they unravelled at Theranos labs -very little on the developmental histories of Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani that may have deepened understanding of what occured -little analysis of why this occurred from bureaucratic, economic, political and sociological perspectives -overall somewhat underwhelmed by the writing and presentation of very carefully researched facts
Very glad I read this but I really wanted and yes expected so much more !
Here is a little clip of an office party and her dancing there :)
Just when I thought all reporters ever did anymore was see what was trending on social media and write stories with titles like "You'll cheer how this mom clapped-back at her body-shamers on Twitter," this book gives me hope that old-fashioned investigative journalism is alive and well and doing exactly what it's supposed to: shine an unflinching hot light on those who abuse their power and privilege. Here, it's aimed at the bizarre cult of Elizabeth Holmes and her "disruptive" "game changing" company, Theranos.
Silicon Valley is the epitome of mediocrity dressed-up as brilliance. Having wasted several years of my career working for two different Valley-based "start-ups" (one now on its 18th year of "staring up"), I saw a lot of familiar patterns in this thorough, well-organized and well-told story of how a teenaged college drop-out with all the right connections managed to bamboozle people who we would otherwise assume should know better. There was the usual unprofessional office behavior, the disorganization, the endless cheerleading bordering on religious hysteria about how "we're changing humanity!" all wrapped with the constant disregard for convention and ethics and the truth. In this case, there were a few new wrinkles: complete contempt for the law, and a willingness to bully people to the bitter end to protect their lies.
Although free of literary license and told straight-ahead as a journalistic piece, this book still reads a bit like a thriller. This could easily be adapted to a psychological horror movie, where young impressionable minds sold on the lie that Silicon Valley is full of the world's smartest people operating on a higher plane of existence go to work for a "disruptive" start-up, only to slowly have their perception of reality warped by the bullies running the place until they doubt themselves and everything they knew. At the top we have the calm, collected evil genius of Elizabeth Holmes, dressed the part all in black, speaking in hypnotic, reality-distorting tones, staring unblinking at you with massive blue eyes; to her right is her henchman and lover, a mysterious and wealthy older man named Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who dishes out abuse, punishments, diatribes, and hatchet jobs with complete impunity, to the point you can hear the evil music swell every time his name is mentioned. In the Hollywood version of this story, he would get his comeuppance by being tossed from a cliff, to an eruption of cheers in the theater. (In real life we have to settle for an ongoing criminal investigation.) Backing them up are the tentacles of a powerful law firm; the mere mention of their name sends shivers down people's spines and causes them to give up before they even start. They deploy a nationwide network of spies who know your every move, and who almost literally leap out of the shadows (or in one case, down the stairs) to serve you with papers and bully you into signing away your life.
The duping of so many otherwise smart people is like a real-life retelling of Being There, where everyone believes that Holmes is a genius for no other reason than everyone else believes she is a genius. There is a passage of a recalled conversation with brand-name people attributing high qualities to her that she herself probably didn’t even say. Once again “too good to be true” took a back seat to “wanting to believe,” reminding us of how Bernie Madoff managed to scam a different group of supposedly smart people. Apparently no one is immune to magical thinking.
The author did an amazing job exposing this entire sham and documenting it in a way that gives a complete and chronological picture of what is likely just an extreme example of business-as-usual in Silicon Valley. The difference here is the scope and gravitas, since instead of a forgettable and unimportant software company, Theranos was a healthcare provider, operating in a heavily regulated industry, producing flawed results that directly affected patients' lives. (One person, for example, was out over $3,000 in unnecessary medical tests due to an erroneous blood diagnosis from Theranos. At least no one died, though another person is suing for a heart attack he said could have been prevented if their test had been accurate.) It was also an extreme example of paranoia and litigious bullying, using investor money to buy the finest in legal muscle to intimidate anyone and everyone: former employees, former board members, the journalist who broke the story (this book's author), the Wall Street Journal itself—even the doctors and patients who complained about faulty test results received a personal visit from Sunny, where he threatened to ruin their careers if they didn’t sign away their right to complain. It was one step below a global drug cartel.
So even if you never heard of Theranos before this scandal (like me), or are sick of seeing Elizabeth Holmes’ turtlenecked head all over the internet (also like me), this book is definitely worth reading, even if just for the schadenfreude it inspires.
And hopefully it will burst people’s notion that the Silicon Valley’s “disruption” is somehow wonderful. Far from being a bastion of the future, the Valley is firmly stuck in the past of its gold-rush days, and this book shows just how far some of those opportunists will go to protect their gains, even if at the expense of employees, investors, patients, doctors, regulators, and any one else they perceive as a threat. Perhaps next time, people will actually do their due diligence.
Most of all, I'm just thankful that real investigative journalism is alive and well and keeping us safe and free. Buy this book if for no other reason than that.
20/11/22 - Update: Elizabeth Holmes sentences to more than 11 years (135 months) in jail, for what prosecutors called one of the “most substantial” white collar crimes ever seen in the US.
In a separate trial, Holmes’s former boyfriend and Theranos chief operating officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani was found guilty for his part, convicted on 12 counts of fraud. He is due to be sentenced in early December. —————————��————————————-
28/1/22 - Update: Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty Jan. 3 on four counts of criminal fraud against investors. She was acquitted on four counts tied to patients. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the remaining three counts tied to investors. Holmes’ sentencing is set for later in 2022 (possibly September) to allow for the trial of Sunny Balwani, her former personal and professional partner, whose trial for related fraud charges will begin in March.
10/9/21 - I'm interested to learn that the trial of Elizabeth Holmes has now commenced, in California. I'll be watching closely for updates on proceedings.
29/1/21 - I’ve been on a bit of a roll with books telling the story of successful American companies, of late: Tesla and SpaceX, Google and Yahoo all had inspiring leaders who’s drive and focus meant that they developed innovative products and services that caught the public’s imagination. So what about a company called Theranos? No, I hadn’t heard of that one.
This account of the formation and ultimately the failure of a Silicon Valley startup company who produced what they claimed to be an innovative way of drawing and testing blood samples was written by an investigative journalist, John Carreyrou, whilst working for the Wall Street Journal. Having been contacted by a whistle-blower he wrote series of articles questioning claims made by the company’s founder and CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. In this book, Carreyrou takes us back to the forming of Theranos and explains in some detail how the company was formed, the idea that Holmes propagated and how the company drew in investment from a string of venture capitalists (raising over $70 million) and struck huge deals for the roll-out of their product with Safeway and Walgreens.
The company was obsesses with secrecy and when Holmes brought in Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani as Chief Operating Officer he became the de facto enforcer, ruthlessly stamping down on anything and anybody he thought might be compromising the strict rules the company had laid down. Brutal sackings were the norm and a posse of colleagues were frog-marched from the company's headquarters, often for most minor of transgressions. Unknown to the other board members, Holmes and Balwami were in a romantic relationship and due to the way voting rights were structured the pair were able to maintain rigid control over all of the company’s activity’s.
At its peak, the company attracted a valuation of $9 billion and Holmes had cemented close relationships with a number of very high profile figures, including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and James Mattis. She had also become a presidential role model for American entrepreneurs and had hosted a visit from vice-president Joe Biden. But it all came tumbling down as Carryrou persuaded a number of ex-employees to disclose the tricks and lies that had managed to hoodwink not only investors and customers but also the regulators. In essence, the the product did not work as advertised and more importantly it provided dangerously erroneous readings for many customers. Theranos ceased operation in 2018 and both Holmes and Bulwani have since been charged with fraud, with a trial likely to take place in 2021.
It’s an amazing story, but I wasn’t quite so taken by the manner in which it is told. There’s a lot of detail here, much of it of a medical nature, and without the requisite background knowledge I found chunks of it somewhat hard to follow. Then there’s the way this audio version was read, by Will Damron – to me, the pace felt too slow and the tone sometimes over dramatic. But overall I did find it a fascinating account of so how many seemingly savvy people can get taken in and put money and/or their personal reputation on the line without having undertaken due diligence.