This book is hard to believe. I don't mean that I don't believe the story - I mean it's just so, so difficult to believe that so many smart people were fooled by a product that simply never worked. This is the story of the spectacular rise and fall of a silicon valley startup that was going to change the world. Theranos was the brainchild of Elizabeth Holmes a twenty-something wunderkind. Its main product was going to revolutionize blood testing by doing away with nasty big needles and use a tiny drop of blood to perform hundreds of medical tests. It's a great idea - a shame it never got close to working. With her wide blue eyes and unexpectedly deep voice, she bamboozled everyone. Carreyyou tells the long sordid tale, interviewing scared Theranos workers, doctors trying to use their products, and even distraught patients. But there is very little analysis. At the end of the book we still don't know how board members like George Schulz and Henry Kissinger (both previous US secretarys of state, successful business men and diplomats), and top investor Rupert Murdoch (super smart media mogul), and many other similarly accomplished men all invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars into this enterprise - without ever seeing anything remotely like a properly working machine. Entire boards of huge companies (such as Walgreens and Safeway) totally supported her project, and started the roll-out of defective devices in their stores. On top of all that, many doctors quickly saw that the results of the Theranos tests were wrong. But the caravan continued to roll on... people continued to invest vast amounts of money... business institutions continued to heap praise and awards on Ms Holmes. It is just crazy...It's not enough to just say Holmes had charisma and charm. There must be more to it than that. People really wanted it all to be true. The book's release is somewhat premature. At the time of publication, Theranos was still a working company, although its workforce has been reduced from a spectacular 800 to a mere couple of dozen, and the law suites and investigations have a long way to go. We still don't know what penalties are going to be handed out to Holmes (and her shady co-conspirator, Sunny Balwani), if any, for their monstrous fraud. The story is told in competent, if somewhat pedestrian style. The facts are there, but the person at the centre of the book, Elizabeth Holmes, remains a mystery. Was she just an extraordinarily gifted charlatan? Or a psychopath, having no empathy at all with the thousands of people she was harming? Even after her company has collapsed, she seems to show no contrition or even understanding of what she has done. Perhaps it will take another book to explain the psychology behind Holmes and those who fell under her spell.
This is probably the book of 2018 with apologies to Jordan Peterson. As a former venture capitalist for 25 years this book is fascinating reading. Most books derived from Silicon Valley are hagiographic biographies of successful founders. This tells the story of an unbelievable failure, namely the rise and fall of Theranos. The company was founded in 2003 by 19-year-old Elizabeth Holmes. It raised more than $700 million and achieved a maximum valuation of $10 billion in 2013. Theranos operated in the blood testing market claimed its technology was revolutionary and that its tests required only about 1/100 to 1/1,000 of the amount of blood that would ordinarily be needed and cost far less than existing tests. The problem was the technology did not work but this did not Holmes and her Chief Operating Officer, Sunny Balwani, acting dishonestly to raise money from investors and signing contracts with Walgreens and Safeway. Various employees along the journey tried to act as whistle-blowers either about the technology or financial projections. Every time they were accused of not being a team player, summarily dismissed, made to sign non-disclosure agreements, and threatened with lawsuits from the highest profile lawyer in the USA, David Boies. The turning point was in October 2015, when investigative reporter John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal questioned the validity of Theranos' technology. Since then, the company has faced a string of legal and commercial challenges from medical authorities, investors, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), state attorneys general, former business partners, patients, and others. Bad Blood published in May 2018 chronicles the decline. On June 15, 2018, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California announced the indictment of Holmes on wire fraud and conspiracy charges. Balwani was also indicted on the same charges. What amazes me is that Holmes, while no longer CEO, is still the Chairman of Theranos. My favourite take-aways from the book are three. Firstly Holmes tried every trick to stop Carreyrou publishing his first article. In particular she lobbied Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal, and who had invested $125 million in Theranos. Rupert, to his credit, said he did not interfere in the editorial side of his businesses and let the article run. Secondly Carreyrou trying to work out what made Holmes tick suggests she is a sociopath. I disagree, she is a corporate psychopath, totally genetically driven by the desire to make money and if not blessed with a moral compass will unreserved lie and use fraudulent methods to achieve economic success. Holmes is Hustler/GoGetter in my emotional intelligence profiling technology. The giveaway was when she was nine years old and asked what she want to be when she grew up, she replied a billionaire. When she was asked whether she would rather be President, she said no because the President would want to marry her because she had a billion dollars. Finally, Carreyrou is mystified by the relationship between Holmes and Balwani in that they were in a relationship together. One of great lessons of my emotional intelligence workshops is that we like those who are like ourselves. Balwani was as a much a psychopath as Holmes. He would fake his scientific knowledge causing much humour among his employees but was utterly ruthless in his treatment of them. One can only have sympathy for the employees of Theranos. Working for one corporate psychopath at the top is bad but working for two psychopaths at the top would be unbearable.
I am so glad that the world still has some talented investigative journalists left. I bought the book because I saw the news articles and was intrigued how a diagnostics company could get things so wrong. I don't work in diagnostics but I do work in the blood industry and am a user of diagnostic products so I know the regulatory hoops these guys have to jump through and the years of research required to get their products to market. I applaud John Carreyrou for taking this on and exposing what was a complete sham of a company. I was fascinated and incredulous at how a Stanford dropout, with no knowledge of how to run a diagnostic company or do research, managed to set up her own company and get enormous amounts of funding by charming and hoodwinking so many wealthy older men. But the way she threatened her own staff was appalling. Her avoidance of regulatory requirements for so long was also unbelievable. I want to pay tribute to the whistleblowers who were brave enough to talk to the author - and they took enormous risks and paid high costs. Excellent read.
What an amazing read. This story is such an eye opener. Unreal that a company can get to a $10 billion valuation on the basis of a fake product. Well done on uncovering this and sharing with us. My only feedback would be the incorrect characterisation of Indians in general in the book when in reality it was a handful of them associated with Sunny. Otherwise this is a great book.
Great story for those who like to read about interesting businesses. Occasionally it is heavy going on technical detail but overall a thrilling story for those who like books such as the Enron collapse or stories of the GFC financial wrong doing. All the usual suspects of a company gone awry are here. A good read.
A solid book outlining an amazing corporate lie. Well worth the read and very compelling - read it start to finish in two days! If any criticism I would say it focuses a lot on the issues and negatives without detailing as much on how the myth was created, and then the ending was quite rapid. Still highly recommended
What a great book! Cracking yarn. Written in such an entertaining and easy manner despite being quite a complicated and technical story with a lot of characters to keep track of. Great job Mr Carreyou!
Engaging and well researched read. I could not put this book down from the moment I started reading. I have a background in biomedical devices and lab science but I’m sure its draw would translate to the non-scientists
Interesting insights into Silicon Valley and the field of biotechnology. A cautionary tale of a modern day grifter and how desperate people are to believe in easy riches and finding the next big thing.