The full account of Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes is so intriguing and unfathomable to me and I really went down a rabbit hole with everything. Not for the first time, it made me wonder if my calling should be in investigative journalism instead of marketing. I was entirely impressed with the work of John Carreyrou and the reporting that helped expose the company for what it truly was: a fraud. This is a long and different kind of post without a TL;DR summary, but I promise you it will be worth it.
But first, some background
Theranos was a biotech startup founded in 2003 by Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford drop-out in her late teens. At the peak of its success, the company was worth a whopping $9 billion – mostly due to prominent investors and board members such as Betsy DeVos, John Mattis, and Rupert Murdoch. The company prided itself on revolutionizing blood testing by only requiring a few drops of blood from a finger prick in order to diagnose diseases, conditions, and make real-time changes to prescription treatment plans. In theory, this sounds amazing and that’s what the investors, employees, and partners thought. Then, little by little, threads started to unravel, and the company – and its technology – was eventually revealed to be “false and exaggerated.”
I actually stumbled upon this whole story by accident. Audible used to let you choose one free Audible Original story to download each month, and Thicker Than Water caught my attention. I listened to it right away. The author, Tyler Shultz, also known as the Theranos Whistleblower, is an awesome storyteller. The download is more of a conversation with a friend than an ebook, and in it, Tyler talks about his experience with the company as an intern and then a full-time engineer. He details what it was like to come forward to a journalist and divulge some of the secrets after he resigned. Over the course of his turmoil with Elizabeth and Theranos, his parents ended up shelling out around $400,000 in legal fees. Tyler is the great-grandson of George Shultz, a very prominent economist, politician, and businessman, who was a true believer in Elizabeth Holmes. In his retelling, Tyler discusses how his relationship with his grandfather faltered and all but nearly collapsed during his entire ordeal. Fortunately for him, his story has a happy-ish ending; and George Shultz turns 100 years young on Sunday (12/13/2020).
Title: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Author: John Carreyrou
Rating: A Wild & Detailed Account
Genre: True Crime/White-Collar Crime
Page Count: 352
Published: 2018 with an updated afterword in 2020
This book reads more like a thriller than true crime novel. Carreyrou did extensive – and I mean EXTENSIVE – research on this story, talking to former employees and their relatives, investors, health professionals who used the blood-testing devices, and many more. He was able to form a very well thought out and sequential account of the rise and fall of Theranos, founder Elizabeth Holmes, and her number two executive and boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.
Before, during, and after consuming this book within four days, I was so invested in the story that I researched as much as I could to learn about the company and its investors. It was just so hard to believe that a young college dropout with virtually no medical experience could deceive so many people, and encourage them to invest millions of dollars into her fraudulent technology.
You’ll learn about what it was like to work at the startup, the rally-type meetings where f-you chants were common, the firings that happened very frequently, and the lies that consumed the top-level executives. So much money, so much drama, so many coverups. This account is WILD.
Carryrou ends by saying he believes that Elizabeth started the company with the best intentions, but got caught up in everything she wanted it to be, not what it actually was. Elizabeth Holmes has been charged with fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison for her misdoings. Her trial, which was pushed back several times due to the coronavirus, is now set to begin on March 9, 2021, in a socially distanced courtroom. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out – you know I’ll be watching.
Need to know more?
Download/Listen: Thicker Than Water by Tyler Schultz on Audible
Watch/Rent: The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (available with a monthly subscription or 48-hour viewing)
Read: Bloomberg timeline of events
Follow: The trial beginning on March 9, 2021