Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
By John Carreyrou
Random House, 2018, 541 pp.
Elizabeth Holmes was a very bright, chemical engineering major at Stanford University. She dropped out of college in March, 2004 at the age of 20 because she had an amazing idea: to develop a compact blood analysis machine that could run hundreds of tests with only a few drops of blood drawn from a single finger prick.
Holmes founded the Theranos corporation in Silicon Valley to turn her dream into reality. She leveraged her youthful good looks and confident demeanor (which included a feigned deep, authoritative voice) to attract a bevy of big-name investors eager to get in on the ground floor of another high-tech start-up success. Holmes accomplished her dual dreams of becoming famous and a billionaire (on paper). There was just one small problem. Her idea wasn’t viable. Try as they might, Holmes’ team of scientists could not get reliable test results from a few drops of blood. Behind closed doors, Theranos actually used large blood analyzers built by competitors to test the blood samples that were sent to them. Holmes kept the truth from investors and regulatory agencies as long as possible, but whistle blowers confided in John Carreyrou, a suspicious investigative reporter working for the Wall Street Journal, who broke the story in 2015. Holmes denied the allegations, but mounting scrutiny eventually forced the shutdown of Theranos in 2018. Holmes was indicted on charges of fraud and awaits trial in March 2021 (the trial date has been rescheduled several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Recent filings indicate her lawyers may attempt a “mental illness” defense.
Holmes was quite a character; absolutely driven to be the “next Steve Jobs” and impressing potential investors with her trademark ninja black turtleneck shirts and her affected masculine voice, but with zero credibility. It was all “smoke and mirrors.” As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think about how society worships at the altar of fame, wealth, and attractiveness.