I am utterly and completely fascinated by the saga of Theranos. The story is so insane it’s hard to believe it is true, and every new bit of information makes you wonder all over again how it all unfolded. Now ABC has waded into the discussion with a podcast expanding on their research on Theranos for an episode of Nightline!
For anyone who is scratching their head or wondering why Theranos sounds familiar, here’s the very short version: A 19-year-old entrepreneur named Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford and started a blood analysis business called Theranos. Holmes claimed she had worked out a way to execute complex blood tests from tiny droplets of blood, as opposed to the vials that are normally drawn. Many scientists believed this was wholly impossible, but Holmes managed to raise significant venture capital money, hire a great deal of Silicon Valley talent, convince everyone she was the next Steve Jobs, even get Walgreens to agree to use their devices in-store. The whole thing turned out to be a scam, the machines never worked because, as many said from the start, the science was impossible, and now Holmes is facing jail time. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but that’s the basic outline.
John Carreyrou, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, investigated Theranos for years and eventually wrote a book, “Bad Blood” about the company’s wild growth and unethical behavior. It’s a remarkably thrilling tale and a must-read (I finished it in 2 days!). But now “The Dropout” is taking that even further, with a planned 6-episode podcast and interviews with former Theranos employees. Remember, Theranos was supposed to be a major success story and boasted people like Henry Kissinger on their board. They were estimated at being worth $9 BILLION, but their product DID NOT WORK! Sadly, a high-level employee of Theranos committed suicide, and his family believes the unethical behavior and expectations at Theranos were major contributors to his mental health decline. The more we learn about what happened at Theranos, the sadder the story becomes.
Somehow, Theranos had enough friends in high places that they managed to convince many otherwise intelligent people to buy into their story. Notably, TechCrunch threw an absolute hissy fit when the Wall Street Journal first came after Theranos; we covered it here at Gear Diary and pointed out that the Wall Street Journal probably wasn’t besmirching a startup for the hell of it.
The more information trickles out, the crazier this story becomes. It’s one thing to trot out a phone model and pretend it is ready for mass production, but to fake blood tests and convince companies to buy into it requires hitting new heights of guts and new lows of ethical standards. The first episode of The Dropout is up, and new ones will be out every Wednesday. Already, it’s a crazy story, and the podcast is still covering a point in the company’s history that is 10 years before everything blew up!