“She Absolutely Has Sociopathic Tendencies”: Elizabeth Holmes, Somehow, Is Trying to Start a New Company!
Silicon Valley is notoriously full of founders who exaggerate, dupe investors and the media, and may even outright lie to Congress, often getting away with their deceit. John Carreyrou, author of a new book on Theranos, explains why this time Holmes went 10 steps too far and might end up behind bars....MUCH MORE
here have always been spectacular stories of lies and deceit in Silicon Valley—tales that span decades, of founders telling half-truths about how their companies were founded, or who founded them; of C.E.O.s exaggerating their latest products to fool the press or induce new funding. In the tech world, these falsehoods are so pedestrian that they have received the moniker “vaporware”: empty vessels that are promoted as complete products despite the knowledge that they will never see the light of day. Over time, the exhalations of these tech C.E.O.s became less about the actual lie, and more about who could deliver it with the utmost persuasion. I remember getting a call from Steve Jobs in the beginning of my career at The New York Times, in which the mythological chief of Apple somehow convinced me not to write a story about a software-related privacy problem. After 45 minutes on the phone with Jobs, I walked over to my editor and convinced him to kill the story. Yet a week later, I realized I’d been duped by Jobs. When I told a seasoned colleague at the Times, he simply laughed and explained, “Welcome to the Steve Jobs Reality-Distortion Field.” Jobs’s chicanery helped birth a whole new strain of tech nerd who believed that, in order to be as successful as King Jobs, you had to be the best used-car salesman in the parking lot. Some C.E.O.s told taradiddles, exaggerating the number of users on their platforms (ahem, Twitter); some in Congress say Mark Zuckerberg lied when he told Congress that people on Facebook have “complete control” over their personal data. (They don’t.) But all of these, all these made-up numbers, concocted valuations, and apocryphal stories of how a company was realized in a garage, are nothing—nothing!—compared to the audacious lies of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and C.E.O. of Theranos.
Ahh, the story of Holmes, the dedicated Stanford dropout who was set to save the world, one pinprick of blood at a time, by inventing, at 19 years old, a blood-testing start-up which was once valued at almost $10 billion. For years, Holmes was on top of the tech world, gracing the cover of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, and Inc., always wearing a black turtleneck and often sitting next to the title: “The Next Steve Jobs.” She was written about in Glamour and The New Yorker. She spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in 2014, and appeared on Vanity Fair’s New Establishment List in 2015. But as The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou details in his new book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, almost every word coming out of Holmes’s mouth as she built and ran her company was either grossly embellished or, in most instances, outright deceptive.
As Carreyrou writes, the company she built was just a pile of one deceit atop another. When Holmes courted Walgreens, she created completely false test results from their blood tests. When the company’s chief financial officer found out, Holmes fired him on the spot. Holmes told other investors that Theranos was going to make $100 million in revenue in 2014, but in reality the company was only on track to make $100,000 that year....
...On this week’s Inside the Hive podcast, I sat down with Carreyrou to try to understand how Holmes acted with such deceit, knowing full well that the technology she was selling, technology that was used to perform more than 8 million blood tests, according to Carreyrou, was putting people’s lives in danger. The obvious question to seeing someone act that way, with such utter disregard for how her actions would destroy other people’s lives, is to ask: is she a sociopath?... According to Carreyrou, Holmes is currently waltzing around Silicon Valley, meeting with investors, hoping to raise money for an entirely new start-up idea. (My mouth dropped when I heard that, too.)...