Sunday, December 27, 2015

Blooomberg's Matt Levine on Theranos

From Bloomberg, Dec. 21:

...People are worried about unicorns.
I have to say that I don't understand the public relations strategy of Theranos, the Blood Unicorn. There was a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story this month, and this weekend there was another big article in the New York Times, and Theranos seems to have cooperated with both of them, and its chief executive officer Elizabeth Holmes was interviewed for both of them. Obviously if you are Elizabeth Holmes you have to know that the only questions anyone wants to ask you are to the effect of: Is your company legit? Can you actually do the blood tests that you've claimed you can do? And obviously you need to have answers for those questions. But she never does. It's a lot of this:
Ms. Holmes insists, however, that the company can still rely on some of its technology, which she won’t specify.
And this:
Ms. Holmes argues that the company’s focus over time simply shifted away from the pharmaceutical industry, but it was able to successfully use its technology. “We can show you the programs we’ve done,” she said in the interview. But when pressed for examples, the company did not provide details. 
No no no no no, that is bad PR, obviously the details are what people want. The time for "trying to take back control of the Theranos story" is after your tests work. Then these interviews are easy: People ask you if your tests work, and you say yes, and you point to the FDA approval or peer review or whatever, and everyone is convinced, and the story is about how Theranos has been unfairly maligned. Without that, the story is still about how Theranos still won't answer direct questions about its tests. Also:
She claims her mother dressed her and her brother in black turtlenecks when they were young and now she finds them comfortable. Moreover, she wanted to deflect attention from what she might be wearing. But now she admits she is frustrated about how to handle the media fascination they seem to have created.
When times were good, every story was about the black turtlenecks; now every story is about how she doesn't like all the stories about the black turtlenecks. It is turtlenecks all the way down. The way to change the story is to have better facts: The media is actually fascinated with Theranos's product, right now, but Theranos doesn't have much to say about it. So, turtlenecks.

Meanwhile in the Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Probes Theranos Complaints." And elsewhere in unicorns, high private valuations mean that private tech company employee stock options aren't as exciting as they used to be....

Although I hadn't seen the above at the time we posted "Fortune Senior Editor: "How Theranos Misled Me" (and Theranos responds)" compare/contrast:
Our June piece "Theranos: She's Young, She's Rich, Is She A Marketing Huckster?" was one of the earliest to link to credible sources who thought there was no there, there.
Theranos still has not responded to the substantive criticisms, instead going with smoke, mirrors, hand waving and changing the subject.
We have agreeance* on the waving with the hands.

*See "He Did It All for the Etymologist Nookie".