I’m late to Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou’s gripping tale about the Theranos scandal. It takes courage to be a whistleblower anywhere, but particularly so in the US where rich people can buy corrupt lawyers and ruin the tellers of truth. The truth behind the rise of Theranos is utterly shocking. One reason is the total absence of morality on the part of Elizabeth Holmes, the Steve Jobs-wannabee CEO, from lying to investors, through bullying staff (and others), to putting patients at risk through blood tests that clearly did not work and delivered false results. As Carreyrou concludes, one can’t be sure that Elizabeth Holmes is a sociopath, but…. it certainly is hard to understand what she thought she was doing on any other hypothesis.
The other shocker is how many very intelligent and experienced people were misled by the confection of lies Holmes and her lover/deputy Sunny Balwani constructed. She did cost many experienced investors many millions of dollars and lured many big names on to her board. All were swift to defend her when the truth began to trickle out and slow to accept how comprehensively she had duped them. After all, the truth was going to make them lose a lot of money.
The book is a terrific read but I found it rather sobering to realise how easy it is for liars to thrive, and how much rests on the shoulders of the courageous few. So hats off to the whistleblowers who spoke to Carreyrou and the doctors who helped him uncover the false blood test results, and even to Rupert Murdoch who let the Wall Street Journal run the stories even though he stood to lose his investment in Theranos. This is a cautionary tale for our times when so many people so badly want to believe in tech miracles, and there’s a lot of money swishing around looking for unicorn-style returns.