Twenty-one-year-old Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes had a game changing idea for the health care industry, a steely determination and seductive powers of persuasion; she also had an execution problem and questionable ethics. In Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, an investigative journalist at The Wall Street Journal, we get the shocking story of Theranos, the largest health care start-up fraud in recent history. A page turning real-life thriller.
Holmes’ business idea seemed simple but clever: to provide easily accessible and fast blood tests based on blood from a finger prick. The blood would be analysed by a small machine the size of a toaster in your home or local pharmacy and data would be sent wirelessly to Theranos’ lab in California for analysis, then beamed back to the patient. No scary syringe and no long wait. Brilliant, no? Yes, except for the fact that there turned out to be numerous insurmountable medical and technical hurdles for this to actually work.
Holmes was not one to be discouraged by challenges and even less inclined to admit to them. Her drive and ambition knew no limits, egged on by her temperamental, Lamborghini driving older boyfriend, Sunny Balwani, who also joined Theranos. After several successful rounds of fundraising from prominent investors such as Larry Ellison of Oracle, the owners of Walmart and Rupert Murdoch and setting up a board which included heavy weights George Shultz, Henry Kissinger and James Mattis, Theranos was on the path to become the first Silicon Valley billion-dollar start-up founded by a woman.
Bad Blood tells the spectacular story of how it all unravelled, instigated by Carreyrou’s investigative journalism. It’s a story about lies, paranoia, greed, mind-boggling sheep mentality (well, if Henry Kissinger is on the Board….), of smart people seeing what they want to see and hearing what they want to hear and also, perhaps, a desire to be part of the first billion-dollar start-up led by a woman. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
In the wreckage of Theranos’ collapse were misdiagnosed patients, hundreds of duped employees and a $1 billion-dollar black hole.
Carreyrou is an accomplished storyteller and Bad Blood is a page-turning read. The flurry of names introduced is at times a bit confusing and I wished Carreyrou wouldn’t judge a person’s intellect based how they look (never an accurate indication in my experience), but nevertheless, this was a book worth reading. If nothing else for a peek into the mad world of Silicon Valley start-ups and the ‘bees to a honey pot’ mentality of people desperate to take part in our times’ gold rush. Expect a film to follow soon.
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is published by Picador, 299 pages.
If you enjoyed this book you might also like Red Notice by Bill Browder.