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Theranos saga continues to fascinate

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 11 April 2019, 6:46 pm

When the history of the greatest acts of hubris comes to be written, Elizabeth Holmes has earned, if not a chapter, then at least a fulsome footnote. She is the founder CEO of the utterly discredited Theranos - a company that claimed to have invented a way to get accurate medical test results from just a few drops of blood. No more gnarly needles, just a simple pin prick. Problem was it wasn't true.

The entire saga has been chronicled in the excellent book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal reporter who hounded Holmes until the bitter end of Theranos.

And now it's Hollywood's turn which, as Techcrunch notes, is basking in this cautionary tech tale. Already an HBO documentary has been aired and a film is in development with Jennifer Lawrence, and now Hulu (the online video service that is not available in NZ, but no doubt one of the online video services that is will buy the content) has announced a series based on the 'hit' podcast series about Theranos.

The podcast was called 'The Dropout' because Holmes famously dropped out of Stanford University at 19 years old to pursue the idea behind Theranos. In the book, Carreyrou writes that she went home and locked herself away for several days in her childhood bedroom, immersing herself in scientific research before emerging with a fully formed business case. She then set about collecting the most influential company directors, the most impressive backers. It's quite stunning to read the names of those who wanted a piece of Theranos - Mexican telco billionaire Carlos Slim, Media mogul Rubert Murdoch, Henry Kissinger.

She fooled 'em all. And yet, throughout the whole of Carreyrou's book, you get the feeling that she really did not set out to fool anyone.

She was in love with the story of tech. The founder myth. The person who can, like her idol Steve Job, put a dink in the universe. Holmes was apparently obsessed with Jobs, she dressed like Jobs, and she had a deep voice that sounded a bit like Jobs (maybe). The point being that this woman is being dissected in popular culture.

There is also the law to contend with. She has settled a $700 million claim brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission and is awaiting trial for wire fraud and could face up to 20 years in prison. Google her name and you find out she has just announced her engagement to the heir of an American hotel dynasty.

She has not, to my knowledge, spoken publicly since her downfall. I wonder though if she sometimes wishes that she'd stayed at Stanford, graduated, interned at Google, become a little more ordinary.


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