badblood

Ever get the feeling that the Silicon Valley Startup culture is more con than the pinnacle of new business development? If the answer is yes, or if you are afraid the answer may be yes, then Bad Blood is a book you should read.

Written by the reporter who blew the lid on the Theranos scandal in the Wall Street Journal, when they were still considered the darlings of the healthcare startup world, it is a remarkable story. If it was fiction, the story would have been laughed out of the editor’s office or thrown in the trash. It is a story of just how far networking and connections can get a company when they have a product that has really never worked. Of how the best, and the brightest, can be so intent on finding the next great thing, and of not missing out, that they will overlook almost anything.

But at its heart, Bad Blood is a story about rules and ethics. About how some people break rules and other refuse to. How some discover their own ethical lines, and how others see those same lines and cross them anyway without a second thought.
For those who do not know, Theranos claimed to have developed a spectacular new blood testing technology that only required a tiny finger prick of blood to be able to run hundreds of lab tests. They raised millions in investments but we never really able to get their technology to work properly; if at all. It is claimed that Theranos repeated lied to investors, business partners, and employees. They are, and continue to be, at the center of a number of private lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

As with any book about a still emerging scandal, it does suffer from being a little out of date. Since the book’s publication, the two central characters; Founder and CEO of Theranos Elizabeth Homles, and President Sunny Balwani were both prosecuted by the SEC. The charges were resolved by a complicated agreement with regards to company ownership and a fine; however, in June of 2018 they were both indicted on wire fraud and conspiracy charges by the Northern District of California.

It is obvious from the writing that there is no love lost between Mr. Carreyrou and his subjects; Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani. But this is a minor quibble and, to be honest, quite understandable given the levels to which they pushed back against his reporting.
It is an extraordinary tale for any one in business that raises an interesting question. How does a competitor prepare for, and compete, with a disruptive new technology that does not actually exist? The real victims of the Theranos scandal may not be the investors and employees, but competitors who undoubtedly spent millions, and hundreds of R&D hours, chasing a technology that so far has not worked. Not to mention the consumers waiting for better blood tests while the industry chased its tail searching for Theranos’ secret.

Of course, Bad Blood is also a cautionary tale about the cult of personality that surrounds many entrepreneurs today. It is a book filled with larger than life personalities, chasing larger than life dreams, that leads to larger than life crimes.

Here is a Silicon Valley worthy investment tip: the movie rights should be worth millions.

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