Late-Night Movies Open Thread: Scammers All the Way Down (The Theranos Grift)

I haven’t paid much attention to the Theranos scandal, because marketing a literal version of the classic Magical Money Box con to Silicon valley ‘edgelords’ hardly seemed innovative. Of course they knew it was almost certainly fraudulent, but like the medieval barons buying papal indulgences, just getting the offer was a mark of social status (to these marks.). And they figured they could always leverage it regardless, by selling the deed to a more gullible investor, or one looking to them for a favor.

(Besides, most ‘educated’ Americans know as much about medicine / medical technology as a feudal lord knew about actual Catholic theology. Throw your money in the offertory basket at Easter and Christmas, and be proud you can afford to pay for a private pew!)

Getting Henry Fekkin’ Kissinger hooked into her grift, though — that’s genuine craftsmanship. Like having the Papal nucio put his personal seal on those prettily-illuminated parchments…

A review, from Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com:

Theranos sounds like a creature of myth, and in the end, that’s what the company was. Appealing to the common fear of having blood drawn invasively in large amounts, Holmes spun an enticing pitch about building a compact, portable analysis machine named after Thomas Edison and able to perform 200 different kinds of tests quickly, using a pinprick’s worth of blood. Holmes styled herself as a Mozart-caliber wunderkind. She started her company when she was barely old enough to drink. Within a matter of years, it employed 800 people and was valued at $10 billion.

Unfortunately, Holmes’ machine couldn’t do what she promised. She wasn’t a scientist, and her own experts had warned her that it was physically impossible to build the device she’d envisioned. …

Despite the copious use of drone shots, a hypnotic, science fiction-sounding score, and some of the best explanatory computer graphics you’ll ever see, “The Inventor” is ultimately more of an information delivery system than a fully satisfying work of cinema. The presence of one of documentary film’s great innovators, Errol Morris, in the fabric of the movie itself—as a corporate gun-for-hire, Morris did a promotional video for the company—can’t help but invite fantasies of what might’ve been. (The mind reels imagining an autobiographical movie about Morris, one of the great interrogators of war criminals and corrupt officials, coming to terms with his own paycheck-driven obliviousness to the incredible story sitting in front of his lens.) The movie never quite manages to crack the porcelain surface of Holmes’ facade, despite the fleeting glimpses of insecurity and fear that sometimes flash through her eerily unblinking blue eyes. And at roughly two hours, it starts to grow repetitious. There are only so many ways to say, “In the end, there was no substance, and she fooled us all.”

“The Inventor” also shies away from exploring the explosive gender politics at play. Whether this is due to lack of interest, a belief that a male filmmaker shouldn’t be fixating on them, or a feeling that Holmes deserves the same treatment as a male scam artist is impossible to guess. But the viewer still may come away wondering if a great storytelling opportunity was missed. Holmes was an object of fascination and inspiration for many women in tech. As such, her downfall is deeply depressing, not just because she was a dishonest person—maybe even a compulsive fabulist—but also because of the implication that some of the older, extremely powerful men who championed her might’ve been smitten as much by her youth and conventional good looks as by her sales pitch. Their ranks included Henry Kissinger, former president Bill Clinton, former vice president Joe Biden, former defense secretaries James Mattis and William Perry, senator Sam Nunn, Fox News Channel founder Rupert Murdoch, and former Secretary of State George Shultz, whose grandson Tyler Shultz worked for Theranos and eventually turned whistleblower. When things started imploding, Holmes hired attorney David Boies to intimidate people who threatened to expose her…

61 replies
  1. 1
    West of the Rockies says:

    I can honestly say, I have no idea what any of this is about.

  2. 2
    MisterForkbeard says:

    Terry Stephenson
    @tdstephenson
    Replying to @bethdean @andizeisler
    Looking forward to the Palantir doc in a few years.

    The difference is that Palantir actually has a product that works very well.

  3. 3
    West of the Rockies says:

    Blonde, doe-eyed grifter….. I thought of Ivanka.

  4. 4
    hervevillechaizelounge says:

    I was absolutely disappointed with the documentary—it provides no context whatsoever. What was Holmes’ background? Was she a social outcast in school? Did she get into Stanford on her own or was she a legacy? Why did she choose a boyfriend 20 years her senior with an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Toad?

    According to Datalounge she’s out living the high-life with her super-hot new boyfriend, heir to a hotel fortune. If she skates without serving time I’ll be disappointed but I won’t be surprised.

    That creepy fake voice she used sounded like Danny Torrance’s imaginary friend Tony in the Shining.

  5. 5
    TriassicSands says:

    @West of the Rockies:

    If you’re a reader, then read “Bad Blood.” It’s a fascinating tale of mostly old white men, who knew nothing about medicine or testing blood, getting bamboozled by a young woman who utterly lacked the knowledge and background to do what she was trying to do. Her goal was to become a billionaire (and she made it for a few years) but she really had no idea what she was doing. She saw that people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had dropped out of college and made fortunes, but what she claimed to be doing was orders of magnitude harder than what they did and is now, and may always be, impossible. Her overreach is appalling and the people she got to be on her board were way out of their depth, so they ended up looking like fools.

    It the end, as the company continued to fail to provide the service they claimed they were able to provide, Holmes lied and lied and lied and set herself up for very serious criminal charges. She should spend many years in prison.

    From the beginning of the book, it seemed completely implausible that Holmes had the expertise to do what she wanted to do. Her dream was nothing more than the fantasy of an immature mind. By quitting college in her sophomore year, she guaranteed that she would never have the knowledge or skills necessary, not to accomplish her goal, but to realize her goal was unachievable.

    “Bad Blood” is well worth reading.

  6. 6
    TriassicSands says:

    @hervevillechaizelounge:

    The book is worth reading and it will answer some, if not all, of your questions.
    Holmes was a bright young woman, probably a sociopath, and like a lot of sociopaths able to charm people.

    One of the most fascinating things about her was her obsession with Jobs. It was both childish and idiotic. Wearing black turtle necks, hiring people from Apple, using the same ad agency, and on and on. It was laughable. Carreyrou waits until the very end of the book to ask the question: “Is Holmes a sociopath?”

    She quit school hoping to become a billionaire based on a ridiculous idea. The idea that gets all the attention — hundreds of tests from a single drop of blood — was not her original idea and not what she quit school to do. The single drop idea replaced her initial idea which was even less plausible.

    Quitting Stanford did at least two things: 1) it ended her formal education at a time when it was completely inadequate and 2) probably stunted her maturation as a person.

  7. 7
    TriassicSands says:

    @hervevillechaizelounge:

    According to Datalounge she’s out living the high-life with her super-hot new boyfriend, heir to a hotel fortune.

    Ideally, she should be “dating” Martin Shkreli.

  8. 8
    Jay says:

    @TriassicSands:

    Prisons have rules on “dating”,

  9. 9
    ThresherK says:

    @TriassicSands: (scribbles ‘Bad Blood’ on my pull list for the library).

  10. 10
    Plato says:

    In a nation, where corrupt grifters and conmen are sitting in all the top positions of power and pelf, hurting people every day everywhere, this conwoman is the least of the problems.

  11. 11
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    @Jay:

    Prisons have rules on “dating”

    Her father was a vice-President of Enron.

    She’s certain to have socked away a couple of hundred million. She won’t see the inside of a jail cell.

    Worst comes to worst, she can always head out on a false passport to a place without extradition. Where a couple of million will get you permanent residence in a gated villa.

    How about the Maldives, Vanuatu or Cape Verde if you like sun, sand and beaches.

    Or she could just hire Ken Starr and get an Epstein ruling.

  12. 12
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    Guys responding to this tweet with “Eh, she’s not really hot,”

    Should put down the Victoria’s Secret catalog and the kleenex and remember that they are all photoshopped.

  13. 13
    Mnemosyne says:

    G is mildly obsessed with the whole Theranos story because he loves a good con. He keeps getting a vibe that George Schultz’s grandson — the one who’s a whistleblower — is gay, which would help explain why he was impervious to Holmes’ charms.

  14. 14
    NotMax says:

    Dr. Voronoff with blinky lights and circuit boards.

    The expert grifters, such as Madame Blavatsky, are clever enough to forego exploit sex and use the trappings of religion.

  15. 15
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Viva BrisVegas:

    It’s how dudes convince themselves that they totally wouldn’t have fallen for the con. But they totally would have.

  16. 16
    NotMax says:

    @NotMax

    Should read: to forego exploiting sex.

  17. 17
    Darkrose says:

    I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the Theranos story since I read “Bad Blood”. I’ve listed to all six episodes of “The Dropout” podcast, and I watched the documentary. Like the Fyre Festival, getting multiple viewpoints helps piece together something close to a complete picture. I thought the documentary was the weakest of the lot, but I did like that they spoke with Dr. Phyllis Gardner multiple times. Gardner was the first one Holmes pitched her original idea of a diagnostic patch to, and she told Holmes that it wasn’t possible. The next person Holmes approached was her advisor, Dr. Channing Robertson, who jumped in with both feet, proclaiming Holmes to be a young genius. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the older woman saw through the wide-eyed ingenue bit, while older men were dazzled–and it’s worth noting that Holmes surrounded herself with powerful men for the most part, who wanted to play Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle.

  18. 18
    Chetan Murthy says:

    @Mnemosyne: Heh indeed. Back in the day (late 90s) there was this tech startup in Austin named Trilogy (still exists) that, at the time, claimed to be on a rocket-ship path to an IPO. They had a *brilliant* interview process, designed to convince the ones who got offers that they were the creme-de-la-creme, etc. And a pretty interesting compensation model they tried to sell you on, where you “bought” your stock options with your salary, and then vested in a normal fashion. Of course, it all depended on the IPO and the stock price going up. So just to really top off the hard-sell, they hired a ton of ex-college cheerleaders and beauty queens as recruiters.

    Yeah, I’m sure a lotta testosterone-poisoned young guys got hoodwinked. I just checked, and they’re still private.

  19. 19
    satby says:

    Trying to decide whether to try to go back to sleep in bed or just doze in my chair. Neighbor’s car alarm went off at 3 a.m. while my epileptic oldest dog had a seizure that the other dogs alerted me to at the same time. Now all is peaceful except me. Might as well have a second cup of coffee. Blech.

  20. 20
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Chetan Murthy:
    Did Trilogy actually tell its recruits/marks what tech product/service it was selling, or was it too busy getting them “excited” about this incredible opportunity?

  21. 21
    Darkrose says:

    @Mnemosyne: I kind of got that vibe too, although were this fiction I’d totally ship him with Erika Cheung.

  22. 22
    NotMax says:

    @satby

    Nothing to pooh-pooh about dozing, which can end up being more refreshing than being abed.

  23. 23
    Eric U. says:

    I’m a little disappointed nobody I follow on twitter is talking about the U.K. government. Shouldn’t they have defenestrated May by now?

  24. 24
    JeanneT says:

    @satby: You woke up about the same time I did – but with a lot more activity. Wrapping yourself up in a blanket and snuggling into your chair sounds like a cozy way of catching a little more sleep.

    (I find the hardest part of going back to bed is being surrounded by dogs who think they should have gotten their breakfasts an hour earlier than usual. They can exert quite a psychic force!)

  25. 25
    JPL says:

    Has anyone watched the series Modus? The local PBS station just had the first episode on. Amazon has the entire series and I’m trying to decide if I just want to stream it. The first episode was very compelling.

  26. 26
    satby says:

    @JeanneT: once things settled down seizure wise the other three wanted to go out for their morning piddle even though it was only 4 a.m. So out we all went. Birds were already chirping even though it won’t start getting light until closer to 6:45.
    Now they’re all back to sleep and I’m wide awake 😒

  27. 27
    J R in WV says:

    @satby:

    Me too, wide awake. Did you see the twitter stream about the dog Hank last night? Hank went nuts barking, and his dad came around the corner to find that his back yard garden shed had exploded in flames. Hank saved the neighborhood by alerting that family early enough for the FD to successfully keep the houses from burning.

    Pretty good job, pupper! Maybe I should get a recliner?

    Argh! so many typos in the m,orning…

  28. 28
    Chetan Murthy says:

    @Amir Khalid: It was ’98-’99. So they were getting into *everything* e-commerce-related. I see that today they’re basically into e-commerce for car sales, with a bit of other fluff. My first impression on seeing it was “wow, they’ve really pared-down”.

  29. 29
    Chetan Murthy says:

    @Amir Khalid: At the time I interviewed there, they were looking for programmers — lots and lots of programmers. Heh, the interview process was pretty funny: you’d be brought in in groups, each about the size to fit into a conference room comfortably. You’d get an orientation in the morning, and a little goodie-bag of swag. You were encouraged to leave your stuff in the room, as you’d return there before/after each interview. Of course, some people would fail their interviews, and you’d start to see the bags disappear over time, and people not show up for lunch (in the room). etc. So by the end of the day, those who remained would feel that they were really special, b/c hey, they’d survived.

    I’m sure this worked a charm on the 21-year-olds. I was 34, so no such luck. It also helped them that basically the interview was “did you ace your junior year data-structures class?” At least the Google interview is “did you ace your senior year algorithms class?”

  30. 30
    MattF says:

    Another ‘yes, read it’ vote for Bad Blood. There’s some scary stuff in it about how David Boies does his job.

  31. 31
    prufrock says:

    I’ll certainly not deny that Holmes is attractive, but in every picture I’ve seen, she has speckled foundation makeup on her face. It’s very distracting. You’d think she could afford a private makeup artist, especially when she’s doing a magazine shoot.

  32. 32
    Ken says:

    @Chetan Murthy:

    Of course, it all depended on the IPO and the stock price going up.

    It should be remembered that one of the reasons for the 2007 crash was computer models – developed by supposedly-professional financial institutions – that assumed that certain classes of assets always went up.

  33. 33
    Ken says:

    @Eric U.: I have the vague impression that because May survived a vote of no confidence some months ago, another can’t be called for a while. However I’m not British and my knowledge of the system and Brexit is entirely from Chris Grey’s and Charles Stross’ blogs, so take that with a grain of salt.

  34. 34
    Kay says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    He keeps getting a vibe that George Schultz’s grandson

    He was the most interesting person in the book, IMO. Why does he maintain a relationship with his horrible grandfather, the grandfather who invited him over to his house so he could get sandbagged by the horrible Theranos lawyers?

    The whistleblowing physicians were great too. I loved the GP who set up her own mini verification study, using her own blood. Very resourceful.

  35. 35
    JanieM says:

    @hervevillechaizelounge:

    Did she get into Stanford on her own or was she a legacy?

    Her father “received his B.A. in Government from Wesleyan University.”

    The link doesn’t say where her mother went to college.

  36. 36
    Searcher says:

    @Viva BrisVegas: Hell, Holmes is ideally positioned for an identity change.

    Drop the turtlenecks for sundresses, change hair color and style, stop speaking in a baritone (regardless of whether it’s her natural voice), and practice blinking.

    Buy a new identity somewhere, and no one will ever guess the old one.

  37. 37
    Mowgli says:

    @Chetan Murthy: I hadn’t heard of Trilogy, but the Googles unearthed a current story from November about how they are headed in the polar opposite direction now, from a recruiting perspective- driving wages down and going full “gig economy.”
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2018/11/19/how-a-mysterious-tech-billionaire-created-two-fortunesand-a-global-software-sweatshop/

  38. 38
    Ramalama says:

    @MattF: That looks like a book I can sink into.

  39. 39
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    Guys responding to this tweet with “Eh, she’s not really hot,” congratulations on missing the point right on schedule.

    She’s blonde and innocent looking. I watched my sister pull this for years until she got old. I would offer it’s less likely all these older guys wanted in her pants and more like she was some kind of daughter substitute kind of thing (take Bill Clinton for example, put a picture of Chelsy Clinton next to Elizabeth Holmes’). Of course we all know it’s FACT that ALL white straight guys are sex manics with absolutely no instinct for nurturing because of reasons so that can’t be it.

  40. 40
    PST says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: I’m an old man myself, and I agree that the feelings she was triggering were avuncular rather than lustful. I thought Bad Blood was an excellent read, and I don’t recall any interactions in which Holmes was relying on seductiveness. These old guys wanted in on the next big thing, and they wanted to think of themselves (and have others think of them) as cool enough to recognize that of course the next Steve Jobs could be a woman. They obviously had outsourced the task of actual thinking to their peers and the press, thrilled to be offered the kind of seat on this ride that their eminence merited.

  41. 41
    Chip Daniels says:

    Our Gilded Age needs its Mark Twain to write the definitive work on Theranos, and Uber and Trump while he’s at it.

  42. 42
    Mom Says I*m Handsome says:

    @Ken:

    It should be remembered that one of the reasons for the 2007 crash was computer models – developed by supposedly-professional financial institutions – that assumed that certain classes of assets always went up.

    I graduated from MIT in 1988. Supposedly the majority of our math majors, and a sizable number of physics & EECS grads, ended up going to Wall Street to write those models. I can assure you, those people were not “professional-grade finance” experts. But we already know that, right? Modern financiers are nothing but con-men in thousand-dollar ties.

    And while I have the floor, let me just say how I really feel: they are effing parasites. Institute a transaction tax on stock trading so these turds get forced into honest work like gigololing.

  43. 43
    Bill Arnold says:

    @TriassicSands:

    It’s a fascinating tale of mostly old white men, who knew nothing about medicine or testing blood, getting bamboozled by a young woman who utterly lacked the knowledge and background to do what she was trying to do.

    This. There is no substitute for doing at least a little passive bullshit probing. An hour with google looking at the state of the art in blood analyzers, maybe a phone call with one of the major companies if one is so inclined, should have set alarm bells off. Then some subtle active probes to confirm (or quiet) the suspicions, and active monitoring.
    Have to admit that the H. Kissinger aspect made me smile. :-)

  44. 44
    Anya says:

    The board members should be charged with fraud or at the very least failing their fiduciary duty.

  45. 45

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    Of course we all know it’s FACT that ALL white straight guys are sex manics with absolutely no instinct for nurturing because of reasons so that can’t be it.

    Bwahahahaha you totally got me, so happy someone finally ‘splained it in a way I can understand.

    My mom was a lab tech for years before getting her master’s in comp sci. We both thought this whole blood analyzer thing was vaporware from go because shit just doesn’t work that way.

  46. 46
    VOR says:

    @Bill Arnold: It is affinity fraud like Bernie Madoff. She all these impressive names signed up so the next mark wants to be in on the deal. Surely it is legit, look at all the impressive names! Only none of them have a medical background, which seems a curious omission.

  47. 47
    Chip Daniels says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:
    Yeah, the daughter aspect may explain things.

    The same instincts that cause men to not take pretty young women seriously as receptionists and personal assistants, allowed them never to consider the possibility that this pretty young woman might be a con artist.

  48. 48
    PJ says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: @PST: I think this is probably it, that they wanted to feel good by “nurturing” her – she’s average looking at best, and with the odd voice and crazy eyes, is not the kind of person who incites lascivious thoughts, even in old men. And it helped that all of her marks had no experience in science or medicine.

  49. 49
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @NotMax:

    Dr. Voronoff with blinky lights and circuit boards.

    Waaaay o/t, but damn if [ETA: this] Doc V doesn’t sound like one of Norman Spinrad’s inspirations for Bug Jack Barron.

  50. 50
    burnspbesq says:

    @Anya:

    The board members should be charged with fraud or at the very least failing their fiduciary duty.

    Not gonna happen. The funds that mostly put money into Theranos expect to lose everything on four out of five biotech startups. They play for the occasional five-run homer. Plus, their egos won’t allow them to admit they got taken.

    If CalPERS were in the deal, things might be different.

  51. 51
    Anya says:

    @burnspbesq: what’s the point of boards then if they’re not responsible for anything?

  52. 52
    Mike in NC says:

    Apparently Americans have always been easily fooled by con artists and snake oil salesmen. Just look at the Fat Bastard in the White House. Sad!

  53. 53
    Miss Bianca says:

    @ThresherK: “Bad Blood” is a must-read. Literally. I burned through an entire beautiful Saturday reading it. Could not put it down.

  54. 54
    Brickley Paiste says:

    Yeah, reducing Holmes grift to “pretty blond girl fools old horny guys” is offensive and simplistic.

    There’s not shortage of tech fraudsters who are schlumpy 20 something guys. How do they manage to get millions in seed money for their stupid ideas?

    Might it be that greed may motivate people? Possibly!!!

    Reducing Holmes talents for selling FOMO insecurities to “they all just wanted to bone her” says quite a bit more about people who are so fucking simple minded that everything in the world needs to be viewed through the lens of their particular obsessions and insecurities.

    So, yeah, read the book.

  55. 55
    burnspbesq says:

    @Anya:

    In order for a private securities law action to happen, you need a plaintiff who lost money, is pissed off about it, has enough money left for extremely expensive litigation, and doesn’t give a shit about not sitting at the kool kidz lunch table any more. You don’t get all four conditions satisfied very often.

  56. 56
    BrianM says:

    @JPL: We watched the first season of Modus. It was OK. The autistic daughter (which attracted us to the show) was barely used. The female lead’s performance didn’t make her seemed like a “lived in” character. The male lead’s was better. The killer was over-the-top in the way so many Scandinavian noir-ish killers seem to be, which is getting a bit boring.

    So: it was OK. Fairly forgettable.

  57. 57
    James E Powell says:

    This is related to Holmes’s looks, but not in the sexual attraction sense. I remember seeing Holmes long before the downfall, in a TED talk and a few interviews. She was this rising star that we all had to know about. I knew nothing about blood testing and still don’t. What struck me was that she did not look, move, or talk like someone who would ever be in charge of a large organization. She came across as a flake. She doesn’t do eye contact, she stares.

    And I know a lot of “looks like a leader” is gender-coded, but we can compare Holmes with a two or three generations of women who ran companies and see what I’m talking about. There’s a way of walking and talking that inspires and assures. Holmes does not have it at all. I might have been convinced that she was a genius with a great vision but before I invested a dollar i’d want to talk to the Gets Shit Done person.

    The fact that none of the big shots involved had any background in blood tech should have been a deal stopper. If the company has an employee who is a blood expert who fucking kills himself to avoid a deposition I for damn sure would not get involved.

  58. 58
    J R in WV says:

    @Brickley Paiste:

    “So read the book…”

    Naw, I’m aware of greed and amorality, don’t need to study that no mo’ at all~!!~ If there would have been majik tech, that would be different, but there wasn’t so just like Enron, only diff. More like Bernie Madoff, I guess. Con artist as opposed to market manipulators. Greed and amorality.

    ETA: would rather read about space creatures and wild adventures, more realistic, or at least less depressing.

  59. 59
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    Of course we all know it’s FACT that ALL white straight guys are sex manics with absolutely no instinct for nurturing because of reasons so that can’t be it.

    And yet somehow none of the older women or gay men she encountered had the same overwhelming urge to mentor and nurture her. Funny, that. I guess women and gay men have no nurturing instincts at all, or at least not as strongly as straight white men do.

    I’m sure there was a daughter/niece element to their feelings, and it was most likely flirtation rather than actual sex, but the lure for these old white dudes was that they were getting attention and admiration from a much younger woman. Sorry.

  60. 60
    Manxome Bromide says:

    @Mnemosyne: If you go this route, then whatever it is, it clearly isn’t universal and it’s clearly not something that only works by half. Even the reviewer describes her affect as “eerie” in the article quoted, and I myself always got the same “my human suit is itchy” vibe from her that I got from Ted Cruz. I combined that with all the Steve Jobs obsession stuff and just sort of filed it under the same mode of marketing that, when Jobs did it, got called The Reality Distortion Field.

    @Chetan Murthy: Oh man, Trilogy. I was a member of a student engineering society in the late 1990s and they had a recruiting event targeting us directly. It was a hilarious disaster, to the point that they were a punchline within the society for years afterwards. I’d actually forgotten that their big focus then was e-commerce until it was brought up here – we all took their pitch as “Trilogy’s product is, in fact, IPOs.”

  61. 61
    artkqtarks says:

    I have been fascinated by the Theranos scandal for a long time.

    It is easy to say now, but I suspected that Theranos was a fraud when articles about Elizabeth Holmes started to appear in magazines in 2014. I thought that blood testing was an unlikely field for a story like that. I could see how some people could drop out of college and succeed in computer-related business. Writing codes is a skill that you can learn at a young age and that’s what Gates and Zuckerberg did. Making a computer the way Wozniak and Jobs did is also doable. Inventing a new technology for blood testing seemed tricker. You would need to have knowledge in fields like biology, chemistry, mechanical engineering and electric engineering. Someone who dropped out of college after her sophomore year is unlikely to have sufficient expertise. Even if you are a genius, blood is messy and it is less likely that your brilliant idea will smoothly translate to the technology that works. And honestly her idea did not sound very original. If other companies had not been able to do it, that’s probably because it’s difficult. What advantage did she have over teams of engineers in big companies? And it’s not like you could buy the Theranos instrument to test it.

    I think her “success” owes a lot to the family connections she had. Tim Draper was a neighbor and a family friend when she was a child. He invested $1 million early and that must have lent her a lot of credibility. Victor Palmieri is another family connection mentioned in “Bad Blood.”

    But she must also have been very very persuasive and was not simply a young white woman with connections. In chapter 4 of “Bad Blood” there was a scene in which the board actually decided to fire Holmes as the CEO. In two hours she was able to convince them to change their minds. (This was in 2008 and before Shultz and other big names joined the board.) I don’t know how she was able to do it. Maybe she was able to charm old guys. But she seems to have some kind of skill.

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