Could there be any better date than April 1st to write about Theranos? I admit, I’m a few years late to the party. Through an article on the conviction of Sam Bankman-Fried over at the New York Times that elaborated on other white-collar crime convictions I came to an article from 2022 by the New York Times on Elizabeth Holmes. Back when all the fuss about Theranos was happening I pretty much ignored it.

The NYT article got me hooked and from there I quickly discovered the book “Bad Blood: Secret and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou, the journalist (back then at Wall Street Journal, nowadays at NYT) who uncovered large parts of the fraud by Theranos (with tremendous help from others and most notobly due to ex-theranos people being starting to talk).

I find the story of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes quite fascinating. The book itself is a page-turner and I quickly read through it. To my joy, there is a mini-series called “The Dropout”. Together with the book the series draws a fairly good picture. The series is based on a podcast - I’ve not listened to that yet.

Looking at the story of Theranos one does wonder: How can such fraud go unnoticed for such a long time? Let aside the various people on the board who never really saw proof: At its height Theranos had up to 800 employees and while there were people like Ian Gibbons (Chief Scientist at Theranos from 2005 - 2013) who really tried to raise attention to the things that went wrong (see this article in which Stanford University management professor Robert E. McGinn emphasized the roles of Theranos scientists who unsuccessfully tried to respond admirably to the ethical challenges presented by the company’s management) there must’ve been many inside and outside who simply did not see the real picture but were obviously sucked into a reality distortion field. Accompanied by an atmosphere of intimidation and people being fired left and right if they raised concerns this apparently seems to have made this possible. It did remind me of the Wirecard story.

Since it was the easter weekend I allowed myself to get lost in the rabbit hole and started reading articles, like the Fortune cover story with the initial praise by Roger Parloff in his Fortune article “This CEO is out for blood” from 2014. Roger Parloff published a follow-up in 2015: “How Theranos misled me”.

Following the trial and conviction the New York Times did a follow-up story on Elizabeth Holmes and how she pivoted her role from the always-working Silicon Valley entrepreneur to the loving mother of two kids.

There is a documentary done by HBO that was released in 2019: “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley”. Will add that to my watchlist.