Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Author: John Carreyrou
Year: 2018
ISBN: 978-1-52-473166-3 (e-book)
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House)
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars
Content Warnings: Non-graphic descriptions of illnesses such as cancer. Non-graphic descriptions of death. Description of suicide.

On October 15, 2015, John Carreyrou published an article in the Wall Street Journal exposing the irresponsible and dangerous practices of the startup company Theranos. They were lying to regulators and pushing products to parket that were years away from being ready. For most silicon valley businesses, that would be bad. However, since Threanos was a medical device company, that made things much worse.

To simplify Theranos’ goals: they aimed to create a device that would use a finger prick worth of blood to go labratory testing rather than a vial of blood taken from a vein. For some tests, such as a blood glucose test, this method of blood testing is fine. However, others need more blood to get accurate results. As her ideas proved to be less and less feasable, Elizabeth Holmes kept pushing forward towards a pretty much impossible goal.

Bad Blood is an in-depth follow-up to Carreyrou’s original series of articles. He, with the help of former Theranos employees put together a timeline of Theranos, from its founding to its attempts to silence his initial reporting. Carreyrou points out the sketchier practices that Theranos used. For example, they hired private investigators to follow ex-employees. They designed technology to disguise errors. They employed an oppressive amount of security and paranoia around their trade secrets. If I had to choose a tagline for Theranos, it would probably be “trade secrets”. Theranos somehow managed to dodge scrutiny by hiding behind those trade secrets. Holmes, who idolized Steve Jobs, had a similar “reality distortion field” that allowed her to wave away peoples’ doubts about her ability to create a

Carreyrou described a silicon valley “fake it ’till you make it” attitude in the way Holmes ran Theranos. That’s a fine attitude to have when you’re making an app or a phone. If something goes wrong, consumers won’t be happy, and it can be patched without much tangible damage. But the Edison and Minilab were medical devices, and Theranos

Overall, I found this book to be  a fast-paced, easy to follow account of Theranos’ actions. Carreyrou explains the basic information behind the technology without making it inaccessable. If you’re familiar already with labratory testing methods, don’t expect to learn anything new about it. However, if you want to learn about Theranos, then this book is great. It’s easy to follow and highlights the red flags that Theranos raised along the way. Overall this was a great read that I had trouble putting down.

Elizabeth Holmes’, Sunny Balwani’s, and Theranos’ legal proceedings are ongoing and their trials are not until 2020.

Further Reading
Forbes: America’s Richest Self-Made Women (archive, May 2015)
Forbes: America’s Richest Self-Made Women (current, July 2019)
CNN Business: Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes’ trial set for summer 2020
CNN Business: Theranos is Shutting Down for Good

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