Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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New York Times Best Seller
Named one of the best books of the year by: NPR, The New York Times Book Review, Time, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post
The McKinsey Business Book of the Year
The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of Theranos, the one-time multibillion-dollar biotech start-up founded by Elizabeth Holmes - now the subject of the HBO documentary The Inventor - by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end.
“The story is even crazier than I expected, and I found myself unable to put it down once I started. This book has everything: elaborate scams, corporate intrigue, magazine cover stories, ruined family relationships, and the demise of a company once valued at nearly $10 billion.” (Bill Gates)
In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose start-up “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fund-raising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’ worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.
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|Listening Length||11 hours and 37 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||May 21, 2018|
|Publisher||Random House Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #1,414 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#1 in Biomedical Engineering
#2 in Business Infrastructure
#2 in Corporate Finance (Audible Books & Originals)
Reviewed in the United States on February 26, 2019
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Top reviews from the United States
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The subject matter - developing devices and assays - is a complex dry topic, difficult to write engagingly about. But JC does a workmanlike job and I read this in one go after its midnight Kindle release. My only nit to pick is the poor editing: there are so many uses of '....named....' as in 'an engineer named John Smith' or 'a restaurant named Joe's Bar' that it got irritating. Find/replace 'named' with a comma would have worked fine in most cases. The text was also repetitive - eg '...an award named after Channing...' gets at least 2 mentions. But not enough to lose a star.
Kudos to the good people at Theranos who had the courage to get the story out and for JCs persistence into a headwind of legalistic intimidation. I've heard Theranos is now a case-study for MBA students: this book should be required reading for anyone thinking about 'disrupting' the medical devices industry. There are lives at stake.
Elizabeth Holmes leveraged her family's high profile connections to draw in early investors and supporters, who were not very inquisitive on details, nor very skeptical in nature. Drawing on the good name and reputation of these early supporters, she was able to build an impressive roster of other supporters with stellar reputations in tech and venture capital circles. From there, it was just a matter of stage managing the house of cards she was building.
Holmes crafted a Potemkin village that had fooled investors, customers, and visiting dignitaries. Her product demonstrations were outright theater, staged managed illusions worthy of David Copperfield. Theranos employees in on the ruse were assured it was just temporary, until the actual product could be perfected and the results repeatable. That day would never come. Those on the outside who also worked in this field had well founded and grave doubts about how Theranos could be touting a product that seemingly defied both logic and physics. Their suspicions, proven to be correct, was that it was too good to be true.
Without a trace of guilt or regret, she induced powerful tech workers to leave lucrative careers at other major tech firms, giving up millions in stock options, to come work for Theranos, surely knowing the whole thing would collapse one day. When skeptical board members asked to see data affirming the effectiveness of their product, Holmes would defer, saying those papers were in perpetual legal review. Some employees, when they were no longer useful to her, or deemed disloyal, were immediately and unceremoniously marched out.
This is a real life thriller, the story of someone who is a true diabolical movie villain. Holmes is portrayed vividly as a paranoid sociopath who could also be disarming, charmingly manipulative, utterly ruthless and devoid of conscience. This is a tale of corporate greed and lack of regulatory oversight gone all awry.
It is staggering how many people she swayed. We’re not just talking about a co-worker or two but former heads of state, who later joined her board, people who amassed fortunes in the billions who were willing to loan Theranos money, major corporations including Walgreens and Safeway who wanted to get in on the ground floor, and many more. It is equally astonishing how so many smart, successful people were not taken aback by her freakish obsession with imitating Steve Jobs. Perhaps, they chalked this up to her eccentricity.
It took courage for people to come forward. They were threatened with lawsuits that could bankrupt them ten times over, by one of the leading and most intimidating litigators in the country. Carreyrou, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, who has been with The Wall Street Journal for almost 10 years, had the support of his editor, newspaper, and its attorneys. He never thought for a minute to back down. The result – a series of articles in the paper that exposed Theranos and Holmes for the fraud they committed.
It is dumbfounding to read BAD BLOOD and to think that Holmes and her number two in command, Sunny Balwani, also her romantic partner, which was kept secret, got away with so much for so long, and even when finally confronted and their hands were forced, they still would not admit fault. Is Holmes a criminal? Is she delusional?
What I do know is that you will not be able to put this book down.
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I'd like to compliment the author. The depth of the investigation is extraordinary; but most importantly, the narration is done in this perfect documentary style when even the most chilling events are described with high precision but without falling into emotional judgement.
I also would like to say a big thank you to all the sources and contributors who made this book possible. You're very brave people; I applaud your courage and ethics.
Carryrou's book covers three and a half years of investigation into Theranos, its founder Elizabeth Holmes and her meteoric rise and spectacular fall in the obsessive pursuit of a dream. Its a fascinating read and Carryrou uses his research to tell the story from the beginning. The story of his investigations as a Wall Street Journal reporter follows the cronological order of events and is documented towards the end of the book.
Essentially, Elizabeth Holmes developed a start-up in Silicon Valley where she attempted to develop a device which could provide multiple blood test analyses for a range of conditions and diseases in a box not much larger that a large bread-bin. For the user only a small pinprick of blood was required to complete all these tests.
This would be a game changer. Some day, every home could have one and for a small charge could carry out blood tests and have them analysed almost immediately, providing early warning of developing conditions. What's not to like? Nothing it seemed.
What makes this book so fascinating, as well as the central characters and story, are the themes it explores such as:
Greed and denial
The historty of Silicon Valley start-ups is one where investors always try and get in at the beginning of potentially novel ideas and make a killing. Think Google, Facebook and Uber. Two things drive this. The idea and the confidence/ expertise/drive of those taking it forward. In the case of Theranos Elizabeth Holmes force of personality outweighed any doubts about the concept or the execution. However at the time she started Theranos, she was 19 and a Stanford dropout with no experience in blood testing whatsoever, beyond a grand idea and good connections.
Holmes exerted an almost Svengali like hold of the people in her orbit. This is partly to do with her physical appearance. Tall; striking blue unblinking eyes; dessed in black turtle necks (a la Steve Jobs) and speaking in a baritone voice. Supremely confident in both her idea and herself she managed to persuade and recruit a Board of former ex- Government Cabinet members; a 4 star General (Jim Mattis of Trump fame) and big name investors, who blinded by either the promise of the idea or the money to be made from it, were sufficiently incurous as to seek the detail of how this invention actually worked. People and organisations such as Walgreens were happy to put hundreds of millions of dollars investment into Theranos without demanding independent expert due diligence of the product.
At the time of Theranos's demise it was valued as a private company at $9bn, with Holmes's share of that valuation at $4.5. Up to that point no investor in Theranos had seen the inner working of the product or questioned the fabulous claims made for it. Neither had any member of her company Board.
Secrecy and lies
Holmes and her senior executive partner were secretive to the point of paranoia over their idea. Two reasons for this. First they were genuinely concerned about their ideas being stolen, but as time went on and they could not get their invention to work the secrecy hid a raft of corner cutting, false promises and outright lies as to how the equipment was performing. Only those in Theranos working on the project could see how far from the truth the claimes Holmes made for the product and its readiness to market actually were. Some turned a blind eye while those with professional or ethical concerns were either fired or left, all under rigourous confidentiality clauses.
This secrecy coupled with an agressive management style also stifiled the creative initiative of the Theranos team. Knowledge was power and developers were deliberately siloed to ensure they only worked on their own area so the ability to share thinking across the firm was severly limited.
Weaponising the law
What I found perhaps most shocking of all is the way the agressive use of the threat of litigation is used to force compliance, especially against those who cannot financially afford to fight their corner. The lawyers who command the most fees are the legal pit bulls of the industry. Holmes spares no expense in protecting her secrets and covering her lies with the determined use of agressive legal firms and the threats of legal action to force whistleblowers to keep silent. This extends to Carryrou as well. Of the $900m raised by Holmes in her third funding round, $300m went on lawyers fees!
The FDA and other regulators seemed broadly incurious about the claims for this machine and remained so until things started to go badly wrong when what was essentially an idea at prototype stage went live to the public. The degree to which private companies can avoid such scrutiny is alarming.
The debate is still ongoing as to whether Holmes deliberately misled or had sociopathic tendencies. The story is not over. She is now charged with alleged Federal and SEC crimes which carry up to 20 years in prison.
I highly recommend this book, which I think will become a textbook on leadership, governance failure and greed.I also recommend Gibney's HBO documentary which brings to life the people and events in the book, not least Elizabeth Holmes herself. It also adds visual detail on the development of the blood testing device in the way Carryrou's book can not.
Hope this is helpful.
This story is fascinating, having worked in the software and technology industry for many year, this book rings true, its always shocking to see how unwilling people are to ask the hard question and speak up, even when its clear something is clear wrong within a company.
It’s a modern day emperor's new clothes, where even big name software and investment entrepreneur can’t see the woods for the trees.
Easily a five star, definitely a must read.
Can't wait to see the film.