Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
A history of the Theranos blood-testing scandal.
Theranos was once the hottest Silicon Valley property. There seem to have been several reasons for this, one of which was not its technology, which was largely undemonstrated and unproven – and which turned out to be entirely fictitious (or "vapourware", in software terms). But it had a charismatic CEO who self-consciously fashioned herself on Steve Jobs, and an origin story phrased in terms of "disrupting" an existing industry that was worth billions. That, it seems, was enough.
This is really a story of how a weird corporate culture managed to silence its critics within and without. Those within often knew something was wrong, especially those with experience in other start-ups. Those without were either threatened or bought off. But it's shocking to what extent many senior people seemed quite content to represent, advise, and profit from a company while being contentedly ignorant of what its product actually was.
The executives in charge have faced the courts, and their defence seemed largely to be that "fake it 'till you make it" was a valid new-economy strategy. I have some sympathy with the idea, and they certainly weren't the first group to try it. Where they were perhaps more innovative was in trying this with a healthcare device, probably the most regulated business niche and not a place to attempt a fraud. Perhaps their enthusiasm ran away with them, but there's plenty in this book that illuminates shady practices and ruthlessness that don't make them look at all sypathetic.
4/5. Finished 15 October 2022.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)