Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
This book tells the riveting true story of Elizabeth Holmes, and the rise and collapse of her company, Theranos.
Elizabeth Holmes once graced the cover of Forbes with an estimated net worth of $4.5billion. In 2014, she was anointed the “world’s youngest self-made female billionaire” by the same magazine.
Her company, Theranos, claimed to be able to take a pinprick of blood from a finger and run hundreds of tests in record-braking time. It was a remarkable invention that would rock the health care industry and supposedly save lives.
The company exploded in size and investment, only for it to later be revealed that none of the testing technology actually worked. As a result of these revelations, the company came crashing down.
Just two years later, in 2016, Elizabeth Holmes’s net worth was revised to zero.
Bad Blood uncovers the secrets and lies in the multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley startup.
My initial thoughts
The first thing I noticed about this book was the quote on the front cover by Bill Gates, “I couldn’t put this thriller down.”
That surprised me at first and I did briefly question whether I had mistakenly bought a fiction book instead of a non-fiction book.
However, this is indeed a true story, and having read the book, I can understand why Bill Gates described it as a “thriller.” It’s absolutely shocking and terrifying. How could something get so big so quickly, how could this product be allowed for use on the general public, and how could such a massive fraud go undetected for so long?
The author, John Carreyrou, is an award-winning investigative journalist who, working for the Wall Street Journal, helped to uncover the fraud.
It was he that published the first pieces suggesting that all may not be as it seems at Theranos.
After following and covering the subject extensively, he wrote this book to tell the tale.
“Fake it ’till you make it”
Every entrepreneur is familiar with the above phrase. We’ve all done it!
“Fake it ’till you make it” basically means that you might present the impression that your company is perhaps doing better than it really is.
It’s important to note that this isn’t done with any malice. “Fake it ’till you make it” is not designed to mislead people or mis-sell products, but rather to give a more professional and accomplished appearance.
However, in the case of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes took that phrase to the next level! Promoting technology that didn’t work and, in doing so, putting people’s health and lives at risk.
The book states that “doctors base 70% of their treatment on lab results.” So, the false or incorrect data that many doctors received from Theranos machines could have, and in some cases possibly did, lead to incorrect medication being prescribed or the wrong diagnosis of patients’ conditions being made.
There are lots of stories in the book that give examples of that.
In a nutshell, when you’re playing with people’s lives, the phrase “fake it ’till you make it” is not one that should be applied!
The real heroes
Obviously, the author of the book should take a huge amount of credit for investigating and exposing the fraud. It was his hard work and diligence that shone the light on the deception and he has received many awards and accolades for his efforts.
However, I think the real heroes of this story and the individual whistleblowers and ex-employees of Theranos.
To stand up and take on a huge multi-billion dollar organization, armed with the best legal representation in the United States (if not, in the world), and who are willing to ‘fight dirty’, is no small feat. It’s the ultimate portrayal of David and Goliath.
Even the preliminary legal costs could, very easily, bankrupt someone. They could be left with nothing. Whereas, it would have been much safer and easier to forget about it and find alternative employment elsewhere. Saving them the time, stress, energy, and the huge amount of money it would take to fight such a large and powerful organization.
If it wasn’t for those people willing to come forward, Theranos could have continued trading and continued to endanger lives.
Those, to me, are the real heroes.
My ‘out of the box’ thoughts
This is one of the books that makes me wish I was part of a book club! There are so many aspects to it that I would love to discuss. So, if you have any comments, do share them in the box below.
1 – What if she did pull it off?
Would we be celebrating Elizabeth’s achievements if she had managed to get the testing equipment working properly in the eleventh hour?
If so, we definitely wouldn’t be reading this book. Elizabeth would still be the golden-girl we believed her to be and we would all be unwise to the deception leading up to the product’s creation.
2 – Elizabeth believed in the product
I genuinely believe Elizabeth thought she would get the machines to work.
I find it difficult to come to the conclusion that all this fraud and risk to public health was intentional.
I think she promoted this product so well, raised a breathtaking amount of capital, and kept pushing the business forward in hope that it would one day work.
It was like she boarded a train but then couldn’t get off. So instead, she rode the train as she compounded lie after lie until it eventually crashed and burned.
3 – The before and after effects
I would find it interesting to study the butterfly effect of how things developed when the company started and during its demise.
Countless amount of individuals would have been affected, both good and bad. If someone would like to track those falling dominoes and write a book on that, I’d definitely be interested in reading it.
4 – Was there anything good?
The book is written factually and doesn’t share the author’s opinions in any way. Since the author is an investigative journalist, this is to be expected. And since the book is all about the deception and fraud, you would also expect that to be the main content.
But it does leave me thinking, was there anything good about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes?
In my experience, there is always a good side and a bad side to everything. So, it couldn’t all have been bad? Could it?
Maybe it was, but my optimistic side wants to believe that a least a small ray of light exists in the darkness.
Riveting. Gripping. Compelling. Terrifying. Overall, a must-read book and a well-worthy winner of the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 2018.
Bad Blood is a suitable read for anyone, whether you’re entrepreneurial or not.
Have you read “Bad Blood”?
This book review is my personal opinion and experience of “Bad Blood.”
If you’ve read this book, share your thoughts in the comments section below. And don’t forget to give the book your own score out of 10 by using the Reader Rating Bar in the box above.