The Theranos Story, ch. 54: cue up ‘Tainted Love’ in the courtroom

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Rock-1-crop-2.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Tainted Love, Labs, and Lucre Indeed. Drop the needle on the Gloria Jones version from 1964 or the Soft Cell version from 1981.

Consider that the very fates of Ms. Elizabeth Holmes, the now not-so-Sunny Balwani, and the formerly $9 bn Unicorn Theranos may hinge on the nature of their personal relationship and its influence on the governance of the company.

There are two legal actions against the company and the two principals, one by the DOJ for criminal fraud [TTA 16 June] and by the SEC on (civil) securities fraud [TTA 15 March].  Both are out on $500,000 bail on the DOJ charges. The possibilities on the latter can be up to 20 years in Club Fed, plus $250,000 in fines and clawing back of investor funds, if any can be found.

While Ms. Holmes settled with the SEC, paying a fine and exiting the company, Mr. Balwani did not and is fighting the charges, though this declaration was made before the DOJ charges.

Bloomberg Markets brings up an interesting set of dynamics which can play well with potential jurors and make the prosecution’s case far more convincing for a Northern California jury. To wit, in 2009 when she started running out of money, Ms. Holmes turned to Mr. Balwani, her boyfriend, for a $12 million line of credit. In return, he became president and COO. The nature of their relationship was kept strictly hush-hush to the board and investors. Secrecy was ratcheted up at the company and management started to break down. And the timing: a week after Mr. Balwani left, the news of bad patient test results and problems with their lab started to break big.

Jurors, even in Silicon Valley, love drama and personal intrigue–especially the type that underscores deception and $900 million in fraud perpetrated by a Stanford dropout who clumsily attempted to channel Saint Jobs and a somewhat schlubby dude who Should Have Known Better. Far more than gullible corporate suits at Walgreens and hedge funds….add to it the personal stories of patients harmed by bad Theranos tests and you get an emotional story worthy of Law & Order.

Do expect Ms. Holmes to bring up her Saint Joan if not a female Saint Sebastian analogy. Burning at the stake versus being shot full of arrows are too memorable images which she’ll try out. Add a #MeToo spin of a young woman coerced by an older man–a tale of at least tit-for-tat to get the $12 million. 

The rompin’ soap opera is likely to start next year. Stay tuned…. 

The Theranos Story, ch. 52: How Elizabeth Holmes became ‘healthcare’s most reviled’–HISTalk’s review of ‘Bad Blood’

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/holmes-barbie-doll-1.jpg” thumb_width=”125″ /]A Must Read, even if you don’t have time for the book. During the brief Independence Day holiday, this Editor caught up with HISTalk’s review of John Carreyrou’s ‘Bad Blood’, his evisceration of the Fraud That Was Theranos and The Utter Fraud That Is Elizabeth Holmes. Even if you’ve read the book, it’s both a lively recounting of how the scam developed and the willingness–nay, eagerness!–of supposedly savvy people and companies to be duped. The reviewer also reveals that Mr. Carreyrou wasn’t the first to raise questions about Theranos after raves in the press and kudos from the prestigious likes of Eric Topol. Mr. Carreyrou’s first article was in October 2015 [TTA 16 Oct 15] whereas Kevin Loria wrote the first exposé in Business Insider on 25 April 15 which raised all the fundamental questions which Theranos spun, hyped, or otherwise ignored–and Mr. Carreyrou eventually answered. (Our blow by blow, from him and other sources, is here.)

The review also picks out from the book the scabrous bits of Ms. Holmes’ delusions; her makeover to become the blond Aryan female Steve Jobs mit Margaret Keane-ish waif eyes–something she took far too literally; the affair between her and Sunny Balwani, certainly in violation of the usual ethics–and her Hitler in the Bunker, April ’45 behavior as Theranos collapsed around her. 

The review concludes by telling the healthcare community something we need said plainly, often, and written in 50-foot letters:

Theranos is a good reminder to healthcare dabblers. Your customer is the patient, not your investors or partners. You can’t just throw product at the wall and see what sticks when your technology is used to diagnose, treat, or manage disease. Your inevitable mistakes could kill someone. Your startup hubris isn’t welcome here and it will be recalled with great glee when you slink away with tail between legs. Have your self-proclaimed innovation and disruption reviewed by someone who knows what they’re talking about before trotting out your hockey-stick growth chart. And investors, company board members, and government officials, you might be the only thing standing between a patient in need and glitzy, profitable technology that might kill them even as a high-powered founder and an army of lawyers try to make you look the other way.

In other words, what you (the innovator, the investor) is holding is not a patient’s watch, it could be his heart, lungs, or pancreas. (Musical interlude: ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart’)

The Theranos Effect is real in terms of investment in small companies out there on the ‘bleeding edge’. The cooling is mostly salutory, and we’ve been seeing it since late last year (see here). But…will we remember after it wears off, after the fines are collected, the prison time is served?

The Theranos Story, ch. 51: how Holmes wasn’t Steve Jobs despite the turtlenecks–a compare and contrast

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Did Elizabeth Holmes ‘misunderstand’ Steve Jobs’ methods or was there something more deliberate at work? This article by tech entrepreneur Derek Lidow in Forbes gives her the benefit of the doubt but is still damning. His points in summary are:

  • Holmes ran Theranos with zero knowledge of how to run an organization, and ran Theranos like a dictator. Hiring people with real expertise came late in the day, and most of them left once they realized her style. Jobs knew he couldn’t run a company, generally hired the right people to do so, and then let them run it.
  • Jobs teamed with a genius engineer named Steve Wozniak in Apple’s formative years, and the Woz guided Jobs as much as anyone at numerous critical stages. Woz was the balance to Jobs, the behind the scenes versus the on-stage. Holmes did not work with anyone in that way, which is atypical for startup founders. Her co-founder was unqualified, she didn’t listen to her staff as problems came up, and her board was a waste of titles and people who were either wholly capable in other fields or superannuated.
  • Holmes’ goal of mini-blood assays was impossible, and she was unlike other visionary founders to pivot to what was possible. Jobs tempered his vision by using methods and technologies which already existed to leverage Apple into what he envisioned. (Jobs also had his fair number of stumbles, such as the Newton tablet where the vision exceeded the available technology. It was also too advanced, violating the Raymond Loewy maxim of ‘most advanced yet acceptable’.)
  • Delighting the customer? Where Jobs excelled in this not only with end users but also with developer partners, Holmes failed and more. With deceptive blood testing, she hurt sick patients and doctors who depended on accuracy. The vision and her self-promotion were far more important. She wasn’t doing this for people–she was doing this for herself.
  • Holmes was over the top on compartmentalizing Theranos’ technical development, straight to failure. Teams on the same project didn’t share knowledge or fundamentally communicate with each other. This led to bad testing of only parts of the system, not the whole system. While Jobs kept a tight lock on exposing Apple developments until they were ready, department teams on a given project intensively shared information. 

Wearing the black turtleneck, being a young female, blond, and with enhanced blue pop-eyes akin to a Bug-Eyed Austin-Healey Sprite can get you noticed, but then you have to deliver the goods for that $900 million you raised. Holmes was inexperienced and psychologically ill-equipped to be a tech founder. This Editor also wondered if she (literally) garbed herself in Jobs’ exterior trappings to deceive and gull everyone from the mighty and rich to the ordinary and often sick. (And now she tells people she is a marytr akin to Saint Joan?)

The Theranos Effect, for which Holmes is responsible, will sadly continue to hurt not only early-stage healthcare innovators but also the few women among them. The Theranos Scandal: What Happens When You Misunderstand Steve Jobs