The Theranos Story, ch. 38: take our shares, but don’t sue us; Murdoch writes it off

click to enlargeWhat? They’re not toast yet? Far from it. We’ve missed the impossibly twisty soap opera called Theranos, and our latest episode holds to the previous high standard.

CEO and controlling shareholder Elizabeth Holmes is offering shareholders, supposedly from her personal holdings, about two additional shares for each one purchased. This has been offered to the investors in the 2014-2015 $600 million round who bought in at about $15-17/share (ch. 27), such as Cox and Bechtel. The deal dilutes their share cost to about $5. The caveat? Don’t sue Theranos. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s report (Yahoo Finance as WSJ is paywalled), it was approved by Theranos’s board in February, and most investors have ‘signaled that they will sign off on it’. Others are the family of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Waltons of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and John Elkann, the Italian industrialist who controls Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

One who is washing his hands is News Corp. executive chairman Rupert Murdoch. He reached a separate settlement for a nominal sum–rumored to be $1–to sell back his shares and legally write off his $125 million investment.

Others are not so lucky. Early investors before that round are not included. (more…)

The Theranos Story, ch. 34: It’s a conspiracy! It’s a vendetta!

click to enlargeUpdated Well, that is what one of her major investors says, and he would know! Just when we thought that a week would go by with not a peep about Theranos, we get three. Peeps, that is.

First, the Conspiracy Theory. This is being propounded by early Theranos investor Tim Draper of Silicon Valley VC Draper Fisher Jurvetson. It was all John Carreyrou’s ‘strange vendetta’ against her, to wit: “Elizabeth is the victim of a witch hunt.” The Wall Street Journal reporter set off a cascade of press coverage that compelled, nay, forced Federal regulators (FDA, CMS, SEC, DOJ) and state counterparts to go after Theranos and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Mr Draper bluntly accused Mr Carreyrou of doing it for money; “the guy is getting $4 million to continue this charade”, referring to the advance on his book proposal “Bad Blood”. The most nauseating part of the Ars Technica interview is this mock-libertarian rejoinder from Mr Draper: “It’s the press creating a series of events that negatively impact technology, progress and our economy.”

So it was all a mistake, an illusion–there was nothing significantly wrong with the Edison Lab, or Theranos’ business practices! (Hat tip to Bill Oravecz of Stone Health Innovations)

Mr Draper perhaps did not consider that Mr Carreyrou’s reporting blew up the $100 million investment of the WSJ‘s owner, Rupert Murdoch (Ch. 27), not just DFJ’s. And SafewayWalgreens, Larry Ellison, Cox Enterprises, Bechtel Group….

Second, the belated reporting of deficiencies at the Scottsdale lab found by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) on 29 September. According to the Wall Street Journal report (co-authored by Mr Carreyrou), “Theranos responded to the inspection findings in Arizona with a plan to correct its lab deficiencies, but the lab regulator in November rejected the plan and proposed sanctions for the Arizona lab as well.”  This preceded the closing of all labs and the ‘refocusing’ of Theranos on the miniLab. Their general counsel stated, “After months of careful consideration, and prior to CMS’s unannounced inspection in Arizona, Theranos decided to close its laboratories.” Usually, these CMS reports are issued after 90 days. Theranos is appealing the sanctions arising from the California lab inspection with an administrative law judge, which include lab license revocation and a two-year ban on Ms Holmes from blood-testing operations.

Third, Theranos announced an eight-person Technology Advisory Board (TAB) to be led by Dr. Channing Robertson and Howie Rosen. The academics, executives, and entrepreneurs will be charged with “reviewing specific Theranos technology initiatives associated with product development, design and deployment” as well as four other mandates. Analogies concerning horses, roads and the status of barn doors come to mind. Release.

And finally another Theranos Washington connection, besides new SecDef and ‘Warrior Monk’ James Mattis, now an alumnus. It seems that the vetting of Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of the Department of Education, uncovered that she has an investment in Theranos of more than $1 million. However, the Office of Government Ethics also reported her whopping earnings of less than $201. Since others like Rupert Murdoch, Bechtel, Walgreens, Cox, and others ponied up $50 to $100 million, hers is a mere bag of shells by comparison. MedCityNews, who has dubbed it the ‘As Theranos Turns’ soap opera. Hat tip to Bill Oravecz of Stone Health Innovations.

See here for the 33 previous TTA chapters in this Continuing, Consistently Amazing Saga, including Arizona’s lawyering up for a prospective Theranos lawsuit (Ch. 33) the firing of 155 remaining staff (Ch. 32), the resignation of now-DOD Secretary General Mattis from the BOD (Ch. 31), and Theranos’ annus horribilis (Ch. 30).

The Theranos Story, ch. 27: investor ‘whales’ surface in class action lawsuit news

click to enlargeDon’t jump…you may land on one of them! In the Bottomless Well that is The Unicorn Losing Its Horn, The Transubstantiation of a $9 bn valuation to $9, to mix up a Whole Lotta Metaphors, the latest is that Certain Big Investors (‘whales’ in Vegas Lingo) and at least one minnow have lost their shirts, or maybe their sleeves and cuff links.

The first is via a class action lawsuit filed Monday against Theranos in San Francisco Federal Court by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, seeking to represent potentially hundreds of purchasers of Theranos shares from July 29, 2013, through October 5, 2016 .

According to the Wall Street Journal, the charges relate to “false and misleading claims about its operations and technology while soliciting money from investors.” Hagens Berman is representing Silicon Valley investment banker Robert Colman, who is the retired co-founder of Robertson Stephens & Co. (a legendary, now defunct, investment bank specializing in tech that blew up after the dot-com bust). He invested through a VC fund, Lucas Venture Group, who participated in Theranos’ Series G funding in late 2013. Lucas was invited to invest $15 million, and their principals had personal ties to Elizabeth Holmes, according to TechCrunch. The second plaintiff, Hilary Taubman-Dye, purchased Theranos shares at $19/share on SharesPost Inc., an online exchange for shares of private companies, in August 2015. Her claim is that she tried to cancel it after the Wall Street Journal exposé in October, but the purchase went through in December after Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes and an unidentified third party refused to buy back the shares as a secondary transaction. TechCrunch identified her as a “longtime technical recruiter who now works in investor relations for a TV production company” which means that her investment was likely no bag of shells for her. Their respective investments are not disclosed.

The second, according to a second article in the Journal, comes from the usual ‘sources familiar with the matter’ and papers filed by Theranos in Delaware and Arizona. These include some very atypical startup investors, such as Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. and family-controlled Cox Enterprises, at $100 million each in the 2014-15 round when shares were valued at $17/each, and an undisclosed amount by Riley Bechtel of Bechtel Group, who was later named to the board of directors. Other, more typical Silicon Valley investments date back to when Theranos was the more pedestrianly named Real Time Cures in 2004 and the shares were 15 cents each:

  • Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison
  • VCs from firms such as ATA Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The latter’s Tim Draper and his daughter (!) have been quite critical of anyone, especially John Carreyrou of the WSJ, claiming that Ms Holmes was perhaps mistaken in her scientific and business practices. (Partner Jurvetson in reports has expressed a more ‘que será, será’ attitude.) (more…)