The Theranos Story, ch. 37: the Object Lessons for future healthcare entrepreneurs

click to enlargeThere’s an interesting take on the Theranos debacle in Entrepreneur by management consultant/author Steve Tobak. He takes a step back from the healthcare technology that didn’t work, the big money lost and the puffery, where most of us have concentrated. Mr Tobak instead sketches a case study of a Startup House of Cards as an Object Lesson in how entrepreneurialism is NOT supposed to work.

Theranos was a Top Ten List of fatal errors. This Editor’s summary:

  1. They generated no revenue. In just over a decade, Theranos blew through hundreds of millions in funding (he says $700 million, the WSJ has estimated $900 million).
  2. They weren’t anywhere near break-even. By the time Theranos was in 40 Walgreens Wellness Centers, it should have been on a road to break-even and scalable.
  3. The company was built as a fraud from the start or near-start, much like Enron and WorldCom
  4. The company was doomed by a culture of utter secrecy (Editor’s note: none of their technology was peer reviewed, tested or published)
  5. The company was doomed by Ms Holmes’ falsity and hubris in not having a backup plan; black turtlenecks aren’t it
  6. The company was doomed by its own hype: a PR machine AND gullible press, who created a Steve Jobs-esque icon sans accomplishments out of Ms Holmes
  7. The company sold a bill of goods to EVERYONE, including multiple Federal regulators, patients and the public (Editor’s note: he doesn’t mention the Board of Directors and Stanford University!)
  8. Investors, swept up in the private equity bubble, didn’t do their due diligence (though some did)
  9. Ms Holmes had no ability to run this business, but she controlled it 100 percent so no one said boo
  10. “This is what happens when people treat ventures so casually and callously that risk becomes immaterial.”–Mr Tobak

Perhaps we should be grateful that the Edison lab didn’t actually work with all these dysfunctions on parade!

The close to this article is sobering: “Today, there are 186 venture-backed startups valued at $1 billion or more and countless companies valued above $100 million, according to CB Insights. Not too long ago, Theranos was near the top of that unicorn list with a valuation of $9 billion. We still have no idea if it’s a one-off or the beginning of a trend. Remember the Theranos saga as a cautionary tale. Nothing about it is the way business should be. Nothing.” And it will continue, because $900 million makes Theranos a Big Cautionary Tale. Hat tip to our Eye on Theranos, Bill Oravecz of Stone Health Innovations.

See here for the 36 previous TTA chapters in this Continuing, Consistently Amazing Saga

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