The Stories We Want to Hear

fourth year dhanur sapolia

photo by noah buchanan

photo by noah buchanan

In 2003, Elizabeth Holmes, dropped out of Stanford--only 19-- and founded the company Theranos. The company was deemed a revolutionary blood testing company that could perform hundreds of blood tests with only a drop of blood. She was just as revolutionary as her company. Being a female tech entrepreneur in the male-dominated Silicon Valley, she was an inspiration to girls around the country and around the world. Her story got the attention of many extremely credible media outlets. She graced the covers of Fortune and Forbes. Inc. magazine called her “the next Steve Jobs” and she was on the list of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015.

There was only one problem: the technology didn’t work. And it continued to not work for the 15 years that Theranos was in business. All the lies were exposed in an explosive Wall Street Journal article by John Carreyrou published in 2015. Elizabeth went from being an inspirational revolutionary to a manipulative liar at the center of one of the biggest fraud cases of the twenty-first century. Theranos’ evaluation dropped from seven billion to zero and the company officially closed its doors in August of 2018.

This controversy really stuck with me. I find myself thinking about it almost every chance I get. How did Elizabeth Holmes manage to bait so many different respected people and organizations? How did she manage to do it for so long? Here’s my attempt to answer these questions.

The story of Theranos was something all of us wanted to believe. It fit in so perfectly with the vision that many people have for the future of the country. Here was a female tech CEO that, against all odds, was going to change the world. She understood the power of this narrative and how it was going to help her get to where she wanted to go. But just because you tell a lie long enough, does it become the truth? There is a principle in the entrepreneurial community called “fake it till you make it.” The idea is that regardless of where you are are as a company, you do whatever you can to keep your company afloat, even if it means bending the truth. I believe it was this ideology that led Theranos to a point of delusion. With her trial currently ongoing, Elizabeth Holmes has vanished from the media spotlight (for anything good at least).

At what point do we look at a stop and look at a story more critically? If something is too good to be true, it probably is. The case of Theranos is the epitome of this idea. Almost everyone, including me, wanted Theranos to succeed, but not through lies. People valued the story more than the product. It went too far. What I am trying to say is that of course it’s fun to feel like you are a part of something that is going to change the world, but at the end of the day, the truth comes out. Hopefully, the process that got us to the truth about Theranos will help us bust other shady companies selling lies as stories.

Happy Monday