Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of blood-testing company Theranos, on Monday was found guilty of conspiracy and fraud against certain investors by a California jury.
Why it matters: Holmes was the poster child of Silicon Valley hubris, taking “fake it till you make it” to illegal extremes. She was found not guilty on several charges relating to patients and company ads in Arizona.
There was also some “support” to her.
The founding story of Theranos is as perfect as can be. A young, powerful female bucks the status quo, follows her dream, and sets out change the world. Silicon Valley’s wisest and most powerful investors give her a chance and soon thereafter the young founder’s crazy idea is a thriving company with thousands of employees. Somewhere in there is an awful, yet sexy as hell Aaron Sorkin script. Why is Holmes the new face of all that is wrong with Silicon Valley: elitism, outrageous valuations, excess, deception, lack of transparency, and incompetence?
The author of this post claims that it’s a minor PR hiccup.
However, the way the tech media has switched from hoisting Holmes onto a pedestal to crucifying her as an example of all that is wrong with startups is complete and utter bullshit. Of course, this cycle of love to hate isn’t anything new. The transition from beloved disrupter to villain is expected for anyone who hopes to be a success. But to for the media charge, convicted, and sentence in a matter of weeks, after months and years of touting Holmes as a savior, is absolute nonsense and unfair.
It is the war of narratives. I don’t know (and don’t want to know) the investors willing to invest millions on a “story”. It is arguably more important for “researchers” to amplify efforts for drone delivery in a remote village in Africa and herald it as the “medical innovation”- though it would be impossible in their backyard. One, it is the absence of regulations for those geographies and possibly represents a “land-grab” moment. Second, they can milk more “investors and grants” on stories around disadvantaged “communities”. Innovative research hasn’t happened, not because of lack of ideas, but because it’s been held back by established dogmas and funding methodology. When your energies are spent on spinning yarn, they should be in the lab instead. The “lottery system” eventually gets through, but true “stars” are burnished through a carefully cultivated “image” and behind the scenes politicisation.
Theranos could be everything wrong with the current system, or possibly a minor PR hiccup and souring of a narrative. I am not interested in the dramas, but there must be a system of accountability with the placement of bets and looking beyond the hype cycles.