Weekend Reading: Silicon Startup Secrets, All-in-One

If #hi-tech #PaloAlto #Stanford #dropout #entrepreneur #disruptive #innovation and #fraud are prominent among your mental hashtags, read this book:  “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou – and you will get them all-in-one and more. The book already won the 2018 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, and that is a very well deserved recognition of John Carreyrou’s professionalism.

This business novel covers in astounding detail the story of the biotech startup company Theranos, from the inception and stratospheric rise to the spectacular meltdown. Without a doubt, John is a skillful narrator, but his success, in my opinion, has deeper roots. I think the very idea to write about Theranos was not a serendipitous discovery, but a smartly selected move. The company saga is the 21st-century reincarnation of the Bre-X scandal of the 90s but now upgraded to a high-tech Silicon Valley unicorn, with a Millennial female CEO driving a multimillion scam.

Or was it not a scam? Where is the fine line separating the desire to succeed bordering on insanity – from pure fraud? Between the high-tech version of “marketing fake it until engineering make it” and a blatant deception of investors? Is touting exaggerated success warranted to keep the team motivated?

These are some valid questions, and I am sure our answers will vary. That’s exactly why I liked this book.

A page turner indeed, it reminded me of the “Ocean’s 11” movie (which had a few reincarnations as well). Although I do not think that the key protagonist, Elizabeth Holmes, ever considered these three rules: “Don’t hurt anybody, don’t steal from anyone who doesn’t deserve it, and play the game like you’ve got nothing to lose.” Her guideline, since at least the age of 10, was “I want to be a billionaire,” repeated already at Stanford as “I’m not interested in getting a Ph.D., I want to make money.”

“I’m not interested in getting a Ph.D., I want to make money.”

The book is skillfully written. It seems to be permeated with the vibes, smells, and juices of the insane desire to make money so deeply that by its very presence the book has triggered a series of money-making ventures. You will find several independent “Summaries” of the book. Those are modern-day Readers’ Digest versions of the original text for people with reading deficiencies (a.k.a. busy managers and charismatic leaders) who need to be in the know.

But the cherry on this pie is “The Workbook” (!!!) suggesting that “Results have shown that learning is retained best through repeated hands-on applications,” and thus the workbook will help “even the newest readers apply what may be the most critical lessons found in Bad Blood.” Sounds intriguing but probably is another shade of fraud.

And, of course, a movie is already in the making. Guess who is cast for the leading role?