What Theranos can teach us about human behaviour

Lessons from the “New Steve Jobs’” fall from grace

Erica Hall 14 February, 2020 | 1:11AM

Elizabeth Holmes

On a recent trip to Sydney I watched the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood. It is an amazing story of a company's rise and fall. Theranos successfully raised US$900 million of funding from private investors but as it would turn out, it was all based-on claims upon which it couldn't deliver. After whistle-blowers raised the alarm, the company closed in 2018 and its founder Elizabeth Holmes and former COO Ramesh Balwani face numerous criminal fraud charges. Prior to the expose, Holmes was touted as the next Steve Jobs – now she is being dubbed the millennial's Bernie Madoff.

This got me thinking about the power of storytelling and human behavioural biases. The snapshot of the story for those who are not familiar with it; Holmes, at 19 years old drops out of Stanford to start Theranos. Her vision is to disrupt blood diagnostics by using nano technology to allow some 200+ blood screens to be undertaken with just a pin prick and a few drops of blood. This process of collecting blood is less invasive for the patient and significantly cheaper, allowing for more regular patient testing. It is a great and noble mission but unfortunately one that was not able to deliver.

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Erica Hall  

Erica Hall is Senior Manager, Adviser Solutions, Asia-Pacific for Morningstar

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