HBO Theranos documentary The Inventor diagnoses Silicon Valley schadenfreude

She dressed like Steve Jobs and talked like she was going to save lots of the world. No marvel rich males fell at her toes and buyers could not wait to present her cash. But there was only one drawback with Elizabeth Holmes’ firm Theranos: It was all a lie.

New HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley seems contained in the rise and fall of Theranos, a well being care startup promising a miracle blood check that was revealed to be a multibillion-dollar fraud. On the face of it, this movie may very well be just like the current spate of Fyre Festival documentaries that inspired us to level and chuckle at wealthy individuals screwing up outrageously. But The Inventor, which premiered at Sundance in January and airs on HBO on Monday, explores why this unusual true story is greater than a case of Silicon Valley schadenfreude.

The Inventor is directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, who, with movies like The Smartest Guys within the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side and Going Clear, beforehand aimed on the likes of Enron, Wikileaks and the Church of Scientology. His documentaries typically cope with entrenched, intertwined affect and abuses of energy fueled by huge quantities of cash. On the face of it, the story of a callow younger entrepreneur would possibly appear to be a distinction, however the documentary exposes how Theranos and Silicon Valley are constructed on foundations of entrenched energy, cash and privilege regardless of how a lot they protest on the contrary.  

Elizabeth Holmes within the labs of Theranos, an organization she based with a darkish secret.


Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford to discovered Theranos, impressed by a want to assist individuals like an uncle affected by most cancers. Combining the phrases “therapy” and “diagnosis” she began an organization with the intention of revolutionizing phlebotomy, changing intensive and costly blood assessments with a machine that would divine ailments from a drop of blood. And she did not let little issues cease her, like the truth that it was not possible. 

Holmes and enterprise accomplice Sunny Balwani continued to make grandiose claims — going as far as to pretend demos for buyers — whereas even their very own employees and engineers instructed them their imaginative and prescient could not be realized. It wasn’t a lie, it was simply that the know-how wanted to catch as much as the dream. A lie had been rebranded as a imaginative and prescient.

The documentary highlights how their imaginative and prescient duped high-profile buyers, journalists and cheerleaders and factors out the significance of tales, even within the calculating world of enterprise. “Stories have emotions,” explains behavioral economist Dan Ariely, “and data doesn’t.”

The narrative of a younger girl founder decided to do good, with the technological chops to again it up, was simply too good to withstand. From Larry Ellison to Rupert Murdoch to Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton, a cavalcade of wealthy older males fell for it. And, apparently, for Holmes. 

The backing of those highly effective figures, together with Betsy DeVos, legitimized Theranos. These titans of business and authorities needed to be a part of the story. This shielded Holmes and Balwani from scrutiny by press and regulators, however their luck might maintain out solely so lengthy earlier than they had been uncovered.

Clinton Global Initiative 2015 Annual Meeting - Day 4Clinton Global Initiative 2015 Annual Meeting - Day 4

Former US President Bill Clinton was one of many many wealthy and highly effective individuals who fell for Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.

JP Yim/Getty Images

On the one hand, the story of Theranos is a scrumptious yarn. Who does not love seeing liars and blowhards get their comeuppance, or rich fools and their cash publicly parted? But there’s extra to it than dunking on wealthy guys and Silicon Valley douchebags. The firm’s chief scientist, Ian Gibbons, took his personal life on account of the lies inside Theranos. And actual individuals had been put at risk when the corporate took the product to market too quickly. 

The Theranos case exposes harmful cracks within the basis of contemporary enterprise, particularly the know-how sector. Appropriately sufficient, the vaunted Theranos all-in-one testing system was named the Edison. The documentary cites Edison as the primary superstar businessman, a genius at advertising as a lot as know-how. Edison knew the right way to inform a very good story, casting himself as the principle character, and he too promised greater than he might ship. He faked gentle bulb demonstrations for 4 years, pretending the know-how labored lengthy earlier than his workforce of engineers labored out the right way to truly make it so.

By invoking the title of certainly one of our most revered innovators, The Inventor attracts a line by the economic age proper as much as right now’s Silicon Valley startup tradition based on storytelling and notion as a lot as innovation. Alongside the hundreds of patents along with his title on them, Edison invented “fake it till you make it.” A century later, Elizabeth Holmes refined his invention. 

Silicon Valley’s fast-moving method is one factor once you’re constructing an emoji app. It’s one thing else once you’re speaking about self-driving vehicles, drugs and well being care, the place actual lives grasp within the stability. In these high-stakes instances, diligence and security and accountability are paramount. And these are issues that are not essentially a precedence amongst startups racing to scale.

When it involves placing vehicles on public roads or telling individuals whether or not they have most cancers, the oft-quoted Valley adage about shifting quick and breaking issues does not appear to be such good recommendation.

“Nobody questions her motives were positive,” Dan Ariely says of Holmes, describing the Theranos state of affairs as a “story of how people became trapped.” But no matter her intentions, the results of the fraud aren’t felt simply in Silicon Valley. 

The Inventor is a cautionary story for the way in which we have a look at so-called visionaries promising us the world, from businesspeople to politicians. Silicon Valley might even see itself as the center of our tradition, but it surely’s pumping blood by veins and arteries that stretch throughout the globe — and it is not that nice at diagnosing its personal issues.

When you are taking a dose of The Inventor, you get the moment satisfaction of seeing wealthy guys trying silly. But it is the unwanted effects we needs to be apprehensive about.