Theranos doc’s director: Elizabeth Holmes is like Steve Jobs, Scientology, Enron

It could be simple to check Alex Gibney’s new HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley with the current movies concerning the failed Fyre Festival. All contain a sure glee that comes with watching the rich and highly effective lie and get their comeuppance. But the lie Elizabeth Holmes pulled along with her firm Theranos makes the Fyre Festival appear like novice hour.  

Holmes, who modeled herself after Steve Jobs, going as far as to put on a black turtleneck each day, got down to revolutionize blood exams. But her well being care startup famously ended up being a multibillion-dollar fraud. 

The new movie about Holmes and Theranos, which airs on HBO beginning Monday, March 18, had its San Francisco premiere final Monday. 

After the screening, Ina Fried of Axios led a dialogue with the documentary’s director Alex Gibney, producer Jesse Deeter, Theranos whistleblower Tyler Shultz and Holmes’ adviser at Stanford University, Phyllis Gardner. Gibney, who additionally made Enron: The Smartest Guys within the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side and Going Clear, posits perception in bettering the world drove Holmes to cease at nothing to see her imaginative and prescient realized. 

Below are some highlights from the Q&A. And for extra ideas on The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, try our assessment.

Director Alex Gibney on why the Theranos story strikes a nerve

“It’s a story about somebody who motivated so many people about a sense of mission and idealism and hope. And also hope in the sense that here was a young woman entrepreneur in male-dominated Silicon Valley who is going to make a success of herself — and that represented so much for so many people — but who turned out to be a fraud. And that was terribly upsetting to people.”

Phyllis Gardner on listening to Holmes’ thought for blood testing

“I spent years very upset about Elizabeth. She came to me when she was 19 and she did not have a realistic idea and she did not want to listen. And that’s just not the way it is. It’s one thing to fail if you’re in a software or hardware business. But in medicine: No! You cannot do that.”

Gibney compares Holmes with Steve Jobs

“What she shared with Steve Jobs was a capability to be an unbelievable storyteller. Steve Jobs was an impressive storyteller. Whether or not he was an inventor is the matter of some dispute. But he was an impressive storyteller. And so was Elizabeth Holmes, I’d argue.

Elizabeth Holmes modeled herself after Steve Jobs, proper on right down to carrying a black turtleneck each day.


“What Elizabeth didn’t take from the Steve Jobs lesson … was Apple 2.0 (the iPhone version of Apple) — an Apple in which Steve Jobs had learned some very powerful lessons of failure. Failure at Next, the failure at the first go-round with Apple. And he surrounded himself with some very powerful and capable people: Jon Rubinstein, Avie Tevanian, Jony Ive and people who were willing to give him bad news — and he was willing to hear it. So that’s not something she absorbed at all.”

Gardner talks Holmes’ impression on future feminine entrepreneurs

“I think it’s been devastating for women. But I believe there are good women and smart women and women who can do this. So I still stand behind women.”

Producer Jesse Deeter on girls’s response to the movie being made

“I had multiple women who were former employees who said we won’t talk to you because what you’re doing with this reporting is letting down the cause of women. And I was like, I’m a woman! You can’t do that. You can’t do bullshit work. You can’t lie, cheat and steal because you’re a woman. That’s not an excuse … We have to be held to the same standards.”

Gibney on how Holmes compares with Scientology

“In terms of Scientology — the subtitle of the film Going Clear is “The Prison of Belief.” I think Elizabeth was very much a prisoner of belief. That’s one of the things that led her to disregard all of the warning signs and all of the criticism. And those who attacked her — she would rather ruthlessly attack back. Indeed, some of the folks who were interested in her story were prisoners of belief.”

Whistleblower Tyler Shultz on being sued by Theranos

“One of the things my mom would always remind me of is, ‘No matter what the outcome is, you’re still young, you’re creative, you’re still healthy, you have a Stanford education. They can’t take any of that away from you. So you will be fine. Always remember that.’ And that got me through everything.”

San Francisco Premiere Of The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley From HBOSan Francisco Premiere Of The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley From HBO

Director Alex Gibney participates in a panel dialogue on the San Francisco premiere of The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.


Gibney on how Holmes compares with Enron

“You consider Enron as scamsters. But significantly Jeff Skilling (who simply obtained out of jail) was any person who actually believed within the mission of Enron and believed within the thought of a pure free-market firm that revolutionized vitality — a lot in order that when issues begin to go incorrect for him, as a substitute of admitting it, he saved on doubling down, pretending that the dream was actual as a substitute of admitting it wasn’t. He believed the top justified the means, [that] it was OK for them to have interaction on this large deceit the place they hid all kinds of debt and pretended that it was income as a result of they have been finally going to vary the world.

“So this concept that the top justifies the means … When you consider so passionately in a mission like that, it permits you to be far simpler about your deceit since you do not consider you are doing something incorrect.”

Deeter on Holmes’ imaginative and prescient for the movie

“I believed we have been assembly to debate them permitting us to movie an interview. [But] I used to be being interviewed. She introduced it as if we have been so fortunate to probably be the group that captures Theranos, i.e. the identical bullshit they have been doing earlier than.”

Gibney on getting behind-the-scenes footage

“We discovered a few people who have been prepared to leak a few hundred hours of footage from inside the corporate. [Theranos] have been making their very own documentary, [like] they analyzed what if there’d been a digicam within the storage with Steve Jobs and Woz.”

Gardner on what she’d ask Holmes now, given the possibility

“I simply pray I get this opportunity. When she goes to jail: Would she like a black turtleneck accent along with her orange jumpsuit?”

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