Bloody mess: What Elizabeth Holmes’s conviction means for start up culture

Is Theranos founded Elizabeth Holmes’s guilty verdict the kick start-up culture needs to reboot its toxic obsession with fundraising and personality cults over actual results?

In a trial that rocked the business world, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes has been found guilty of defrauding investors to the tune of $700 million. The trial, held at the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building on January 3, 2022 in San Jose, California found the former CEO, 37, guilty of four counts of fraud, out of 11 charges.

Currently free on a $500,000 bond, Holmes reportedly faces between 80 and 20 years in prison. However, her sentence will not be handed down until the trail of her former business and personal partner Sunny Balwani on related charges has concluded. Balwani was co-president of Theranos for a decade, during which time Holmes claims she was abused by him claims Balwani denies. 

Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford University aged 19. The following year the company, which claimed to be able to run extensive blood tests on just a few drops of blood, gathered in excess of $6 million in funding, reaching a valuation of $30 million.

For a while it seemed the only way was up, with Theranos once valued at $9bn and Holmes become a cause célèbre among tech journalists and ambitious start-up founders. However, in 2018 the Wall Street Journal ran a series of exposes suggesting Theranosdevices were inaccurate. In fact, journalist John Carreyrou had been asking questions about Theranos since 2015. (Silicon Valley lab, led by Elizabeth Holmes, is valued at $9 billion but isnt using its technology for all the tests it offers.)

Reportedly, Holmes had tried to kill the story by going to the papers owner, Rupert Murdochwho was also a Theranos investor but to no avail, leading to one of the most shocking business trials of the decade.

Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced this week to nine months in prison

Now, with the dust far from settled, inevitable questions are being asked about the future of the start-up industry and what its future looks like.

So far, the jury is out. Writing in The Telegraph, Ben Wright argues that The downfall of Elizabeth Holmes won’t change Silicon Valley culture.Wright, is of the opinion that Holmes desire to fake it until you make itwas not the only sticking point at Theranos, that the companies issues ran deeper. Seen in that light, was Holmesfall from grace inevitable? 

Certainly, a handwritten note presented by Holmes lawyers points to a robotic persona, but one that may have been more artifice than natural expression (why else would you need to remind yourself of it in a memo?) The note reportedly read:

““I am never a minute late. I show no excitement. ALL ABOUT BUSINESS. I am not impulsive. I know the outcome of every encounter. I do not hesitate. I constantly make decisions and change them as needed. I speak rarely. I call bulls— immediately.” 

Either way, the note seems to be evidence of someone wishing to be taken seriously, perhaps by playing at being a business leader. After all, most business leaders are effortlessly sociopathic (not a recommendation for your C.V, by the way); Holmesreminding herself to act this way arguably shows she’s anything but.

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