One now-defunct company, Theranos, duped the world into believing that everyone could have access to simpler, less painful, and more affordable diagnostic blood testing. On paper, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes' idea seemed incredible. With just a few drops of blood, Theranos could offer people a comprehensive look into their health, from their cholesterol levels to their risks of getting cancer. In retrospect, it's easy to see the company's flaws (leadership refused to provide media and investors an inside look at its technology, the company allegedly forbid employees from different departments from communicating with each other, and Holmes couldn't supply answers to basic questions, even in a 2017 testimony), but at the time, it's easy to see how people fell into the trap. because of all this, when she first rose to prominence, Elizabeth Holmes' past quotes were incredibly inspiring. When she talked, people wanted to believe every word she said. But that was then, this is now. And now, following two documentaries, a podcast, a book, and thousands of articles, the words below have started to ring rather hollow.
"I wanted to take a minute to say, especially to the young women in the room here, do everything you can to be the best in science, in math, in engineering. It's our actions that will determine this new stereotype around women being the best in science and technology and engineering. And it's that that our little girls will see when they start to think about who do they want to be when they grow up."
"I have done something, and we have done something, that has changed people's lives. I would much rather live a life of purpose than one in which I might have other things but not that."
"My own life's work in building Theranos is to redefine the paradigm of diagnosis away from one in which people have to present with a symptom in order to get access to information about their bodies to one in which every person, no matter how much money that have or where they live, has access to actionable health information at the time it matters."
"I would say three things: Find what you love, and don't let it go no matter what. I would say Winston Churchill really knew what he was talking about when he said, 'Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never... .' And I would say that I am living proof that it's true that if you can imagine it, you can achieve it."
"When people say, 'I want to start a business,' my question is always, 'Why?' Because there's got to be a mission — there's got to be a reason you're doing it so that no matter how hard it is, you want to keep doing it over and over and over again because you love it. And if you know what it is you're trying to do, then it's a question of being very, very open to failure... We will fail over a thousand times till we get this thing to work, but we will get it on the 1001st time."
But Holmes didn't get "this thing to work." The Wall Street Journal exposed the companies lies and inconsistencies, which prompted a government investigation. In 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Holmes with massive fraud, and the once budding tech genius now also faces wire fraud charges. Amidst all of the government and public scrutiny, Theranos ultimately shut down.
All of those aspirations — all of that talk about empowering young women and girls to chase their dreams — now seem like a farce. How could she tell millions of people that their aspirations were possible when she may have knowingly sold false hope? Her investors lost hundreds of millions of dollars when Theranos folded, sure. But she also made people believe that they, too, could change the world if only they lived their lives with integrity and worked hard.
I believe Holmes began her mission with the honest, pure intention of reforming healthcare as we know it. I also believe that somewhere along the way, she knew her goal was implausible (at least, for now) and that, instead of accepting reality, she selfishly tried to convince herself, and the world, that she could make Theranos successful. She the actions of her company put people's hopes and lives on the line.
Looking back, perhaps her most powerful quote was the one that foreshadowed her failure.
"We focus all the time on disrupting ourselves, and that's one of the core tenets in the way we operate," she told The New Yorker in 2014. "Silicon Valley is a great symbol of disruptive technology being able to, one, change the world, and, two, obsolete itself."
Theranos, like Holmes, is now obsolete. But its impact will prevail for years to come.