Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos, and Fake-It-Till-You-Make-It Silicon Valley Startup Culture


I used to think that Hamlet said that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Guess what? It was Marcellus, a guard, who turned out to be a bearer of bad news. He was the one to tell Hamlet about his father’s ghost appearance. And, Hamlet had never been the same.

What else did I get wrong? I used to think that Silicon Valley was a dreamland with rainbows and unicorns. Guess what? According to Elizabeth Holmes, it is.

“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup”

The HBO documentary “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” can be an entrepreneur’s horror story or a manual. If you plan to fake till you make it, then this documentary can come in handy. If you are a straight-business-arrow, then you’re going to read the book too. I’m talking about  “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” written by John Carreyrou, a Pulitzer Prize Winner for Investigative Reporting.

Did Elizabeth Holmes corrupt Silicon Valley, or was it the other way around? I don’t know. What I do know for sure, though, is that fake-it-till-you-make-it, which is the unofficially official Silicon Valley’s “culture” and MO, will have to change for good.

Elizabeth hasn’t been the first self-proclaimed startup founder to have her own version of the crime-without-punishment story in Silicon Valley. However, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California would have to make sure she is the last one who played this fake-it-till-you-make-it game and lost. The case of U.S. v. Holmes, et al. showed the ugly side of Silicon Valley. There’s nothing glamorous or worth admiring about founders who only dress to impress. Those who shine during presentations, but blush when the time comes to show inventions. You know, just because you choose the black turtleneck as your fashion statement, it doesn’t make you Steve Jobs.

Can a startup’s “faking it” be justified?

Yes, but it’s a fine line between faking and making it in Silicon Valley. Every founder boldly goes where no startup has gone before. There’s no way of knowing if your idea is going to work. There are no guarantees. But, there are temptations of the investors’ dance floors. You just need a small financial stimulus for your startup to make end meets. Then, you would need a little bit more.

If it works, you will say, it’s OK, it’s been worth it, I had to fake it for the right reasons. My startup’s success proved me right.

If it doesn’t work, you have two options. You can admit a business defeat or become a serial startup faker. Here we go again. Let’s try the same approach, but with a different startup, and understandably, different investors.


Theranos, Not To Be Mistaken With Thanos

In ancient Greek mythology Theranos was the god of health, who stole medicine from the gods for the good of mankind and was sentenced to eternal punishment by Zeus for his troubles. 

In Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thanos was the man with the plan who stole Infinity Stones and was sentenced and punished by Avengers.

In our universe, Elizabeth is (was) a goddess of presentation and manipulation, who raised more than $700 million from the investors. When she snapped her fingers, Theranos’ valuation went as high as $10 billion. What about her sentence and punishment?

Holmes faces a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison, and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, for each count of wire fraud and for each conspiracy count.

A jury was selected on September 2, 2021.

The trial is expected to last at least 13 weeks. (Wikipedia)

I couldn’t find a single word about Ian Gibbons who would be remembered as the chief scientist of Theranos rather than an award-winning biochemist. He had more years in his impressive resume than his CEO years of life in her birth certificate.

A top British scientist committed suicide amid fears the 32-year-old CEO of Theranos was about to fire him – because he was having trouble getting her one-prick blood tests to work, his wife has claimed.

To add insult to injury (plural would be more appropriate), Theranos movie based on ‘Bad Blood’ book to star Jennifer Lawrence means that we are more likely to see Elizabeth Holmes on the big screen, rather than in a small prison cell, first.

So, my fellow entrepreneurs and startup founders, you can choose to fake it, with no guarantees that you will make it with the exception of making headlines and documentaries. Or, you can try to make it until you make it for real.

As you can see my Business, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, and COVID-19 Noonies2021 nominations are real, and they call for real votes on November 15.

Michael Brooks Hacker Noon profile picture


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