when the red flags are even more ominous than you know…

In 2014, I received this letter. I get more mail than I can answer, and this one didn’t end up getting published. But read on, because there’s a twist coming.

After following your cover letter and resume advice, I landed an interview for a position I would love to have. It is similar to my current work but would allow me to be more proactive and have greater ownership over the work.

My issue is with the prospective company’s hiring practices. I would like to question them in the interview to gain some insight in their company culture and structure, but I don’t want to come across as overly critical. After two in-person interviews, one phone interview and one skype interview, the company is flying me out to their headquarters in California to interview with an unnamed “panel” (the actual job is in Arizona.) The scheduler keeps moving my interview date every few days and it’s been pushed back 6 times now, including 3 plane tickets. I’m also concerned that they don’t trust their Arizona team with this hire, when it seems from the conversations I’ve had, I would have little interaction with the California team. How do I approach the question of the constant rescheduling and the trust issues? Or do you think that both are non-issues?

Back to 2021. The writer of this letter recently emailed me about something else and included this note:

I noticed a question I submitted back in 2014 about some warning signs from an interview process I was embedded with at the time — and it was for a position at THERANOS! It was the craziest, most disorganized, lengthy hiring process I’ve ever experienced. I’m really thankful I didn’t pass the final interview.

I asked the letter-writer if she’d share more details and she obliged:

I had completely forgotten that I reached out for advice, and reading it over now with SO much hindsight, I should have said “no thank you” based on their constant rescheduling! It was an incredibly stressful process because I would schedule a day off from work to fly to California, and then have to reach back out to my supervisor and change the request- six times. A total red flag for my current job, but they didn’t seem to notice. At the time, Theranos had JUST emerged to the national scene and were in Walgreens test stores in Arizona, with a full board of directors including several high-profile military leaders, so I thought it would be a good opportunity and there was only glowing, credible press about their mission and future. They provided a voucher to go through the nanotainer collection process at a local Walgreens, but I didn’t have a chance — and I’m glad now since it’s been revealed that false positives were abundant in their testing.

On the interview day, I flew to Palo Alto into the last step of a three-month process (my fifth interview), and they had this weird stipulation that if you took a taxi, you wouldn’t be reimbursed for travel, only if you took public transportation or rental car/shuttle service — but with the timing of landing to interview time (they determined both), there was no time for any of the reimbursable options. The building was super secure and I had to wait in a stark lobby behind multiple security doors for at least an hour, but that was actually the fun part of the day, chatting about the Chicago Bulls with the security guards. When someone finally arrived, I was led to a smaller lobby, where, after another half hour (now 1.5 hours later than originally scheduled), I had an extremely abrupt, short, cold interview with one person from HR. We didn’t vibe at all, so I wasn’t shocked that I didn’t get the job, but I WAS surprised that after all of the effort on both of our sides, I received a generic email form letter signed “Kind Regards, Theranos Human Resources.”

Another part of the interview process that I’ll never forget was the Skype interview with Sunny Balwani. He looked absolutely miserable, stressed, and rushed. Like he had been sleeping at his desk for weeks and was just absolutely hating that he had to talk with me. I’ve heard in the meantime that Elizabeth Holmes’ defense was going to portray him as a conniving Svengali, which didn’t match at all what I saw back then!

My lesson learned from this experience was that red flags are called red for a reason, and I just kept ignoring them. Rescheduling an out-of-state interview six times to meet with one person should have clued me in that this would not be a great place to work! I think we all make excuses because we’re so wrapped up in the process and start imagining ourselves out of our current situation without detecting dysfunction in the future opportunity. I’m glad I was spared that job, because a year and a half later, the Wall Street Journal started exposing the company, ultimately leading to them liquidating. But boy, that year and a half would be full of stories I’d never forget, probably!!

I want to just give 2014 me a hug that she was trying SO HARD to impress people at this incredibly dysfunctional, toxic workplace.

But three companies later, I am happy and well-adjusted. Thanks again for all your great advice over the years!

{ 327 comments… read them below }

  1. Harper the Other One*

    Wow! I read “Bad Blood” recently and it’s absolutely fascinating (and a little scary) to see how easy it is to talk yourself out of noticing red flags. Glad you dodged that mess, OP!

    1. Kali*

      That book was *wild*. Soooooo many red flags, but the company was so compartmentalized that I can see why the rank and file employees didn’t see it (anyone who did seemed to get promptly fired). It sounded like an incredibly toxic workplace though, separate and apart from the, y’know, rampant fraud.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I’m inclined to see that compartmentalization as itself being a red flag. If you work for the CIA, compartmentalization is obviously necessary: so much so that this necessity trumps the down side to not letting people talk to each other. But what is a legitimate reason for a medical equipment company to do this?

        1. Selena*

          There may be some trade-secrets in the medical process itself, but for the most part every well-run company encourages people from different departments to mingle and talk about their jobs

        2. Kali*

          I agree completely, and several employees in the book got frustrated at not being allowed to communicate directly with other teams. (I seem to remember a lot of refusal on Holmes and Sunny’s parts to let diagnostics talk directly with engineering, which whaaaaa – those are your two main departments trying to build one machine!) Many left in part because of it. The only legit reason I can think of for *a* medical company doing so is for medical record privacy reasons, but even that would be likely one section of the company and shouldn’t prevent all communication/cooperation.

          1. Candi*

            The problem with con artists hiring the best and the brightest is that if the B&B get to pooling too much information, it’ll blow the con right out of the water.

            I’d completely forgotten about Theranos until now. Last I paid attention was when their con was blowing up -I remember thinking Holmes was pretty dumb. To me, apparently she thought she could keep the scheme going for ages. Nope. There’s a reason why smart, small(er)-ego con masters have a bug-out fund.

    2. cubone*

      HIGHLY recommend Bad Blood (by John Carreyrou) if people enjoyed reading this letter. It was interesting to hear the OP’s experience with things I’d read in the book (eg. the extremely over the top security). The hubris and greed captured is mind-blowing and I am beyond in awe of the whistle-blowing employees.

      1. EPLawyer*

        He’s doing a sequel podcast Bad Blood: The Final Chapter that is covering Elizabeth Holmes trial. Check it out.

        1. dogmom*

          Oooooh thanks for the recommendation! I spend a lot of time in my car and listen to a lot of podcasts, so I listened to The Dropout when it first came out and am now listening to its coverage of her trial. My jaw totally dropped when I read that LW interviewed with Theranos!

        2. Subtle Sexuality (feat. Nard Dog)*

          I was just about to come and recommend this! I have an MPH and am a public health nerd, so I was really fascinated and excited by Theranos when the hype started in 2014/15. Then I read Bad Blood last year and devoured the podcast in a day of driving a few weeks ago. It’s really interesting to see what OP had to say about the Svengali defense Holmes’s team is using; combined with the emails and texts, that’s some strong circumstantial evidence pointing in a different direction.

        3. Hosta*

          Oh wow, thanks for mentioning this! I have a long drive coming up and have been trying to figure out what to listen to during it.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Third, fourth, whatever this.

      I remember when Theranos hit the news and I (a woman a little bit older than Elizabeth Holmes) felt embarrassed and a little resentful because I hadn’t made more of my life. Now, I’m all like, “At least I’m not a con artist!”

      1. Jack Straw*

        I’m in the middle of a very rough day at work (AAM is my happy place), and this is going to be my mantra for the remainder of the day: “At least I’m not a con artist!”

      2. Botanist*

        I am a woman nearly the same age as Elizabeth Holmes and I work in a disease diagnostics lab. Let me tell you, there were definitely discussion, some of it panicked, some of it heated, about Theranos and what they were achieving, and what was wrong with us that we were so far behind the times? A few wise execs kept saying that it couldn’t be legit, it had to be smoke and mirrors . . . fortunately they were right!

        1. 30 Years in the Biz*

          Yes! Had those same discussions with lab colleagues. Some thought clinical labs would be put out of business by Theranos. Others thought there was no way they could test for 200 analytes in such a small volume. I had already researched the company by looking at Glassdoor, viewing their patents (they looked okay for microfluidics, but I’m not an engineer), and talking to a friend who had applied to their CFO position. He was very wary because they would not discuss the product fully with him. I declined to apply based on these things. Several months later I was asked to apply for a Scientist position by a Theranos lawyer I met at a social event. I declined to apply based on my limited but telling research. I’m now at a biotech that strongly supports public health via their rapid SARS-CoV-2 PCR test. I’m so glad the writer took another path!!

          1. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

            I am not a scientist, but the fact that they would never discuss how they did what they did and the generic description of the process seemed ridiculous. I always thought real scientists told everyone what they did and how they did it so everyone could try and duplicate the results. Legit scientists, I mean.

            1. What watch? Eight watch. Such much!*

              yeah, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Certainly, in academia you absolutely do want to be as public as you can. I work in private industry, and we do publicise our results, but in a much more limited way to not invalidate patents and IP. We do (eventually) publish all that we do, but patents can take a long time, so we have to be careful around those.

              1. Your Local Password Resetter*

                Yay intellectual property law and capitalism. But I’m glad you do eventually publish it all.

            2. David*

              There are legitimate reasons for scientists not to publicize everything they do. Like What watch said in the other comment, private companies have to keep some information (including scientific results) secret to keep an advantage over their competitors. Even in academia, some scientists work on classified research like nuclear or biological weapons. And aside from that, there can always be competition between different research groups working on the same topic, so even if the work isn’t classified, scientists might keep some of their results secret while the work is in progress to try to ensure they’re the first to publish – though of course that’s a different situation because the end goal is to publish the work anyway.

              But you’re right that, when there isn’t a reason not to, most scientists would love to share their work. Partly because you can be more confident in your results when somebody else replicates them, and partly because it’s just really exciting to have someone else care about what you’re doing. Many scientists work on _extremely_ specialized topics, to the point where there might only be a few hundred people in the world who can even really understand the work or why it matters.

              Anyway, I guess the point I wanted to make is, if the details of a scientific result aren’t made public and are not able to be replicated, that doesn’t _necessarily_ mean it’s bogus – but it _could_ be bogus, and you’re definitely right to view it with some suspicion while other scientists check it out.

              1. Boof*

                I might be poisoned by academia, but as a cancer doc (and lots of money and desperate people at stake), anyone who promises wonders snd mumbles the proof/process is a con until they prove otherwise

                1. Mongrel*

                  Or uses phrases like “We’ll sort that out in the next phase, it’s a simple engineering problem” which used to turn up with alarming regularity on Kickstarter.

                2. Properlike*

                  The production equivalent is “we’ll fix it in post.” With fewer consequences. But as we say: “we’re not curing cancer, here.”

            3. Candi*

              I’m just a total bookworm, with my only requirement to read something being “does it sound interesting?” Now, philosophy makes my head hurt, but I’ll read just about anything else, even if I favor certain topics and genres.

              Buuuuuut one of my favorite topics is medical and associated science stuff. Bodies and processes are just so neat. And I remember vaguely thinking something like “that doesn’t make sense” about Theranos’ stuff, then brushing it off as probably something like superfoods or “medicinal” herbal teas. Stuff that is technically good for you, but the way it’s usually promoted and dispensed owes more to magical thinking then science. (Has stuff that’ll make you healthier? Yes. Will cure all your ills, destroy pollution, and provide infinite energy? No. No, it won’t.)

            4. Avalon Angel*

              My father-in-law is a retired scientist. He developed a quicker way to do something he calls “PAPs” (I am in no way shape or form a scientist, and although he has talked about this in length, I cannot pretend to understand it.) During his last years at his university, other universities/labs were flying him out all over the country to teach the method. As far as I know, he only declined once, and only then because a family emergency occurred.

          2. Cursory*

            I think we had one, maybe two conversations at my lab about Theranos when they were starting to get press. I remember someone going “have you folks heard about this company saying they can do blankety blank number tests off one finger stick?” and we all sort of unanimously responded with variations of “sounds like a bunch of BS.” We only talked about it very briefly but we all agreed that they were definitely not doing what they said they were doing, and that would end up releasing some walked-back version of the product after coasting on the hype.

            After it all blew up when I started actually looking into it (because who doesn’t love a scam drama) the biggest thing that stood out to me was that no one who knew anything about medical science, even just people who invested in biotech and had no actual experience working in the field, would go anywhere near the thing from the very beginning. It just really tickled me remembering all of us in my lab had immediately brushed it off as bad marketing atop no actual science.

            Really an incredible system we have: One where anyone with any actual expertise in a field can be repelled, BUT powerful, moneyed people will still glom onto hype, and their influence (above any actual scientific evidence) can still give you unfettered access to patients to victimize for profit.

        2. Blarg*

          Yea I work in a specific area of public health lab stuff that relies on very small sample sizes and it seemed really clear that there was just no way cause we knew how bad our results were when the sample was a little less than we needed. But it’s such a niche field that even though we “knew” we didn’t really have anyone to tell. But when it fell apart it felt like … duh.

      3. green beans*

        When Theranos hit the news, I worked in a molecular biology lab, doing similar kinds of protein and DNA tests (but for research, so from cell cultures and mice.) My coworker showed the article to me and I remember rolling my eyes and going, “it’s clearly another hack alternative-medicine con artist thing,” and then never thinking of it again.

        What’s truly insane to me is that I was one year out of college working in a very basic research lab and it was blindingly obvious that what Theranos was promising was not possible – yet so many people invested tons of money in the company. If you read the book, one of the patterns that emerges are the experts recommending against investing and a lot of leadership/CEOs doing it anyways. The one exception that I remember – a military general who called a meeting with his experts to seriously listen to their concerns and then declined to move forward with Theranos on the expert recommendation – really stands out as strong leadership.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I mostly remember seeing it in Newsweek-type publications, not real science journals, and you can never trust those. There was definitely going to be a very big catch.

          I think a lot of people got hooked on the idea of supporting a young (but safely “blonde”, passably good-looking, white) woman in STEM and it wouldn’t hurt if they made a lot of money doing it. You would think after ENRON and Bernie Madoff people might ask more questions, but I guess not?

            1. Anon for this*

              A long while back I was at a company that had Enron as a very large customer. I remember having a really in depth discussion about them with the CFO, with me saying that I didn’t understand their business model at all. The CFO gave me the “oh yeah, smartest guys in the room, cutting edge” thing. Six months later, Enron tanked and we lost 50% of our business and had to lay off half the company. Sure taught me that if I don’t understand something, it ain’t because I’m stupid!!

              1. Dust Bunny*

                I have never yet seen a situation where people are getting outrageous gains on their money that wasn’t a complete scam. Never. People fall for it because they want to believe they’re the smartest people around but it’s never the real thing.

              2. NoviceManagerGuy*

                I was a kid when that happened, and I remember a friend’s dad was really jazzed because his company had started working with Enron. I asked my dad, who was also in the energy industry, about it and he said “The business model makes no sense.” I learned to trust my dad’s judgement when the whole thing collapsed a few months later.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              I did, since it was a scam, and I have Houston ties.

              I guess there’s no shortage of ego in that family.

          1. green beans*

            Yeah, I saw it in a Newsweek-type publication. I didn’t even bother to look for it in science journals, but i was in a mood – I’d had a DNA extraction fail that day or week because the tissue sample was too small. I was very much like, if I can’t get DNA from a too-small tissue sample, there’s no way you can get DNA and proteins and whatever else you’re promising from a single drop of blood.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I used to work for a veterinarian and their blood machines, even the really good modern ones, simply do not work if you dilute beyond a certain, very limited point. It’s just not a thing that works in this day and age. I’m not saying it never will, but it won’t in the foreseeable future.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I can understand if someone doesn’t know how this stuff works, but the failure to do their due diligence when thousands of dollars are at stake is like, okay.

                But then, see the scam thread—if con artists are really good at what they’re doing, or someone really wants the product to actually work, it can be extremely convincing.

                1. Observer*

                  Yeah, people are yelling about how this cashier was SO STUPID and HOW COULD ANYONE fall for it, etc. Walgreens is a PHARMACY for crying out loud! What’s THEIR excuse?

                2. pancakes*

                  Walgreens was given fraudulent reports (on Pfizer letterhead, drafted by Theranos), and additionally, wasn’t doing their own due diligence properly – they were reportedly trying to validate data they were given without collecting their own. I’ll link to an article about it in a separate reply.

          2. nona*

            It was also some FOMO – they didn’t want to miss out backing the next Steve Jobs, as Holmes liked to style herself (down to wearing the black turtlenecks).

            1. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

              They kept the temps in the building low, so she would be comfortable in her turtleneck and puffy vest.

            2. Boof*

              I think this is part of it too; holmes managed to convince (some) people it MIGHT be true, and was worth the risk of some money because the payoff MIGHT be great

          3. JohannaCabal*

            I hate how the news in general presents most science. It’s so easy to twist things as we’ve seen recently. Also, a lot of popular moves and TV shows don’t help. I’ve had to explain to adults that it’s just not possible to clone dinosaurs like they do in Jurassic Park.

            1. My Dear Wormwood*

              The flip side is also interesting – reading the Jurassic Park books now is funny because, while some of the tech is still pie-in-the-sky stuff, a lot of things that they talk up as requiring amazing supercomputer engineering is something I can do on my desktop these days.

              1. Candi*

                Although the problems of the client not properly defining the project parameters and what they want the coding they’re ordering to do still remain.

                The problem with the population count might have been caught sooner with today’s equipment, though, since you could have much better detection equipment out there and a program that updates the count in real time. Doesn’t mean Hammond wouldn’t have continued to be an idiot, though.

            2. Candi*

              One word: CSI (2000).

              I watched New Detectives: Case Studies in Forensic Science in the 1990s (1993), and it’s really bad when a show that started 7 years after “New Detectives” did gets things wrong that were established science and forensic processes as of the first ND season.

              1. Avi*

                The British comedy duo Mitchell & Webb had a recurring bit in their sketch comedy show where they played TV/movie writers who would confidently plow on with scripts for shows centered on subjects that they knew absolutely nothing about and couldn’t be bothered to research, with absurd results.

                Shows like CSI and NCIS make me think that those sketches were not entirely meant to be satire.

                1. Candi*

                  Gets better. CSI did do some fictionalized versions of real cases before they went total fiction -and the list overlapped with some New Detectives did. It hurt watching CSI screw those up -usually the “how long it takes to get results back from testing X” or “how Y process works”.

        2. quill*

          I was still in high school when Theranos was actually big, so I didn’t hear news about it until it collapsed in my early twenties.

        3. Cursory*

          Exactly my experience! Exactly! And my exact takeaway as well.

          I keep seeing people say anyone who’s interested in the case is a dummy because they must think Elizabeth Holmes is a master con artist, and it’s like… No, that’s certainly not what anyone I know finds interesting about it.

          1. Candi*

            Frank Abagnale was a good con artist.

            Victor Lustig was a good con artist.

            Ivar Krueger was a good con artist -he probably could have kept going for another decade if not for the 1929 Crash.

            Holmes? She’s a wannabe where half the work was done by people do blinded by potential money they saw the gilding as gold.

            1. quill*

              Elizabeth Holmes couldn’t sell a bridge to a bridge troll. The dysfunction (and lack of science literacy) of her investors was what she preyed on.

            2. JustaTech*

              About two years ago I watched 3 documentaries in quick succession: the HBO one about Theranos (I shouted at the screen a lot because I use a blood analyzer and I could tell what BS it was), one of the Fyre Festival docs, and Wild Wild Country (about the cult in Oregon in the 80’s).

              And the thing I took away from all of them is that some people project a “reality distortion field” where, while you are talking to them, all the ideas seem completely real and doable and reasonable.

              And then you walk away and realize that no, you can’t do those tests with that little blood, or no, you can’t have Major Laser without a solid power supply, or hey, you just committed bioterrorism on salad bars.

              So, basically, beware very charismatic people, but of course it’s very hard to be wary when you’re around them.

              1. Candi*

                My brain doesn’t process charisma well. I don’t know if it’s the ASD or what, but I observe people who are supposed to be charismatic, and I’m like, yeah, they’re mildly compelling, but they’re not really that amazing or fantastic.

                But then, I think poorly of most pollies, especially on the federal level, too.

        4. Boof*

          I remember my mom (a dermatologist; i would say a good scientist overall but not really a basic scientist) liked to invest a bit in biotech; she checked outs when it pent public but thought something seemed off and didn’t invest. I was still in training (and have a fair amount of basic science + med school at the time – also no investment money cuz trainee), i know they ran it past me too. I just remember the web pages looked super slick but had no actual info, so i just said i dunno nothing here? My impression is she was good at the razzle dazzle and packaging and so got a lot of non-scientists on board, then others who thought they must be missing something went for it too. Amazing what confidence, hype, and throwing a few big names around can do.

        5. DJ Abbott*

          What I noticed was most of the big investors were middle-aged men who were charmed by a young woman. Of course it helped that she was blonde, blue-eyed, white, and from a powerful family.
          From my experience of such things, they probably also wanted to support a woman and then they could think of themselves as not being sexist.

          1. Candi*

            Ah, the “I’m not sexist, I supported a woman in STEM! What, no, we can’t promote our best manager to VP -she wouldn’t fit in!” type.

        6. irene adler*

          Long time IVD person here.

          I recall Theranos was presenting at AACC (professional org for clinical chemistry) one year. If memory serves, it was local for me (San Diego or maybe Los Angeles). This caused some buzz at work.

          I wanted to attend this- but they were limiting access – venue size limitations. I spoke to my boss, hoping he would attend (he’s a member of AACC). He had no interest. Dismissed it as a scam.

          His comment: they are doing blood chemistries and serology all from one blood sample. But the volume of blood sample needed for these two types of testing is very different. Accuracy is out the window given the claimed sample volume. Hence, they weren’t really a threat to any IVD company (other than to divert investment funds away from promising start-ups).

          He knew this was all just a money game. He didn’t pay any attention to all the media attention regarding Theranos. Figured those who understood the industry would know this was a scam. And those who did not would do their due diligence and learn to avoid Theranos.

          My take-away: always look behind the curtain.

      4. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        I had a boss encourage me to invest in Theranos! Fortunately she wasn’t paying me enough to have anything TO invest, so even though I have frittered away my money on pizza delivery and cat toys, at least I didn’t put it into that mess.

        1. Kal*

          Pizza delivery and cat toys are a worthy investment! They bring you and possibly a cat joy, and thus have infinitely greater rewards than anything Theranos (and a lot of other investments) ever did.

    4. Sea Anemone*

      it’s absolutely fascinating (and a little scary) to see how easy it is to talk yourself out of noticing red flags

      Could you go leave this comment on the thread about the scammer? thxbye.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Seriously! Some of those comments are so harsh. We’d all like to think we would *never* fall for that, but never say never…

        (I was very disappointed in myself the first time I failed one of my company’s frequent fishing tests. Extremely low stakes with no actual consequences I still felt super embarrassed as I consider myself to be generally very good at spotting scam emails.)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This. I felt like a complete dumbass after letting a neighbor’s son schmooze me into paying him in advance for yard work he never completed. Never again. It happens to the best of us.

          1. anon4this*

            Nothing wrong with believing in the good nature of most people! Although I’m a little surprised if the parents let him get away with it, mine would’ve been mortified and made me give back the money and do the work for free.
            I’m sorry that happened to you.

        2. Sea Anemone*

          (I was very disappointed in myself the first time I failed one of my company’s frequent fishing tests. Extremely low stakes with no actual consequences I still felt super embarrassed as I consider myself to be generally very good at spotting scam emails.)

          Yep, been there. And yep, it was a day that I was stressed about something, and the pseudo-phishing email was ever-so-slightly related to the thing I was stressed about. It was enough for me to react with, “what’s this damn thing *click* … oh.”

          1. Sporty Yoda*

            SAME; one of ours was a fake UPS “there is an issue with your delivery” email, and since I was, y’know, expecting a package, I thought I just used my work email instead of my personal email for the contact. Thinking there had been a problem with my package delivery (my complex is odd; I’ve had mail for my neighbors miscoded at a package locker on multiple occasions, and if a driver can’t get in to the locked mail room, they’ll sometimes deliver to the apartment itself… mine is a weird number in a weird place, so I thought “Oh poor driver couldn’t find the apartment.”), I click through, and lo and behold, a “you’ve been phished!” page appears.

    5. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      I read that too back in June, and the book came roaring back when I read this letter!

    6. Jean*

      “it’s absolutely fascinating (and a little scary) to see how easy it is to talk yourself out of noticing red flags”

      As someone who once worked for a company that turned out to be a Ponzi scheme – and eventually testified against my former employers, who are now serving lengthy prison terms, in federal court – this is SO TRUE! I look back on some of the stuff that happened and think HOW did I not know something weird was going on? But I was young, naive, and not knowledgeable in even the basic professional norms, much less how to spot high level fraud. I learned many, many lessons from that experience.

      1. J E*

        What a fascinating experience! I would love to see an AMA column that talks about this – how do you recognize things like “fraud” or “toxic” or “not professional norms” when you’re immersed in it and everyone around you thinks it’s normal?

    7. Miss Muffet*

      I think I read Bad Blood after Alison recommended it in one of the weekend posts or something. I’ve never read anything so batshit crazy (and true) and it has made the trial and all happening now much more interesting. Also loved the spoof of her/startup culture on season 1 of Awkwafina…. man o man, may karma bless us to not have to deal with companies like this in our lifetimes!

      1. R*

        You should check out Lodge 49. Season 2 especially features a very Holmes-like figure that you’ll also probably get a kick out of :)

    8. Wilde*

      I’m reading this at the moment and have honestly considered putting it down, but after reading these comments I’m going to persevere another few chapters. Right now my head is spinning as the author has introduced new person after new person who all realised it was crazy and left (or were fired). Is there actually a narrative thread to the story or is this it?

      1. Pyjamas*

        I thought it picked up after the journalist started including his part of the story. Can’t remember which chapter, I have on audible.

        Beforehand I’d listened to podcast The Dropout which I was a good primer for the book. (Carreyou also has podcast but that’s supplement to his book)

      2. DJ Abbott*

        I ended up reading it twice because the shutdown happened while I had it from the library, and that helped a lot. I don’t think I would have understood or retained much if I’d only read it once.
        It’s well worth the time!

  2. The Tin Man*

    Wow, what a twist and what a gargantuan bullet dodged! I do wonder how it’s been for former lab/research-level employees from Theranos trying to find new work since, you know, all that.

    1. Nia*

      I’m actually curious about how anyone who worked there deals with it on their resumes and in interviews. Is this the one instance where you can badmouth your previous employers or do you still need to pretend everything was fine?

      1. Sneaky McSneakster*

        I did just check his LinkedIn, and it’s still on there as job experience. He wrote it as though the company was legit, like any other job experience.

      2. Kali*

        The book “Bad Blood” makes it clear that except for Holmes and Balwani (and a few others, like her brother, I think?) everyone was *genuinely* trying to work the problem. The company was so compartmentalized to cover up that it wasn’t working that a lot of employees couldn’t understand why things didn’t work in their department. A lot of employees raised concerns too, but they were quickly ushered out of their jobs.

        1. Heidi*

          I agree, but there are a couple of instances where someone had to know the truth. Like the person who was told to re-engineer the commercial lab analyzers to use diluted blood samples. Or the person who reconfigured the error messages on the machine display to make it look like the test was just running slowly during demos (they would then take everyone out for coffee and come back to find the results ready). It didn’t really seem like Holmes and Balwani were doing that part.

          1. Kali*

            It’s absolutely true that they couldn’t have actually done it on their own, but they were issuing many, if not all, of those commands. Sometimes, you don’t know you’re the frog in boiling water until you’re burned. I absolutely don’t condone it, but I can see how some people might have said, “Okay, I reconfigure the error message so that it performs well in a demo. Then we get more funding and can fix the problem for real.”

            1. Candi*

              If you dig, you can find stories where the initial results were fudged, but later the problem was fixed and they got real results.

              I don’t advise it -it’s rare it works out that way- but it’s just enough that a worker might think it was one of those cases. Without being able to compare notes, they wouldn’t have the data to realize something was really wrong.

            2. Laure*

              Yes, I totally believe it. Worse even, I would be that person I fear. The one to believe it would all work out, and the problems were fixable. It’s a good personality to have in an “honest” job and that’s why my career is going well. But I can very well believe that if I was in a “Theranos” kind of position I would unwittingly find myself in jail without realising I’ve done something really wrong.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          “…quickly ushered out of their jobs.” Raising the interesting question, is this that rare instance where being fired it not a red flag, but a positive?

          1. ecnaseener*

            Sure, whistleblowing can reflect positively. (Like in the original post we just got an update for – the LW said in a comment that one of the firings sounded like retaliation and that improved their opinion of the candidate!)

            1. JSPA*

              “being fired because they fear you’re catching on” is several steps short of whistleblowing, but also an excellent backhanded compliment.

      3. dfl*

        I hire for warehouse positions so lots of candidates have Amazon experience and they absolutely bad mouth them. Most clarify with something like “I hate to say this but…” and I just respond with “yeah, I get it!”

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          My previous boss (the one who has since been disbarred) had such a bad reputation in the field that it would have been weird if I had said good things about him in interviews. The big plus was that I had stuck with it for three whole years.

        2. Candi*

          Yeah. My son got furloughed from his IT job because lockdown last year, and went to work for Amazon because they were open and hiring. He has nothing but unpleasant things to say about his manager there.

          He started applying everywhere once things started opening up, got a job, caught a manager violating pay stuff (he didn’t specify), found another job and is still there. Doesn’t think much of most of his managers at the new place, but they aren’t cruel or dishonest.

          I may have raised his standards a bit by teaching him off of Ask a Manager. I also asked if he reported the pay stuff to the DOL. He said he was thinking about it. (50/50 whether he ever did.)

      4. Rose*

        I work in the industry and we had a $$$$ deal with theranos fall through when they kept telling legal they’d give us all the data they had promised us AFTER we signed the contract and thank god our legal team was like “uhh no.”

        I’d have no issue hiring someone who had worked there but would take it as a HUGE red flag if they only said positive things (and it didn’t seem like they were nervously trying to avoid bashing a previous employer, in which case I’d deff ask some more questions).

        It’s fine to frame everything in a positive way, ie “I learned so much about what not to do/when to speak up/etc.” but if someone was just straight up like “great job, great learning experience” id be deeply concerned.

    2. Sneaky McSneakster*

      At my former company, we had someone who came from Theranos. He was an excellent employee and is now a senior manager at my old company. We kind of approached him with a “was it all true?!” questioning lens, and felt bad for him more than anything. His work spoke for itself. But he did say that yes, it was all as bad as it seemed in Bad Blood! So takeaway is that I suppose most of them are working in better places by now.

    3. 30 Years in the Biz*

      We have several of them at my company. They’re doing well. Some have had stories, other would just like to put it behind them.

    4. cubone*

      Sort of related but here in Canada there has been a major public scandal with the massive WE charity organization (also know as ME to WE, Free the Children, etc.). I heard recently they’re still operating in the US so maybe American people have no clue, but it was a pretty open secret in Canadian non-profits that WE was a very odd organization. Like Theranos, people in the industry either were immediately skeptical/distrusting, or super jealous and in awe of the money the raked in.

      Long story short (just check out the Canadaland “White Saviors” podcast for the whole scandal), it fell apart quite spectacularly. It was EXTREMELY common for WE to hire very, very young and vulnerable people to exploit, and I know literally dozens of folks with WE on their resume. From what I’ve heard, it’s actually given a decent amount of them some sympathy from interviewers, like one friend said in an interview the interviewer unprompted commented that he was sorry she’d had to experience that. It seems like they’re largely being given the benefit of the doubt, UNLESS they continued working there past summer 2020 (when it first starting to fall apart). Those folks are widely considered pariahs from what I’ve heard in non-profit hiring over the last year (not that I think that’s inherently fair, not all people can lose their income like that, but the assumption is if you stayed long past that, you’ve sort of endorsed it).

      1. Krabby*

        Yes! A friend of mine worked there right out of university. Her first job after she left, her manager said they hired her because, “Anyone who could have survived working at WE for two years must be made of some pretty incredible stuff.”

        1. cubone*

          exactly! It was very much seen as a “meat grinder” kind of operation. The people I know who worked there were all there >2 years, and said it was insane levels of stress and burnout, but the things you had to make happen make most other jobs feel like a walk in the park.

          In relation to the question about having those kinds of jobs on your resume (where the company has had a spectacular and VERY public fall), it really seems to me like the assumption people with WE on their resumes are getting is that most likely you were unhappy, exploited, and didn’t have much power to say/do much else. I think that’s fair; sort of a “assume positive intent” unless the person indicates otherwise. I hope lab techs and “regular” Theranos staff have the same grace extended to them.

    5. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      Immediately afterward probably stinks but later on the curiosity kicks in.

      We invited someone to interview who had worked in accounting at Enron about 10 years after it imploded and while he was a qualified candidate, his resume stood out because we did want to ask about the experience.

    6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I had a relative who worked for Madoff (on the legit side). This person is doing OK now but had to completely reinvent their career.

  3. Observer*

    Wow! That wasn’t just a bullet you dodged there, but a cannon ball. It sounds like the place was pretty miserable to work at, beyond the obvious problems with working for a company that is actively cheating people and providing incorrect medical information to people who are already worried.

  4. Sarah*

    I cannot tell you how happy I am that you shared your story OP. I find the whole Theranos dumpster fire incredible, so it is fascinating to get a glimpse inside.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      All of this. I’m obsessed with this whole story (I have recommend Bad Blood and The Drop Out more than just about anything else) and this is kinda awesome. In hindsight, of course!

  5. ENFP in Texas*

    I’m following @doratki on Twitter as she is live-Tweeting the Elizabeth Holmes trial. This whole thing is fascinating – how high-profile people like Mattis and companies like Safeway and Walgreens got taken in, and the complete dumpster fire behind the scenes.

  6. Heidi*

    Is “red flags” the theme for today?

    I’ve been following the trial a bit since reading, “Bad Blood,” and one part that I always thought was amazing was how people assumed everyone else had done their due diligence in investigating this company and just jumped on board without really doing any investigation of their own. I get it that the company went to great lengths to fool people, but there were early skeptics as well.

    1. cubone*

      I can’t remember the details but I vaguely recall one of Elizabeth Holmes’ university professors (I think?) who was just like “yeah……… no.” Like this woman immediately read her/the company for what it was and didn’t hold back at all. She was fantastic.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        I’m listening to a podcast (The Dropout?), and there’s been a couple people who did the vetting and said “This is a bad idea” but were ignored. A Stanford prof, a Walgreens person hired specifically to vet the process (and ignored! for doing his job!)…

        1. Yay, I’m a Llama Again!*

          I have never heard of this company pre AAM (wrong side of the pond, and I don’t even keep up with our own news!) but this has been fascinating to learn and I’ve just subscribed to the podcast, thank you.

        2. MissGirl*

          I remember the interview with the Walgreens guy. He had to listen to the hype for years, knowing they were bad. He even left Walgreens. At one point even his wife was like maybe you were wrong. Talk about vindication.

          1. Candi*

            That must be an awesome thing to talk about in interviews, as long he frames it without gloating. “Tell me about a time when…”

    2. Elizabeth West*

      If people really like what they hear, they often zip right over that. Dating analogy: you’re so blinded by your partner’s hotness you don’t really notice—or are willing to excuse—clear signs that they’re an ass.

      1. Sara without an H*

        This. I’m in the middle of reading Bad Blood right now and I can’t help thinking that cold showers all around would have been a very good thing.

      2. cubone*

        Reminds me of that phenomenal line from Bojack Horseman:

        “When you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”

    3. Ginger Baker*

      Does Bad Blood discuss her relationship with Balwani? I just heard about this and am even more shocked (if that was possible).

        1. Candi*

          If I had time to do the digging, I could give you a list ten yards long of perpetrators (proven to be the ones in charge, masterminds, etc.) who pulled the “poor me, I was being exploited and manipulated” card when caught. Although I honestly don’t know if women do it more, or cases where women do it are recorded more often.

      1. EE*

        A bit, but mostly in the context of “here is some further secrecy”. Nobody had any idea, even when the two of them were living together.

    4. green beans*

      in the books, lots of subject matter experts actually strongly recommended against it – they were just often overrode by leadership. Holmes’ strategy was to get high-level people invested in her to the point where they would listen to her above their own experts. (Which to me – insane. Why would you hire an expert only to not listen to them?)

        1. Sara without an H*

          Or Fear of Missing Out. A lot of people who should have known better really didn’t want to miss out on what was supposed to be the next Apple. And the popular and financial media of the day have a LOT to answer for.

          1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

            Plus a fair amount of privilege from who she knew through her family plus blond, thin, talk the talk.

      1. James*

        “Which to me – insane. Why would you hire an expert only to not listen to them?”

        Short version? Sometimes they’re wrong.

        Longer version: SMEs tends all have their blind spots. We all have particular ways of doing things, and sometimes those aren’t the best ways. After a while a manager/executive picks up on this and starts pushing back. Of course, managers have their own blind spots, which the SMEs are supposed to fight against. But, at the end of the day, the one in charge of the budget wins. Managers/executives will remove SMEs if they don’t work with the manager. And that’s fine–that’s how it’s supposed to work–but it can lead to situations where the manager ignores something important.

        I’ve been on both sides of this. As a project manager I’ve told SMEs “Yeah, that’s not happening, come back to me when you’re serious.” I mean, when they tell you to use a DPT-equipped GeoProbe to grab a soil sample on a 45 degree slope covered in concrete of unknown depth, they’re just simply wrong. As an SME, I’ve had managers tell me “We’re not doing that, deal with it”–and have walked away from projects and refused to work with project managers again for it in extreme cases (usually I try to work with the manager to find something that makes everyone, if not happy, at least tolerable).

        Most of the time this sort of thing is just doing business. With a company the size of the one I work for you’re bound to run into people you don’t click with or who drastically disagree with you on something. The issue with con artists is that they disguise their cons as part of this normal business activity. I know for a fact that the project managers I fought with weren’t coming up with their ideas in a vacuum, and often it was the client pushing it. If the con-artist can convince their mark that this is what’s happening, they can fairly easily convince the manager/executive to ignore the SMEs.

        The other thing is, SMEs aren’t looking at the budget. It’s not, in my experience, their job to maximize margins. This immediately–and sometimes intentionally–puts them at odds with the managers. Again, con-artists can use this to hide their true intentions. It looks like normal business practice, after all.

        And of course once the manager/executive is convinced, evidence to the contrary will be viewed with hostility. They’ll find excuses and justifications and rationalizations for their actions. Once someone’s hooked, the sad truth is they’ll do a lot of the con-artist’s job for them. That makes them even less likely to listen to their SMEs.

        1. Observer*

          I mean, when they tell you to use a DPT-equipped GeoProbe to grab a soil sample on a 45 degree slope covered in concrete of unknown depth, they’re just simply wrong.

          If I’m understanding correctly what they are suggesting, I have to question whether they actually deserve the title. They are wrong and in ways that an expert should recognize.

          1. James*

            It’s a bit of a running joke between me and a colleague. The SME in that case needed data to delineate a plume, and looked at line drawings with no topographic data, no aerial photos, nothing but roads and buildings marked out. When I sent them actual photos they said “Oh…..oops.”

            Perhaps a better example would be interpretations of paleontological sensitivity. These aren’t easy, and there’s no hard-and-fast rules; professional opinion plays a huge role in how you classify the potential for a geologic unit to produce fossils. I happen to think that alluvial fans are low-sensitivity, outside of rare cases where there was ponding; many other paleontologists think that they’re high-sensitivity. Someone looking to put a transmission line through BLM land has to pick one of us to agree with–meaning that he necessarily is going to have to disagree with one of us. And a lot of situations are like that. It’s not black and white, it’s grey.

            Get used to dealing with that enough, and if the dollar amounts are high enough, you can justify pretty much any conclusion. And there’s always an SME willing to say what you want to hear.

          2. Your Local Password Resetter*

            I only understood half of that, but were they telling you to push your soil extraction thingamajig through a slab of solid concrete?

            1. James*

              Yeah. It’s basically a round, hollow tube that gets pushed into the ground by a drill rig. The bottom rod has an acetate liner that can be brought up and removed. This gives you a relatively undisturbed look at any soil/sediment under the ground surface. Really useful for geologists, especially in environmental remediation. It gives you a snapshot of what’s going on underground.

              These rigs can go through some types of concrete–they’ve got what’s called a star bit, which breaks up the concrete in a small circle–but there are pretty hard limits. Once you get past a few inches of concrete, or add in any significant rebar, they can’t break through. And they do NOT operate on 45 degree slopes. They’re pretty rugged pieces of equipment, and the drillers take pride in knowing how to get the most out of their machines, but that’s way beyond the safe operating parameters of the rig.

              Again, the SME knew this. The plan was made on a type of map that didn’t show the concrete or topography. And it’s become a part of our office humor. My entire team, from the VP down to the new hire, have spent time sampling soil from drill rigs.

          1. Candi*

            Other acronym definition, particularly since there’s multiple for this one. In this context, DPT means Direct Push Tooling.

      2. Eden*

        People who are rich and powerful tend to believe they got there by merit and are deserving, meaning they are of course much smarter and more capable than all those “experts” who are after all not those same powerful people.

      3. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        The experts knew the difference between biotechnology and “tech.” The latter can actually be done by a bright kid in college; the former requires decades of schooling and experience. The non-experts did not and just saw “tech.”

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      On the Board level it became essentially an affinity scam for influential senior Republicans. The essence of any affinity scam is that the victim skips doing any due diligence because they trust the person pitching it to them.

      1. Thrive*

        Yes to this – I was about to comment that this is what is called ‘affinity fraud’, plus she was able to use her relationships to get high-profile people on her board (George Schultz) – who in turn got other high-profile people on the board (e.g., Henry Kissenger, General Mattis) – that knew very little about medical devices.

  7. The Prettiest Curse*

    Wow, you win the award for Luckiest Escape in the Entire History of Ask A Manager.
    I actually had a very short temp job at a blood testing startup that was NOT Theranos way back in 2004-5. The company eventually went out of business and I forgot all about it until I read Bad Blood and saw a brief reference to the startup’s business in there!

  8. Erin from Accounting*

    The whole Theranos story is so fascinating! And wow, the audacity to reschedule an interview so many times and still make candidates wait over an hour in the lobby. That’s messed up, but not so surprising in hindsight.

    1. Candi*

      It’s a way to identify the eager -and desperate.

      The eager will be so enthusiastic they’ll handwave away weirdness.

      The desperate will be so worried about losing the job they’ll ignore weirdness.

  9. Allegra*

    I have read so much about the Theranos implosion and somehow I’m still mind-boggled by the complete lack of consideration in rescheduling an out-of-state interview SIX TIMES. It’s obviously emblematic of the company’s total internal dysfunction, but you’d think since they were so careful about their external reputation they’d have had slightly more polish here. I wonder how they hired anybody at all.

    1. Becca*

      Hmm, that makes me think. OP did say that she immediately didn’t click with the interviewer. Maybe some people never wanted to interview her and there was some sort of power struggle going on in the background, which either the interviewer was part of or which soured the interviewer toward her (more likely since she was interviewed in a different state, possibly even to try to go around the people who didn’t want to interview her in this scenario), that led to all the cancellations.

      Or it could just be terrible dysfunction and disorganization, of course.

      1. green beans*

        From the book/podcast, I think it was more terrible dysfunction and disorganization, with a healthy heaping of screening for people who will buy into the bullcrap. (no offense to the OP! Definitely something I could see myself doing right out of college because I didn’t know any better.)

        1. Meep*

          Pretty much this. Holmes hired people who were family and friends of donors who were already sucked into her dream and would look the other way out of family obligations. The reason OP was probably ghosted is for all the red flags she missed, she wasn’t dedicated enough to the “dream”.

      2. 30 Years in the Biz*

        I heard there was a big issue around trust at Theranos. I was told by a colleague that interviewed there that Elizabeth interviewed everyone, at all levels of the business, before they were hired. My thought is that she wanted employees to fully buy into her fairy story, and if they showed any doubts they weren’t hired.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Yeah, interview from the top is weird.

          When applying for ExToxicJob I was also interviewed by the Big Big Agency Boss (government) along with Company Boss (contractor), which was very unusual. Government leads are not supposed to vet contractor candidates; the company does that, then presents the candidate’s quals against the contract requirements to show they are acceptable. Red Flag #1.

          Although it really wasn’t an interview (“hey, do you really have the skills for the job?”) so much as a cheer fest – “We’re tight!” “Go Team!,” which immediately segued into a compliment lovefest between Company Boss and Big Big Agency Boss. Red Flag #2.

          So far there were two flags, but I had been laid off and this was the only offer I got. It got weird/bad really fast. Red Flag #3, Big Big Agency Boss would call me his “Boo” whenever he wanted something (way) out of scope of the contract. Like editing his side business proposals…When I made it clear that I was not available for side jobs, that’s when I got demoted to minutes taker (see Meeting Minutes Saga in the AAM archives), a very big Red Flag #4, while the fawning, flirting Admin Assistant got promoted.

          Thank god I found AAM and learned how to screen companies better. Been at Current Sane Job for 5 years now.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I don’t think there were enough people with power to create that kind of internal tension–it was Balwani and ultimately Holmes and that was it. I think it’s far more likely they were just a figurative squirrel rave.

      4. Elemele*

        It might also be the startup culture. Even now, LinkedIn is full of those pseudo-motivating stories how you have to deal with all the possible crap and delays during the interview process because this is actually part of the test. Startups do require faith in the product, and often the level of required faith is cult-like.

    2. Meep*

      Not as morally bankrupt as Holmes (but still very unethical) but at that point in the story I was rolling my eyes and thinking about our hiring manager. I have had people contact me because she tells them she is interested and then ghosts them. They always end up emailing the customer support email which gets forwarded to me and I copy her on it, but nothing never happens. (One time she insisted I tell this intern we wanted to hire him after college FOR MONTHS before reneging to make it look like I was giving him false promises.)

      We have hired a grand total of 2 people in 3 years despite interviewing and promising jobs to 200 people? The two that got hired were smart (or rather dumb) enough to go to the owner and brown-nose her. From what I have heard about Holmes, I am guessing this isn’t too far off. She only hired people that she thought she could use.

  10. Mockingjay*

    Wow. I read the book “Bad Blood” on Alison’s recommendation and was fascinated/appalled the way you watch a train wreck about to happen that you can’t stop. I commented in an Open Thread about it.

    Interestingly, the media is not covering the trial to the extent that I anticipated. I’m having to search in my news feeds for reports on the trial.

    1. NB*

      I follow two podcasts that are covering it. One is Bad Blood: The Final Chapter and the other is The Dropout: Elizabeth Holmes on Trial.

  11. Erin*

    Nothing could have prepared me for that twist! What a bunch of red flags and a huge bullet dodged but WHAT a good story.

  12. CatCat*


    I am wondering what advice Alison or commenters would have for someone who worked somewhere that later proved to be super sketchy though the person had no way to know that. Like, if Theranos is on your resume, are you going to get completely passed over? OMG, what if you were on the marketing team and had done a great job in that role not being privvy to the fact that the technology was fakery? And if you leave it off of you resume, how do you explain the gap?

    1. Sneaky McSneakster*

      I commented this above but at my old company, we had someone who came from Theranos. His LinkedIN shows it as if it were a normal job. He said that he didn’t know about all the corruption happening, and from the book it’s very realistic that that was true. He does excellent work and is very successful now. Most people in normal jobs at Theranos would not automatically get passed over in my opinion. Maybe it helped that he had another job afterwards, but at least for this one guy, it didn’t hinder him.

      1. James*

        Reminds me of what a guy I met once said about working IT at a porn site. For him it was just a job. He was doing network security, keeping the website up and running, and generally doing all the stuff you’d do at a bank, hospital, or construction company as an IT guy. Literally the only thing that he saw different was the name of the company on his paycheck. A lot of jobs are like that–the nature of the company can’t really bleed into the nature of the job, so while it may raise eyebrows I don’t see any reason to automatically exclude such people from hiring considerations.

    2. DocVonMittens*

      I can answer this haha. My first tech job was at Theranos. I left before the big implosion but word had def already gotten out about weirdness there. When I left, I had to have them on my resume or I’d have no relevant work.

      I was pretty open in interviews that working there was difficult (aka toxic) but that I’d learned a lot about emotional intelligence, managing relationships with difficult personalities, and that I used the opportunity to learn as much as possible. I made it clear that I didn’t agree with the shadiness but just kept my head down and worked hard.

      I ended up at Twitter and then Lyft so I have enough real experience (at companies that didn’t implode) that no one really bats an eye at Theranos on my resume. I could def take it off now but I still have it on. If anything it’s a funny conversation piece at the start of interviews.

      1. Anna*

        Oh, that is such a good way to spin it: what you learned and how you got stronger from the negative environment!

        1. Steve Jobs fan*

          You have to remember that in Silicon Valley failure is a badge of honor. Most startups fail, albeit not as spectacularly as Theranos. The key to the Valley’s success is that failure is not stigmatized; it’s considered a learning experience.

  13. The Original K.*

    I had to wait in a stark lobby behind multiple security doors for at least an hour
    Dude. And that was AFTER they rescheduled your out of state interview SIX TIMES. What a train wreck!

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      And when they had specifically arranged the flight and interview times so that OP would need to take an unreimbursable form of transport to get from the airport to the site. With that extra hour, they might have been able to get a shuttle or public transport rather than paying out of pocket for a taxi.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      Funny you should mention Enron. “Her father, Christian Rasmus Holmes IV, was a vice president at Enron.”

      1. PivotPivot*

        I worked briefly at Enron as a contract employee (6 months). The extravagances were amazing. On site cafeteria, on site gym, on site dry cleaners, hired a company to come around and water plants, expensive art work on the walls on every floor, really nice furniture everywhere. It was one of my first jobs out of college and I was wide-eyed about it all.

        1. Miss Muffet*

          This… doesn’t seem terribly unusual for a company? I think most places, especially the HQs of larger companies, would have a lot of these amenities. I mean, hiring someone to come around and water plants is pretty much the same as having a staff that comes in to clean at night.

          1. Bucky Barnes*

            I’ve been working full-time for 19 years now and I’ve *never* worked somewhere with any kind of amenities like those.

            1. Your Local Password Resetter*

              It’s certainly not universal, mostly for companies who have a lot of money to throw around and only on their main locations. But it’s not ridiculously extravagent either.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Yeah, these are pretty normal and not extravagent. The place I worked at that had a fly-us-all-in company-wide meeting (less than 100 employees tho) at a country club, including an ice sculpture…well, that was a bit weird, but see small company with a startup vibe. Nothing shady there, ultimately, just some extravagances.

          When you look at what they pay for office space, unless they have museum pieces up, the artwork is … nothing. The on-site stuff costs, but it maybe saves more when it keeps your people on-site and working for you.

        3. Vito*

          Plants were probably rented. a service provides the plants and someone to take care of them. when they die, they replace them

        4. Jamie Starr*

          You have not worked at a white shoe law firm! A non-profit I used to work for had mostly attorneys from fancy NYC law firms on their board and each Board meeting was at a different firm. MoMA-worthy art in the Board rooms and reception areas; cafeterias incl. espresso bars on each floor; restrooms with showers(!), stocked with every toiletry you could imagine; barbershop tucked away in the lobby, etc. It’s because – especially if you’re an associate – you will work all hours of the day and night.

          A friend of mine used to work for a design magazine — they had an express Starbucks on their office floor and on certain days of the week a manicurist would come around and you could get a mani/pedi at your desk! (I think you had to pay for those yourself, but what a convenience!)

        5. allathian*

          I work for the government, and our office building, which houses several different agencies and has room for about 6,000 employees, has an on site cafeteria, an on site gym including a swimming pool, government-owned artwork on the walls, admittedly no masterpieces that require atmosphere control but good pieces mostly received as donations from former employees, also including commissioned oil paintings of former Presidents of the agency. We used to have real plants, and there was a horticultural company that took care of them. Decent but not exorbitantly expensive furniture.

    2. California Dreaming*

      In the late 90’s I worked in public accounting in Houston, TX. For all the young staff then, the dream job was Enron. By the time Enron imploded I had relocated to California, but I always hoped none of those folks realized their dream/nightmare!

      1. Anonymosity*

        In the early 2000s, I worked for a non-profit with several high-powered corporate executives on its board. Kenneth Lay was one. Tom Coughlin, formerly of Walmart, was another. I met Coughlin when he visited the office. Both men, now deceased, were indicted for securities fraud and embezzlement, respectively. Their legal troubles happened long after I left the company for greener pastures. I don’t recall who else was on the board, but I do remember that Enron’s donations were large.

  14. Mitford*

    Haven’t read “Bad Blood,” but I did watch the HBO documentary with a mix of horror and fascination. I’m so glad that the poster didn’t get the job.

    1. cubone*

      was this the one where they had an animation of what the machine looked like on the inside and it was just blood and broken glass everywhere? I had to pause the TV I was laughing so hard at that.

      1. Mitford*

        I don’t specifically remember that, but it’s quite possible it was there. I just remember thinking, “How did they get away with it for so long?”

      2. 30 Years in the Biz*

        I heard it dropped pipette tips (used to transfer the blood inside the analyzer) all the time which jammed the moving parts and made a mess.

  15. BigHairNoHeart*

    Given how long this website has been around and the number of questions Alison gets, I would have bet anything that at least one dysfunctional story shared on here has been about Theranos. So thank you for confirming that and adding the detail about interviewing with Sunny, that’s absolutely wild!

  16. cubone*

    I am begging more past AAM writers to come and tell us the name of the sh*tty company they wrote it about. Pleeeeeeease.

    1. Your Local Password Resetter*

      That could easily identify the LW’s though. Probably more of a risk than it’s worth, unless it’s a famous dumpster fire like this one.

      1. cubone*

        oh yes, I was soliciting dumpster fires only. Like companies that have very bad public reputations, so an internet story isn’t going to be particularly special, or ones that are so big it would be hard to identify the LW. Though I guess this is what that Fishbowl app is for.

  17. Bookworm*

    That IS a twist. Thanks for the update, OP. What a ride.

    And also totally agree: if there’s a red flag, it’s usually good to go with your gut.

  18. Elizabeth West*

    I’m so glad you didn’t get the job. Can you imagine? Yeesh. Two interviews are bad enough, but five? That’s bananapants. Clearly they had no idea what they were doing, down to the most basic level.

    I haven’t read Bad Blood yet but I’m dying to get my hands on it. The dysfunctional, hubris-laden laboratory in Tunerville is loosely fashioned after this mess (although to my knowledge, Elizabeth Holmes never pushed anyone into a wormhole). I can’t wait to read all the juicy details.

    1. Subtle Sexuality (feat. Nard Dog)*

      There’s a podcast (also called Bad Blood) that will do a good job catching you up. It’s definitely complementary to the book, so do read it when you can, but obviously it has details the book doesn’t because of the stuff that’s come out in preparation and during the trial.

  19. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    This isn’t the first time a letter writer has written in about Theranos! I’m so glad the other LW didn’t make it to the interviewing stage because I’m sure it would have been as weird as this one was. (Links in the next comment.)

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Read the comments in the update, too, as there are some other stories about experiences with Theranos.

    1. Yay, I’m a Llama Again!*

      Ah ha, I knew I’d seen something else in my trawl through the archives, thanks!

  20. Generic Name*

    Oh, my. I remember hearing about Elizabeth Holmes and her company years ago when I was on lots of forums for parents of gifted children. She was hailed as a wunderkind and a shining example of the amazing things gifted children can achieve. She may be gifted, but she’s also a charlatan and con artist. It’s also a great example of the effect growing up with privilege has on the opportunities one is afforded. If Ms. Holmes had grown up in the projects, would she have been able to get Henry Kissinger to be on the board of her startup? I’m guessing no.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Her great-great-grandfather married the heir to the Fleischman’s yeast company and then they sold it to one of the big food conglomerates. She comes from moneyed, well-connected circles.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I’m sure that’s another reason the big investors accepted what she said without question. How could someone from one of our peer families be lying or trying to cheat us?

        1. Candi*

          “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”

          The big investors fall into the category of people who thing they’re so smart no one can fool them with a con -even though the rich are some con artists’ favorite targets.

    2. nona*

      I also don’t know that she was especially gifted? Her success came from casting herself in a role of “young entrepenuer” and did things to *signal* that she was a bright young up-and-comer (like, drop out of college and wear black turtlenecks and sell a compelling idea). And having access to people willing to buy into her idea.

      1. Generic Name*

        Ha yeah. The stuff I read about her in early days was very starry-eyed. I also read in the book written about her/her company that she speaks in a incongruently deep voice that many are guessing is an affectation and not her actual voice.

        1. DocVonMittens*

          It is absolutely not her voice. She’s slipped out of it several times publicly (and many times privately) by accident.

  21. cheeky*

    This is amazing, and it reminded me of an embarrassing at the time (though not in retrospect) interaction I had with a random coworker in my office who had a Theranos water bottle he was filling up in the break room. This was before the bombshell Wall Street Journal article but there were stories about some weirdness in the company going around (this is in the SF Bay Area), and I made a comment like, “Oh, Theranos, that’s an interesting company- I think they’re headed for some real trouble.” And the guy responded, “Uh, my wife works there.”

    I wasn’t wrong. Couple months later the WSJ article came out, and here we are.

    1. Sleepless*

      Ha. That reminds me a bit of The Big Short when Christian Bale takes a mug from each of the banks whose demise he’s predicting, until he has a shelf full of them.

    2. PT*

      I worked with someone who used a water bottle from their spouse’s company…which was promptly bought by Martin Shkreli.

      The whole ensuing trainwreck really damaged their finances and took a couple of years to fully bounce back from. But they had a good sense of humor about it, because it was just SO absurd.

  22. Miriam*

    I audibly gasped out loud when I got to the Theranos part.

    Thanks for sending in the update, and thanks to Alison for publishing it! Wow.

  23. TCHR*

    Wow!!!! This is bananas!!! Such an interesting insight! I am fascinated by Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes!!

    1. Eh*

      ! Oh wow. I hope you have not been too affected by all the fallout. Alison would probably love to hear from you too.

      1. DocVonMittens*

        Luckily it was early enough in my career (and I was never high enough in the company) so I was able to rebound relatively quickly.

      1. DocVonMittens*

        Haha it was my first tech job and absolutely the most batshit place I’ve ever worked. I was there for two years and luckily left before everything imploded.

        I haven’t brought myself to watch the documentary or read the book, but from what I hear they were spot on.

        Information was siloed and little was shared between teams. Leadership was tyrannical. I knew it was toxic but never realized how toxic until I left. Drinking played a big role in the culture. Everyone was expected to be as dedicated as Elizabeth. It was emphasized often that we were all replaceable. I was legit working 60+ hour weeks and at the end was crying most nights on my way home.

        I did do a good job of keeping my head down and was low enough in the company that I’m never got the worst of it though.

        By the time I left I knew it was deeply dysfunctional but did not realize the product itself was basically a sham. I went on to a much more functional tech company and have since developed a very low tolerance to toxicity (I’ll leave at the first red flag). I’m grateful that my career survived.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          and have since developed a very low tolerance to toxicity (I’ll leave at the first red flag)

          More of us need to be like this.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Uggh, expected to be as dedicated as the founded while simultaneously being told you are replaceable

          1. DocVonMittens*

            Yes, it was demoralizing and after I left I realized I felt like I was in an abusive relationship.

            1. Candi*

              I asked years ago now in an open thread if being in an abusive relationship and working in an toxic (abusive) environment had similar effects on the mind. Interesting discussion that tilted mostly toward “there are similarities beyond just coincidence,” and an interesting comment from someone about people who might be sticking with an abusive job to get the resources to get away from an abusive relationship. (I think. It’s been ~3 years or so.)

  24. Mare*

    Loved reading this as I have been following this story since the documentary came out and now the trial. You certainly dodged a bullet but your insight is now fasicnating!

  25. Quality Girl*

    I interviewed with the Arizona Theranos campus in 2015 and during that process was able to tell something fishy was going on. It was just so different from my experience with interviews at other (legit, law-following) labs that I went with my gut and not the hype, and withdrew from the process.

    1. 30 Years in the Biz*

      Congratulations! I also love your name! I’ve worked in lab quality and post market quality most of my career. A tough job, but it’s all to ensure the safety and effectiveness of products used on real people – something Elizabeth totally ignored.

      1. Quality Girl*

        She did everything so completely backwards it is mind-boggling. Thank you for all you have done in your career! I started my quality/safety/compliance gig 5 months before COVID hit so it’s been quite a ride!

        1. 30 Years in the Biz*

          All the best to you! Quality/Regulatory Compliance can be very rewarding. One thing I’ve learned over the years: Don’t say flat out “No you can’t do that!” when someone (usually R&D) proposes doing something that’s against federal law or bordering on unethical. What I’ve learned to say is something like: “That’s interesting or I didn’t think of that. This might cause X and could impact safety/effectiveness. How would we handle this?” If I’m feeling a little frustrated, I might also add “We may have to explain this to inspectors (FDA!!) during an audit, would you like to be the subject matter expert on this?” I’ve found that using questions instead of flat, negative statements really helps. It often prevents others from thinking of quality team members as the police.

  26. Health Insurance Nerd*

    OMG, this is insane!!! I listened to The Dropout podcast and the whole story is just incredibly fascinating!

  27. DataGirl*

    Tangentially related- there’s a new series on Hulu called Dopesick about Purdue and the fraud they committed marketing Oxycontin as non-addictive. It’s really good, but also really sad.

    1. green beans*

      I’m pretty sure that’s based on a book also called Dopesick – I’ve read it and it’s pretty good.

    2. Subtle Sexuality (feat. Nard Dog)*

      There’s another book about the Sacklers by Patrick Redden Keefe that just came out. It’s not as good as Dopesick–I appreciated how Dopesick focuses on the victims of their greed–but it’s a fascinating insight into their history and behavior. It sickens me that they’ve been let off so easily.

    3. KayDeeAye*

      The name Purdue Pharma always gives me a shock…because I live in Indiana where of course Purdue University is located, and Purdue University has no affiliation with Purdue Pharma. They’re actually named after different people, but I’m betting Purdue University wishes that difference was more obvious!

      1. Libby*

        My husband got his PhD at Purdue, and I literally read this first comment and was like “Oh God, Purdue University did that??”

        So yeah I bet they do wish it was more clear. :-)

  28. Sea Anemone*

    Another part of the interview process that I’ll never forget was the Skype interview with Sunny Balwani. He looked absolutely miserable, stressed, and rushed. Like he had been sleeping at his desk for weeks and was just absolutely hating that he had to talk with me. I’ve heard in the meantime that Elizabeth Holmes’ defense was going to portray him as a conniving Svengali, which didn’t match at all what I saw back then!

    I don’t know Balwani, and I don’t know his character. I do know abusers, and I can tell you that your interview with him was not enough to discern whether he was or was not an abuser.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      Yeah, I am not sure if their relationship should offset to any significant degree the charges (I mean this is major MAJOR fraud) but…regardless of how Svengali-like he was or was not, they met when she was 18 and he was 37 and started dating a short few year later. No matter what his *intent* may have been or not been, that alone is a HUGE red flag to me that the relationship itself was inherently based on an unhealthy power imbalance.

      1. Observer*

        I’m not so sure of that. Aside from everything else, they didn’t start dating till later – those “few short years” make a real difference, especially at that stage.

        Beyond that, it doesn’t matter how Balwani treated her, in this context. She started the company before they started dating and in the BEST and most sympathetic reading you can get by turning yourself into a pretzel, she was already on the “fake it” road. Maybe she believed that she really could “make it” when she took his money – I don’t know. But she was trying to sell a medical service that didn’t exist and couldn’t work. And she’d been warned multiple times by that point.

        Which is all a long way of saying that she set out on this road freely and without his pressure. Who knows what happened later? Although, I would say that the email trail doesn’t quite sound like he was a master puppeteer pulling her strings.

        1. Your Local Password Resetter*

          That would make her early 20’s and him in his 40’s.
          Still not a good dynamic IMO.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Sure but timeline-wise, the massive fraud aspect of things predates him (I think). The relationship was totally problematic, but it’s also separate from the crimes.

        2. Ginger Baker*

          I think it’s definitely possible she’s a pathological liar and was long before meeting him – I have known several people like this so tbh it would not surprise me. That said, even if she was say…as old as 22 when they started dating, a 41yo dating a 22yo is STILL problematic EVEN IF the younger party is problematic all on their own. Her level of complicity has no impact in my view on the fact that a person almost twice the age of someone in their 20s is still a major power imbalance – I don’t think that imbalance diminishes particularly until at least 25 (when the brain has finished maturing) and more reasonably, 30. (Source: Did in fact get married at 21, so it’s not like I don’t think people can make adult decisions at that age, and did IN FACT also date someone MUCH OLDER (over 20+ years) when I was 27 – and the power imbalance was less of an issue than it would have been even 3 years previous to that. So it’s not that I don’t have sympathy for major age-gap relationships – that remains one of my favorite relationships in my history.)

          1. Observer*

            Oh, I’m not going to argue about their relationship. It certainly raises all sorts of red flags.

            But I think it’s legitimate to separate that out from the issues at Theranos.

            Also, he didn’t actually get involved in Theranos till several years later and they broke up at the end of 2015.

    2. green beans*

      Agree. I’ve known a few people who make a great first impression but hang around with them long enough and the cracks really come through.

    3. Ann Perkins Knope*

      Definitely how I feel! I didn’t read any of the books or anything on it, but when I heard a few things on the radio and was compelled to check out the Wikipedia article, I was kinda shocked at how it’s not really talked about that they met while she was still in college, and that they were dating before she dropped out and started Theranos, when she was 18 and he was 37! I mean!

      So that is a huge red flag for me. At best it was a match made in the bad place, and I think both of them are culpable in the crime, but, hmm, I am not up for absolving him even a little bit at her expense, even though, yes, I think it is not great that her legal defense will be racist in the process of trying to absolve her at his expense. I just can’t feel bad for a wealthy, married 37 year old starting a business with an 18-year-old he was dating as if he didn’t have all the power, experience and agency of a grown adult business man who is making his own decisions.

      1. Observer*

        and that they were dating before she dropped out and started Theranos, when she was 18 and he was 37! I mean!

        Because, actually they weren’t dating yet.

  29. The Smiling Pug*

    This story made my day! (It’s slow at work today.) Thank you, Alison, for this absolutely bananacrackers story.

  30. quill*

    I have NOTHING to add besides horrified screaming noises. OP, you dodged an entire intercontinental ballistic missile.

  31. mreasy*

    I’m screaming, thank you for this greatest offer updates!!! So glad I didn’t read about you in Bad Blood!

  32. Nicole*

    “I think we all make excuses because we’re so wrapped up in the process and start imagining ourselves out of our current situation without detecting dysfunction in the future opportunity.”

    I need to permanently affix this somewhere I can see it whenever I’m applying for jobs. All my worst positions came about because I was too focused on the CURRENT bad situation.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      “All my worst positions came about because I was too focused on the CURRENT bad situation.”

      Oh God, mine, too. Well, not quite ALL of them, but some of the very worst came about that way. *shudder*

  33. Lee*

    I screamed when I read this!! I read the Bad Blood book about Theranos and find the people involved SO interesting (in a sickening, these people suck, sort of way) and find the stories of the people who worked there who were just trying to live, quite compelling. The book did a good job of drawing me into the twisted world.

    SOOOOoo glad you didn’t end up there, holy shiiiit. You were 100% right in your original assumption that they didn’t trust the hiring team elsewhere, as we see now with the level of secrecy, corruption, and lies, as well as paranoia, going on!!

  34. Scaranos*

    Such a great story, thank you. This trial starting at the same time as the new season of Succession is a fun coincidence.

  35. Erin*

    A friend of mine worked at Theranos for approximately 2 days. The female start-up vibe really captured her after working as a scientist in an old skool lab for several years.

    She lived in CA at the time, and did not mention the circus of interviews that this person went through. However, her short stint there was just total chaos. Pretty sure she just decided to leave one day and just blocked company phone numbers on her phone.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Same same oh if Alison sent out a request for letters for similar stories i would love that!!

  36. El l*

    Like many people, I got interested after reading “Bad Blood.” (No, not the T Swift song)

    I think a lot of the trouble was that people with lab backgrounds were systematically sidelined. A lot of the reason that “played” was because of the common idea in Silicon Valley of disruption. “Oh, they’re from the dinosaur industry, we’re smarter than them, of course they’re going to say no just to protect themselves.”

    Similar goes for the outlandish security and megalomaniac messaging (Actual Elizabeth Holmes quote: “This is the most important thing humanity has ever built”) – they were all excused, because well that’s normal for Silicon Valley. People took that kind of behavior as a sign of genius rather than something superficial, easily copied, and otherwise insane.

    Everything was about putting out that innovative brand – rather than admitting that they were a boring old medical supply company. No wonder that extended to hiring, too.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I vaguely remember something similar about disruption and culture when I read a book about Uber’s founding.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      To your last paragraph, some people seem to believe that it’s better to be “a startup founder” than “a small business owner.” Someone on another site mentioned going to an interview for a position at a “fast-growing, tech-savvy startup.” Turned out to be for a receptionist role at a regular ol’ doctor’s office. And not to disparage this type of role or job but the fact the owner felt the need to make everything sound flashier than it was left a bad taste.

    3. My Dear Wormwood*

      Yep. You absolutely can’t “move fast and break stuff” in healthcare. The stakes are too high for too many people.

  37. Jennifer*

    I honestly understand why someone might think this would be a good opportunity because of how many successful, high profile people were invested. I have my theories as to why so many mostly old dudes believed Liz but that’s another story.

  38. Cat Lover*

    See, this is the kind of tea I’m here for. I find all the Theranos stuff fascinating.

    Thanks, LW!!

  39. Goldenrod*

    omg, this is AMAZING! Skype interview with Sunny Balwani! Wow. Now you forever have a great story to tell.

    I read the book about Theranos….Elizabeth Holmes is 100% just as guilty as Sunny, every bit if not more so. Hope they throw the book at her! And I am sooooooooooooo glad you never worked there!!

  40. WellRed*

    Just want to recommend to everyone who enjoyed Bad blood to check out Billion Dollar Loser about WeWork and another model that made no sense. It’s a great read!

  41. Tuesday*

    Liars fascinate me. I think it’s so interesting that people who understand how blood testing works, including people in this comment section, are like, nope, no way would that work. It’s so obvious, but so many people were taken in. I think it’s partly that people wanted to get in on new miraculous technology, but also, I think no one believed that Elizabeth Holmes would just straight up lie like that. Because why would she when eventually she would have to be found out?

    It’s taken me a long time to realize that the most extreme liars don’t worry about the damage to their reputation or finances or personal relationships or anything else. If one lie starts to cause trouble, they just tell another lie.

    1. PT*

      I know very little about how blood testing works, but I was in the early chapters of Bad Blood where they explained the product (a few drops of blood, lots of tests on the same vial) and I was like, “Don’t blood tests use reagents? How would you get enough blood to react with different reagents to run multiple tests, if you only took a few drops?”

      It didn’t sound right to me, and my knowledge of blood testing is that it involves mixing blood with other chemicals and sort of ends there.

    2. James*

      “It’s so obvious, but so many people were taken in.”

      It’s not obvious if you know a related field, though. I used to do atomic absorbtion spectroscopy, and got familiar with various types of equipment for that sort of geochemical analysis. The idea of a machine that can read a huge number of things based off a small sample isn’t outlandish; I’ve used them. X-ray backscatter guns the size of the scanner at Walmart will tell you any metal you want other than metalic hydrogen, for example. And there are examples of sort-of-similar technology in blood testing. Harvard has their “lab on a chip”, which uses one drop of blood to run various analyses in about 10 minutes. I don’t deal with living things, so I’m not sure how it works (I’m a rocks-and-fossils guy). But the idea that someone found a way to do this better/faster/cheaper isn’t exactly outlandish; it’s what technology does. I mean, look at smartphones–they’d have been considered supercomputers in the 1980s!

      My point is, if you know a bit, it’s not miraculous. It fits the standard model for technological advancement, at least as sold.

      That’s the “in” for this con. It sounds plausible–if you know a little, but not too much. I remember reading about this and thinking “Huh, neat; probably early days for the tech, but good on them”. I thought they were over-selling it, but not that it was a fraud. Someone less risk-averse than me, with the same sort of knowledge of sample analysis procedures that I have, may reasonably have decided to invest in it.

      This is why my mother used to say “A little knowledge is infinitely more dangerous than no knowledge.” If I knew nothing about sample analysis–or if I were knowledgeable about blood sample analysis specifically–I wouldn’t consider the claim plausible. As it is, I’m in the sweet spot of being able to see how it’s plausible, without knowing why it’s not. Were I an early adopter, I’d have been an easy mark.

      1. Candi*

        True. Part of what those type of scams run on is a solid dose of Dunning-Krueger, running at at least half-throttle -enough information to make the investors think they’re smart, not enough to make them see the process is worthless.

  42. TJ*

    This is the content I am here for!!

    Would love to see a post about people who worked at famous (or infamous) companies or with well known people. Like, I want to hear from Bernie Madoff’s assistant, or HR at Apple under Steve Jobs, someone who worked at Exxon/Mobile during the Exxon Valdez crash, the marketing director at Girls Gone Wild – this is what I want the insight into!!

  43. RWM*

    wow I did NOT see that twist coming lmao. I often wonder if any AAM letters are about now-infamous companies like Theranos, so this was especially satisfying.

  44. Rose*

    This is especially interesting because although I’d take these things as red flags and likely advice OP not to take the job (if this was AskARose), I would never in a million years have guessed how bad things were from this. I wonder if there’s anyway to know when bad behavior means “rude, disorganized company” and when it means so, so much more.

  45. Pikachu*

    This is so funny in light of the other letter today about the $300 scammer. Everyone was piling on that poor employee for such an egregious lapse in judgment, meanwhile Elizabeth Holmes was able to raise something like $700 million in venture capital from a whole bunch of people who are not dumb.

    We are all susceptible.

    1. Rose*

      Earlier letter aside, I would argue a lot of those people were pretty dumb, or extremely arrogant and thought business acumen somehow translated to understanding biology. A lot of major companies passed on Theranos because basically everyone who did due diligence ran screaming.

  46. qvaken*

    Ooh, I have a slightly similar story!

    In around 2012-2014 I found a job ad by a recruitment agency which promised free weeks-long training to become qualified in a certain profession, followed by a guaranteed full-time job. I was super excited and was about to apply, when I stopped to think that the opportunity was potentially to good to be true. So I decided to look into it further.

    A few Google searches later, I located the hiring company. The owner was a prominent Scientologist in my country and the company was effectively a front for the Church. I did some more searching and learnt that it was common practice for Scientologists to recruit people to the religion by recruiting them to work at companies like this one.

    I decided not to pursue the opportunity.

    OP, you and I both dodged bullets!

    1. Candi*

      You know what they say, if you have to trick people into following you instead of being (relatively) honest…

      That’s almost as bad as their opinions on psychology. Good on you for listening to your gut.

  47. Phil*

    I’ve waited a bit to write about this. I grew up with Elizabeth Holmes’ father. We went to grade school together and lived in the small world of upper crust San Francisco. For instance, Charlotte Schultz, George’s wife, the former Charlotte Maillard, was one of my mother’s friends and came to parties at our house in Presidio Heights, a tonier part of Pacific Heights. I understand perfectly how she snookered all these people: They’re all narcissists, just like my parents, and the flattery from an attractive, smart woman was too much to resist.
    And not to put too fine a point on things, her father worked for Enron.

    1. Denise*

      People keep mentioning that her father worked for Enron as though that automatically makes him sleazy, but of course most of the people who worked there were not involved in anything corrupt. Aside from being part of a social class that you feel contempt for, do you have anything specific to say about her father? I am interested in knowing what kind of people her parents actually are as individuals.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Her father didn’t just “work” for Enron, he was a VP… I’d be very surprised if he had no idea what was going on.

        1. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

          On the one hand, he was apparently a VP in research rather than the highest-level executives or in accounting where the most shadiness was going on.

          On the other hand, it’s not like R&D at Enron was entirely free of issues, and I expect knowing what Enron was actually producing in that department might give you an idea or two about how things should be going financially as opposed to how they are. Not the MOST shady, but still high enough in the hierarchy for people to have questions.

        2. Ginger Baker*

          I would definitely need to see an org chart before deciding if that means anything. At Goldman Sachs, for instance, “VP” is actually a pretty low-level title (more equivalent to a “junior partner” at a law firm, where VP meant you did not have equity – Managing Director is the next higher level and even then, a number of MDs only manage their own department and aren’t really C-level in any way).

  48. Steve Jobs fan*

    Despite all the salacious commentary, this isn’t really a Theranos story; it happens a lot throughout the corporate world, particularly in tech.

  49. Deborah*

    I am a physician and work in Phoenix, so I had patients use Theranos thru Walgreens. And even though they had that whole schtick about getting lab results from a fingerstick, I never had a single patient report anything other than a normal sized tube blood draw. So we knew they weren’t using their new technology, The reason I sent patients to them, even though rumors abounded that they were bogus, is that they were amazingly cheap, and I had loads of uninsured patients.

    1. New But Not New*

      Somebody I know received a check reimbursing them for money they spent on worthless Theranos testing at a Walgreens in the Phoenix area! I told them they should have taken a copy before depositing it.

  50. BerryK*

    Fascinating! In 2015 I was living in Palo Alto, looking for work, and Theranos was on my short list. I’m SOOO glad I went a different way.

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