Elizabeth Holmes was one of the people the New York Times bestsellers lists loved to hate.
As a young, single Stanford undergrad, she raised tens of millions of dollars to grow her company Theranos into the well-known blood-testing giant then known as “billionaire’s baby.” She also created the first blood-testing machine with an FDA approval.
By the time the books had been written and the company imploded, amid controversy over faulty medical equipment and well-chronicled fears by investigators that her technology never worked, Holmes’ not-so-grand plan became the stuff of The Drudge Report headlines and viral tweets — the Women of Silicon Valley who were everything rich and white are caught up in scandals and try to crack the patriarchy instead of succeeding.
That’s not to say that Holmes has not been resilient.
After her fall, she got back into the fight against Theranos. With help from advisors such as former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, she’s working on raising $300 million to bring her most important product, a new platform called Readiris, to the market. It’s a new platform to treat millions of cardiovascular patients with information gleaned from big data, so that doctors can use it to intervene before a patient experience a heart attack or stroke.
The momentum behind the success of her efforts has grown as this story continues to play out. The Wall Street Journal reports that Theranos was hoping to raise another $500 million in the next month. The American Heart Association gave her company an award for her work. And Forbes ranks her a billionaire again.
What a difference a year makes.
Journalists and the public who write for them simply don’t have it easy. Very few of us ever make it to Silicon Valley. We have to travel miles and miles on poor roads to get to places where we can report from. Sometimes we must take time away from families to be the free speech trailblazers that protect those who can’t — right?
But in the six weeks since I went there to cover the great escape for startups building the new economy, an experience entirely unpredicted, everyone I speak with has been telling me the same thing. They did not have it easy as journalists. It is more difficult than anything else for us to get products developed in a fast-paced atmosphere where demand is not always reliable. And a focus on regulatory compliance — many startups here will tell you to pay the most attention to regulatory compliance, while others might focus on product and price first — in this case should be expected.
Despite this, it’s becoming harder to write these stories. Everything is moving to Washington and to state capitals, where government promises an endless stream of promises, but whose power only grows over time, and where local politics and legal disputes can make it more difficult to prove success — especially for serial entrepreneurs looking to make a lasting impact on the world.
The last time they allowed me to cover real news was in 2008, when Craigslist was decimated by federal regulators because the service provided an economic boost in rural and small-town America.
It won’t stop my profession from covering the business of startups. In fact, newsroom layoffs make it even more important that we can shine a light on their success.
But we could do a better job at getting along with companies here that sometimes find themselves out of the spotlight because of their products. The main thing is we all need to understand one another — the people who invest in startups, the product creators and the journalists who cover them — so that this wonderful ecosystem can grow. If we let that happen, we will all be better for it.
Because if there is one thing the people who write the news and the entrepreneurs who build the news should know, it’s that something like this will never happen again. Not on our watch.