Bad Blood

Posted by Ankur Sheel

What I read

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Author: John Carreyrou

352 pages

cover Bad Blood: Secret and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup


The book is about Theranos, a startup making medical devices to enable the testing of blood using just a pinprick. It was at the time a fabled unicorn having a star cast board of members and one of the highest valuations.

The first part of the book gives an insight into the inner workings of the company and how it was built on a culture of fear and lies.

The second part, however talks about how the author got involved and his efforts of getting the story published while the company tried various tactics to intimidate him and his sources.

In the book, Elizabeth Holmes(the founder) comes across as the ultimate con woman who like her idol Steve Jobs emitted a reality distortion field that forced people to momentarily suspend belief.

Key Quote

This is what happens when you work to change things. First they think you're crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world.
- Elizabeth Holmes

Key Takeaways

  • Don't buy expensive things early in anticipation of when they will be used but closer to when you actually need them.
  • Make sure different groups are talking to each other. Don't be the sole person who has the complete picture.
  • If you have to lay off people especially top executives, make sure everyone is informed along with the reason and quash any rumours.
  • Marginalizing or firing people who raise objections/concerns while promoting sycophants make for a dysfunctional corporate culture.
  • Having the right board of directors can give you a stamp of legitimacy and lend credence to your assertions.
  • If you are investing money, do your due diligence. In this case, there was no investor who had any expertise or knowledge of blood science and health care.
  • You cannot run a company through fear and will only work for a period of time before it collapses. [taken directly from the book]
  • Don't ignore customers and promptly own/apologize for your mistakes.


Considering that John is a professional writer, it comes as no surprise that the book is a compelling read.

The one misgiving I have about the book is that it mostly talked about the mistakes that were made and ignores the things that were done right. It would have been nice to read about some of the things that were done right. However, they fall into the realm of how Elizabeth holmes conned the various parties. The only praise that I could find in the book for her is along of the lines of that she is an amazing salesperson who is smart, inspiring and energising. Personally, I feel that for a company to reach that size both in the number of employees and the valuation, it's not possible that only mistakes were made.

Although it did not have much in the way of takeaways, it was still an interesting and well written book to read.

Have you read this book? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments.

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