Over in the US, a study of corporate corruption is making waves. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (Picador) relates how a pulchritudinous young woman launched a blood-testing startup that was once valued at almost $10-billion. It was a classic case, says author John Carreyrou, of what’s known in the tech world as “vapourware”: empty vessels that are promoted by cunning CEOs as complete products despite the knowledge that they will never see the light of day.
Elizabeth Holmes was just 19 when she dropped out of Stanford and founded Theranos, a company that promised to revolutionise the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing faster and easier. Investors flocked, pumping up the value, and at one stage Holmes’ own worth was estimated as $4.5-billion.
There was just one problem: the technology didn’t work. The deception would lead to nearly a million false test results, some of which seriously jeopardised the health of patients. It all collapsed in a crash of test tubes and Holmes has been charged by the Security and Exchange Commission with perpetrating “an elaborate, years-long fraud”. Like South African Markus Jooste, she is unfazed.