Weekend Vibes

Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 83: The One on Elizabeth Holmes and Bad Blood.

By: Jen Shoop

My Latest Snag: The Square Neckline Blouse.

Along with puffed sleeves, square necklines have been a lovely little surprise to this season’s round-up of trendy shapes, thanks, in large part, to Arielle Charnas, whose Something Navy line for Nordstrom (shown above) nearly sold out in 2 hours flat earlier this week.  I wish I’d acted faster on some of these pieces — especially this square-neck top, shown above.  Instead, I scratched this itch with this J. Crew find.  I also love this saucy style in the ivory colorway.

You’re Sooooo Popular: The NYE Dress.

The most popular items on Le Blog this week:

+This unbelievable under-$100 NYE-appropriate dress.  (20% off with code STOCKUP18.)

+This collarless blazer.  Wear with everything!

+A chunky cableknit to achieve that borrowed-from-the-boys look.  (Wear with white skinnies and ballet flats!)

+An alluring scoopneck dress I want to wear all fall long.

+My new backpack!!!

+A refined boho look in the most startling shade of not-quite-emerald sea green.

+Looks like Gucci, costs far less.

+A big bow and a saucy shape.

+Wear-with-everything shoes.

#Turbothot: On Elizabeth Holmes, Female Entrepeneurship, + Bad Blood.

Can we talk about Carreyrou’s gripping expose on Theranos and its young and ambitious founder, Elizabeth Holmes?

I feel 34 different ways about this book.

On the one hand, I truly hate that this is one of the few narratives we have of female entrepreneurship in the technology sector, a notorious boys club if there ever was one.  Though Carreyrou clearly sets Holmes up as a sociopath from page one of the book — a portrait that is difficult to dispute given the chain of decisions she makes as the plot unfolds — I found myself gritting my teeth willfully: “Harrumph, why is she being criticized for adopting the same exact methods that so many male entrepreneurs use?”  And by that I mean the fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality so prevalent in the startup scene.  If you take time to listen to any of the many podcasts featuring (almost all-male) entrepreneurs who have “made it” (and I listened to dozens and dozens back in my startup days, many of them from the series Rocketship, Startup, and Lean Startup), the storyline is shockingly unvaried: “I was down to my last dime, and I was shipping a product that was crawling with bugs/vaporware/at best a vast oversimplification of what I was selling, and — at the last hour, I got a call from so-and-so saying he wanted in on my funding round.  Then we hustled.  We faked it til we made it.”  These entrepreneurs revel in their mild deceitfulness, spinning it as good salesmanship and a commitment to vision.  This mentality held true among the dozens of entrepreneurs I knew and sought counsel from when I was building a business.  They were careful not to lie, exactly, but — fuzziness on the details?  “Optimism” in the projections?  Yes.  One of the most important slides in an early (pre-seed-round) pitch deck is the one covering “sales” or “traction” — and this was a notorious site of overinflation of the facts.  I recall many founders talking about having met once with a company, or having set one meeting in the future with a company, and then listing that company’s name as “in talks for a contract” on said slide.  This was a strategic though risky move on their part, as — in the pre-seed phase — financial projections mean literally nothing to investors, as they could just as well be spun from thin air; what matters more at this stage are the commitments from potential customers, and the bigger the names, the better.  They act as indicators for your trustworthiness as an entrepreneur and the strength of your network, an important calculation because if you are a well-connected guy or gal, you will likely be able to  build your business to the point of proof-of-concept by trading in on favors.  And you can use those favors to test your MVP, or minimum viable product, for feedback prior to settling into true salesmanship and marketing to the unknown public.  But I digress.  My point is this: a lot of the “stunts” Elizabeth pulls early in the book are par for the course, in my opinion, in the startup world.  Why is the startup world this way, you might wonder?   I don’t know!  I think part of it is sewn into the culture that’s been cultivated, a sort of mythology perpetuated by founders themselves who have made it.  But I also think that entrepreneurs that project unbridled ambition, conviction, passion, I-live-and-breathe-this-business are rewarded by the funding mechanisms that exist in that industry, i.e., the venture capitalists who invest in the space.  There is something hand-and-glove about the kinds of VCs I met and the kinds of entrepreneurs that got funded.  They both run hot.

BUT.  Holmes completely ran afoul of ethics in how far she took her blustering deceitfulness about the state of her product.  Yes, it’s one thing to overstate contracts in an early pitch deck, to ship an early version of a technology that doesn’t quite work when it will be used in an office setting to streamline expense reports.  It’s an entirely different thing to knowingly permit actual patients to use a medical technology that is so inaccurate it can’t be trusted as if it works — and to let them deal with the horrifying aftermath of those inaccuracies.  Can you imagine?!  I can’t.  It puts a pit the size of Texas in my stomach.

So as much as I wish this narrative had never happened –as much as I wish Holmes has been a different person and there were a rosier picture of the female entrepreneur that we could rally around — the fact of the matter is that Holmes committed unconscionable acts that put innocent people in danger/at risk simply to achieve…something.  I say something because I’m not sure what she was after.  There are indications early in her life that her childhood ambition was to be a billionaire.  Later, she seems swept up in the cult of Steve Jobs’ genius and personality, and she fashions herself as a second Jobs, even wearing black turtlenecks and committing to extreme diets “just like Steve.”  And so she seems set on achieving a legacy for herself as a creative genius.  In my analysis, I believe her to have been an uber-bright, uber-ambitious, uber-accomplished young woman who gained early exposure to folks at the top of their fields through the social cunning of her parents and the high-pedigree schools she attended that whet her appetite for financial and professional success.  She then used her brilliance and charm to convince people of her noble vision for a breakthrough in medical technology (a great idea, by the way, if it worked).  I know a couple of entrepreneurs who were like this at their start — super young and super inexperienced but able to project a kind of purity of vision, a boldness and determination, that led older people to stop and say: “Well DAMN.  This person is driven.”  And, I think, there was an avuncularity to the kind of support and investments she was able to curry: “This gal could be my daughter!  My niece!  I’d like to help her!”  In this sense, I think her gender helped her earn the affection and trust of many of the well-heeled, well-respected (MALE!) investors and business leaders who championed her: she was a whip-smart young firecracker (using those words intentionally) they could take under their wing and, likely, mold to their own needs.  At some point, she’s arranged such a powerhouse ring of supporters that their presence exonerated her from any question marks one might have had.  “Well, shucks.  It sounds phony but…Henry Kissinger and Bill Frist and General Mattis are standing behind her, so…who am I to object?”

Oh boy, I could go on and on about this, but in the end, I think the story demonstrates just how impressionable people can be — just how easily they can be manipulated, how much business is impacted by personality, how convincing it can be to see someone impressive on a board and to assume that they’ve done their due diligence and use them as a vouchsafe for someone’s integrity.  How human, in other words, we all are, even in the most numbers-driven of fields.

#Shopaholic: The Ladylike Dress.

+I’m swooning over this ladylike dress!  Adore it in the white color.  I’d pair with these my ivory Rockstud flats.

+These fringe mules (on sale for $43!) have such a great Aquazzura vibe to them.

+Faux (or dried!) stems are such a great way to introduce green into your home without the commitment of a live plant.  I have used dried eucalyptus branches, lavender, etc to accent my shelves.  These faux stems are great for the same reason.  I especially love the dusty laurel stems.

+This sweater is AMAZING.  I love it!  Would look so chic layered with a gray skirt underneath a gray coat.

+This speckled vase has an artisanal quality to it that I love.  Can you imagine it on bare light-wood shelves in a rustic-modern cabin?!  I’d use it to arrange flowers in.

+This skirt (on sale for $62!) has a Prada vibe to it.

+My manicurist talked me into trying the polish brand Smith&Cult, claiming it was gentler on the nails, lasted longer, and had the best colors.  I can’t dispute the color comment: their “Kundalini Hustle” is just the kind of candy apple red I gravitate toward.  I found that it does not last as long as the Essie Gel Couture colors, but far longer than any other polish I’ve tried.  Very strongly recommend.

+Ordered this tee in multiples.  I love a super-thin, super-soft layering tee for wearing under sweaters in the winter, and the colors are great.

+Absolutely LOVE this geometric pleated skirt.  SO CHIC.  The colors, the print.  Everything.

+I need to investigate the quality in person, but this looks just like the ultra-covetable Saks Potts sweaters that came out a season or two ago (<<marked down to 70% off here for some reason!  Vite vite!)

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2 thoughts on “Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 83: The One on Elizabeth Holmes and Bad Blood.

  1. I find your comments about Elizabeth Holmes to be unduly generous and question whether we read the same book. In fact, at the risk of coming across as too harsh, I must say that your defense of Holmes makes me question your judgment.

    Her early “stunts” involved completely faking what her machine could do and baldly lying to potential investors and senior staff alike. That is simply not par for the course in the startup world.

    Holmes didn’t exaggerate her projections like many other (male) founders. She came up with an idea that defies the laws of fluidics and pretended she, someone with no scientific degree or training, could solve it. That’s different than Steve Jobs saying, “Hey, I want to create a phone with no buttons.” Jobs’ idea was “crazy,” sure, but it was a design demand that existed inside the realm of reality based on the laws of physics. Elizabeth’s idea had no basis in reality, and as people with expertise attempted to tell her this, she ignored them and put human lives at risk.

    Holmes’s actions are akin to those of Bernie Madoff or the leaders of Enron, not someone who adds a company name to a slide and says “in talks with.” (Her actions are indeed worse than those of Madoff or Enron, of course, because she was not only robbing people of huge sums of money, but actually putting human health in danger.)

    Furthermore, if anything, her gender played to her advantage: All the old dudes on Theranos’s board (along with the Safeway CEO and Walgreens’ executives) were creepily infatuated with her to a bizarrely blinding degree. I believe if she had been male, Theranos would not have flourished for so long with so little evidence of any viable product.

    I never comment on blog posts and appreciate the effort and thought you generally put into yours, but I had to chime in. I really cannot fathom a way in which this woman is defensible. I can feel some sympathy, sure, for her declining psychological state through the course of the book, and how scared and alone she must have felt deep down. But defend her because she was “being criticized for adopting the same exact methods that so many male entrepreneurs use”? Bullshit. That just didn’t happen.

    1. Hi Brigid! Yowza! Yes, though, to everything you’ve said! I actually think we’re on the same page here — I mentioned that I think her early stunts were not too far afield from the norm in startup-dom, but that she ran completely afoul of any ethical line shortly thereafter, and that she truly does come off as a sociopath with her unconscionable decisions/actions. And I 100% agree that her gender behooved her. I think a lot of the investors and board members saw her as “a niece” or “a daughter” and made excuses/space for her a way that might not otherwise have happened.

      Re-reading my commentary, I could have made it clearer that I went into the book wanting desperately for another narrative to be there — that I wanted SO BADLY for there to be some way to interpret this in a different light, and I went about the first section of the book in search of that. But her actions quickly become indefensible, as you say. I do stand by the fact that nearly all entrepreneurs present early prototypes/version of their products as far more robust than they are; there are a lot of smoke and mirrors in the MVP stage. You are probably right, though that I understated the degree to which she took these liberties, and that’s not right.

      Anyway, thanks for the provocative response. It made me go back and take myself to task for the latitude I was willing to give her.


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