It’s remarkable how often these big corporate scams are totally obvious from the start. And as a general rule, if the founder is putting on Ted Talks and blathering on about saving the world instead of desperately trying to keep their head above water, you can be pretty sure it’s a scam of some sort.
The biggest problem of all was the dysfunctional corporate culture in which it was being developed. Holmes and Balwani regarded anyone who raised a concern or an objection as a cynic and a nay-sayer. Employees who persisted in doing so were usually marginalized or fired, while sycophants were promoted.
Employees were Balwani’s minions. He expected them to be at his disposal at all hours of the day or night and on weekends. He checked the security logs every morning to see when they badged in and out. Every evening, around 7:30, he made a flyby of the engineering department to make sure people were still at their desks working.
With time, some employees grew less afraid of him and devised ways to manage him, as it dawned on them that they were dealing with an erratic man-child of limited intellect and an even more limited attention span. Arnav Khannah, a young mechanical engineer who worked on the miniLab, figured out a surefire way to get Balwani off his back: answer his emails with a reply longer than 500 words. That usually bought him several weeks of peace because Balwani simply didn’t have the patience to read long emails. Another strategy was to convene a biweekly meeting of his team and invite Balwani to attend. He might come to the first few, but he would eventually lose interest or forget to show up.
While Holmes was fast to catch on to engineering concepts, Balwani was often out of his depth during engineering discussions. To hide it, he had a habit of repeating technical terms he heard others using. During a meeting with Khannah’s team, he latched onto the term “end effector,” which signifies the claws at the end of a robotic arm. Except Balwani didn’t hear “end effector,” he heard “endofactor.” For the rest of the meeting, he kept referring to the fictional endofactors. At their next meeting with Balwani two weeks later, Khannah’s team brought a PowerPoint presentation titled “Endofactors Update.” As Khannah flashed it on a screen with a projector, the five members of his team stole furtive glances at one another, nervous that Balwani might become wise to the prank. But he didn’t bat an eye and the meeting proceeded without incident. After he left the room, they burst out laughing.
Khannah and his team also got Balwani to use the obscure engineering term “crazing.” It normally refers to a phenomenon that produces fine cracks on the surface of a material, but Khannah and his colleagues used it liberally and out of context to see if they could get Balwani to repeat it, which he did. Balwani’s knowledge of chemistry was no better. He thought the chemical symbol for potassium was P (it’s K; P is the symbol for phosphorus)—a mistake most high school chemistry students wouldn’t make.
The amusing thing, of course, is the way in which these idiot engineers were clearly more interesting in proving that they were smarter than Balwani than they were in the fact that he was the guy upon whom their paychecks, stock options, and careers all depended.
And almost everyone seems to want to believe. Remember, I called BS on this woman the moment I heard her talk, just like I did on Jordan Peterson. The only difference is that even the true believers now understand that Holmes was a fraud. Most people still don’t grasp that Peterson is a charlatan too.
Another phrase stuck out in the talk. She said something about transformative technology which has a magical ring, like Steve Jobs dancing on a cloud of air. From now until forever, if anyone ever says transformative technology in a talk, find the exit door.
Then she decried the appalling lack of access.
“People could not get copies of their own lab results!” she said. We can buy a snake! A military truck! A tank! Yet, we can’t order a simple blood-based pregnancy test.
Think about it! Someone is worried, nervous–distraught. There is a dark cloud. Anxiety. Nerves. You can feel it. And yet…you can’t buy a simple blood test on your own!
“When individuals have access to the information about their bodies they can begin to change outcomes,” said Holmes. She used plenty of interesting factoids. She said words like engagement, knowledge, and access. She shifted to a personal story. She lulled us, she calmed us. She talked about things we care about. That are quite serious.
And yet, we were not really listening.
She never really said anything about the science.
Or the tests.
Or the clinics.
Or anything concrete.