Much like the recent Fyre meltdown under tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland, it appears that “fake it, til you make it” is becoming a high risk business venture strategy of the modern age. The same can be said for Theranos, a mult-billion dollar tech company, which collapsed after fraudulent claims and promises were exposed to high-powered journalists. Thanos tried to save the world by halving it’s population, Theranos tried to save the world by revolutionising the medical industry. Led by Elizabeth Holmes, the youngest self-made female billionaire, she became the face of Theranos.
Documentarian Alex Gibney, best known for the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, writes and directs The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. The film functions as a character portrait and case study, taking a detailed look at how Holmes became a media icon and figurehead for a product and service designed to disrupt the bloods industry in the United States. Giving the elf-like Holmes a close up, we get her short history. From the right university and business contacts to heralding a revolutionary idea, her company became hot property for international investors, who believed Holmes was the next Steve Jobs. While her quest was noble, the premature adoption and superficial development of a device that was supposed to facilitate 200 blood tests using a smaller blood sample turned into a fiasco.
The economy thrives on confidence and so do investors, who get behind medical tech initiatives like Theranos, sometimes based on a whim and credentials. Elizabeth Holmes was the poster girl for empowerment, a self-made billionaire, who sought to revolutionise the bloods industry on the back of a game-changing machine. Dominated by a few industry giants, her bold claims of industry disruption coasted on the back of what can now be described as a Steve Jobs type performance.
“What, me worry?”
Setting up shop in Silicon Valley, Theranos became a storefront for a divided company, where employees were motivated by game-changing status, locked in by contract and protected from company secrets that were becoming more and more difficult to keep. This explorative documentary unpacks the empire-building and fall from grace, taking its time to get the inside story from journalists and investors who were smitten and former employees who spoke out about the massive fraud.
Interviewing journalists who were duped, former employees who were alienated and exploring media footage from their hey days, Gibney pieces together a comprehensive overview using animation to realise the inner workings of the technology. Maintaining a good pace, he focuses on Holmes whose deep voice, blue eyes, magnetic energy and messianic zeal made her utterly convincing to her investors, partners, employees and journalists. Iconic in her own right and heralded as the next big thing, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley makes a curious character study of a brilliant young woman convicted of her own genius to the point of self-delusion.
Students of business strategy and public relations will also appreciate Gibney’s film, which functions as a in-depth business case study. From branding, positioning and enterprise to trying to maintain confidence and resolution when big contracts are being drawn up and cracks start to appear, The Inventor serves as a warning. In a world where tech entrepreneurs have been known to make it big overnight, this accelerated mindset becomes dangerous and even deadly when applied to critical medical services.
While overlong, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley is a compelling story with extensive media coverage of Holmes, who became an icon in her company’s rise to power. It would have been better if Gibney had been able to get a post-mortem interview with the main players, who are still locked in court proceedings today, yet it remains a slick, infotaining and comprehensive case study and character portrait nevertheless.
The bottom line: Intriguing