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Theranos on trial

Elizabeth Holmes

Good morning! This Tuesday, the Elizabeth Holmes trial kicks off, South Korea forces app stores to open up, and China is clamping down on gaming for kids.

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The Big Story

What became of Theranos employees?

The fraud trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes kicks off today with jury selection. Once arguments start on Sept. 8, the case will decide the fate of the woman whose very name has become a stand-in for Silicon Valley hubris and misguided founder worship — an astounding fall from grace for the person once hailed as the next Steve Jobs.

  • How much is this a Silicon Valley story? That's a debate you'll hear a lot in the next few weeks. Theranos was based in Palo Alto and working on high-tech stuff, but most of its investment came from outside the traditional VC world. (VCs will happily remind you of that fact.)
  • Holmes's defense will largely pin blame on her second in command, Sunny Balwani, who's facing his own fraud charges. And the question will be, over and over: What did she know wasn't working? And what did she do about it?

Whether Theranos was a Silicon Valley-wide failure — or a tech company at all — it had a huge ripple effect on the industry. We heard from a number of former employees who are still, all these years later, being asked to answer for their bosses' actions.

Job hunting has been tough for former Theranos staff. Three employees spoke with Protocol on the condition of anonymity, and they described moving on from such a public scandal as a slow and laborious process.

  • One employee said when he was applying for jobs in 2016, the CEO of a startup told him investors "advised him not to hire anybody from Theranos, given what was going on in the media."
  • Another who'd worked at Theranos for five years said she was applying to jobs for five months, before finally taking a lower level position in an unrelated field in tech. "I was so desperate," she said. She stayed in that job for less than a year before leaving and taking a full year off.

Former employees have become more risk averse in future career decisions since the experience, too, they told Protocol.

  • A third employee said that after Theranos, he found himself scrutinizing the backgrounds and work experience of any prospective employer. "I paid a lot more attention than I ever had before. What is the leadership saying? What is their vision for the company, and ethically, morally, how do they operate?" he said.
  • That's even as he tried to convince the people interviewing him that his time at Theranos might actually be an advantage. "You have to find a way to spin, if you want to call it that, the negativity into ways you problem-solved and did right by customers," he said.

And staying quiet has been a challenge, faced as they were with so much media coverage — media coverage that often got things wrong.

  • All three of them insist, for instance, that — despite reporting by Vanity Fair — there was never any company-wide "Fuck you, Carreyrou," chant, targeting John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the story in 2015.
  • A Theranos employee did apparently dress up as Carreyrou for Halloween, but that, one employee said, was the extent of it.
  • Aside from a few vocal whistleblowers who were key to Carreyrou's early reporting, most former employees have kept to themselves, chalking it up to, as one put it, "the price of moving on."

But these employees didn't regret their stint at Theranos despite all of it, they told us.

  • "It's the same as the army for me," said one former employee, who is also a former U.S. Army veteran. "Even if it really sucks at certain times, you come out better for it."
  • Another likened his time at Theranos to being "in the trenches" with his fellow colleagues and said that experience bonded them for life.

As the trial gets underway, these former Theranos employees will be watching, along with the rest of the tech world, to see what happens. They're torn on what sort of consequences they think Holmes ought to face, but united in the desire for some acknowledgment of what happened — the kind of acknowledgment they never got even as the company was falling apart. As one former employee put it: "There was never an acknowledgement that we fucked up."

Issie Lapowsky

A version of this story appears on


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People Are Talking

COVID-19 is starting to affect the production of MLCCs, tiny devices made of ceramic used in some electronics, TrendForce analyst Forrest Chen says:

  • "MLCC supply will remain very tight."

Gary Gensler said payment for order flow has "an inherent conflict of interest," which is terrible news for Robinhood bulls:

  • "They get the data, they get the first look, they get to match off buyers and sellers out of that order flow. That may not be the most efficient market for the 2020s."

Simone Biles is joining other athletes in the NFT craze:

  • "They're unique and shareable, you can keep them for as long as you want. So I thought, why not?"

On Protocol | Workplace: SMART Health Cards are going for efficiency and validity, Commons Project Foundation co-founder JP Pollak says:

  • "CDC cards, if you want to use them for travel or to prove your status to a workplace, somebody has to interpret these things, and that takes time."

Making Moves

Facebook lost another exec, Mark D'Arcy. He served as VP of global business marketing and chief creative officer.

PayPal hired Rich Hagen as part of the company's possible push into stock trading. Hagen leads "Invest at PayPal," a previously unreported division of the company.

Prosus acquired BillDesk for $4.7 billion, giving the Dutch ecommerce company a bet in India similar to the one it made on Tencent in China.

John Mannino joined SFOX as director of compliance. Mannino is a former Goldman Sachs and Accenture exec.

Ginna Raahauge is leaving AWS for Zayo Group, where she'll serve as CIO. At AWS, Raahauge worked as an exec in solutions and sales engineering.

Arun Murthy is leaving Cloudera. Murthy was the company's CPO for a little over two and a half years.

In Other News

  • South Korea will require app stores to open up. A new bill requires Google and Apple to allow other payment systems in their stores or face big fines, and will be the first of its kind to be signed into law.
  • Apple is getting into classical music. It bought Primephonic, Billboard reported, and will shut down the classical streaming service but replace it with its own "dedicated experience" next year.
  • China has a new gaming rule: Minors can play for only one hour each on Fridays, weekend days and on holidays. Before, minors were limited to one hour of play per day.
  • Tencent's messaging platform won't allow LGBTQ search terms. After searching the company's QQ platform for words like "lesbian" and "gay" yesterday, users were presented with the message: "Use the Internet in a civil manner. Say no to harmful information."
  • Apple will donate to Hurricane Ida relief and recovery efforts. As of Monday, the storm cut off power for over 1 million people in Louisiana and left at least one person dead.
  • Instagram wants to know your birthday, not necessarily to wish you a happy birthday, but to build new safety tools for young people. Eventually, users who don't share their birthday won't be able to use the platform.

One More Thing

Meet Sara Soueidan

When you know front-end development, you can basically work for anyone. Just ask Sara Soueidan, who's built everything from a micro-site for Khan Academy to bigger government web applications. Oh, and she's also spoken at dozens of events, created an online video course on designing more accessible web products, and has over 100,000 Twitter followers.

Soueidan is pretty open about her skills, so much so that she keeps up a blog discussing everything from front-end strategy to online accessibility. She also doesn't drink coffee, so the "I need caffeine before doing anything" take apparently doesn't ring true for even the biggest hustlers.

We're featuring tech-industry creators and leaders we think you might like here every Tuesday. If you have folks you think everyone should know about, send them our way!


The Wallet is the easiest and most powerful crypto wallet, trusted by millions since 2011 with over $1 trillion in crypto transactions. Whether you want to trade, earn, custody, or access full-stack institutional solutions, is a market leader in retail and institutional crypto products.

Learn more

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