Juicero. Quibi. Theranos. What do you do if there’s a flop on your resume?

According to an ex-Theranos employee and a lifelong talent executive

An illustration of three hands holding up three resumes.

Some tech executives claim that having a failed startup on the resume reveals a healthy appetite for risk and a hungry bent towards exploration and creativity.

Illustration: Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

The tech industry is a notorious graveyard for once high-flying startups that are now defunct, extinct, disgraced or simply ran out of funding and quietly went gentle into that good night. Startup churn is par for the course in Silicon Valley, with over 70% of startups failing, according to CB Insights.

In the process, however, some companies are more publicly shamed than others.

Quibi. Cambridge Analytica. MoviePass. Juicero. We’ve mostly forgotten about these spectacular failures, but do you know who hasn’t forgotten them? The people who worked there. Say you have the bad fortune of having one of these names on your resume: What do you do?

Barry Hamory knows the dilemma firsthand. For two years, he was a recruiter at Theranos. In fact, he was the company’s first recruiter, hired by Sunny Balwani and Elizabeth Holmes themselves. “I kind of built the entire hiring apparatus there and hired almost every recruiter we had,” Hamory said.

Hamory was lucky. His time at Theranos has since panned out to become more amusing cocktail party banter than truly uncomfortable conversations with potential employers. That might have had something to do with his perfectly timed exit. He left in 2014, many months before The Wall Street Journal exposed shortcomings with Theranos’ technology. “I had moved on before all the negativity came out,” he said.

When Hamory first started at Theranos in March of 2012, he was totally onboard. “[Balwani and Holmes] were really amazing when I first met them, especially that first year there …They were very dynamic,” he said. The company was exciting, and the growth was phenomenal. “I really thought I was going to be working with the next Steve Jobs,” he said of Holmes.

Then about a year into his tenure, he started getting hints that things were perhaps not as rosy as they seemed. “There were a lot of internal rumors,” and “turnover was just dizzy,” he noticed. He said Holmes went from being “very personable” to walking through the building with a security guard and entering through a secret entrance to avoid talking to any employees. “Something wasn’t right.”

That was when Hamory gave his notice. He remembers his father-in-law telling him he had made a mistake. Holmes had just been on CNBC, and the company had reached its peak $9 billion valuation. At the time, recruiters were calling him left and right about job opportunities. He secured his next job as a senior technical sourcing recruiter at Schneider Electric pretty easily.

After the news broke, the reception started to change. Hamory remembers being introduced at a new job based in Sunnyvale and hearing people laugh and snicker when his time at Theranos was mentioned. People started asking him questions about his experience there: “What was that all about? Is it all true?”

Today, Hamory is a senior talent acquisition sourcer for Cargill, one of the nation’s largest global food corporations, where he’s worked since 2019. When he first interviewed for the job, his hiring manager had never even heard of Theranos. The company is based in Minnesota and culturally far removed from Silicon Valley. “It doesn’t really make the news out there,” he said.

Despite his insistence that the reputation hasn’t marked him, he did take Theranos off his LinkedIn profile shortly after Protocol contacted him. He said he was spooked because another person had contacted him through LinkedIn that same week.

“I don’t think anybody would ever hold you accountable for decisions made by senior management,” Hamory said. He feels that he was shielded from a lot of the backlash because, as a recruiter, he wasn’t a technical decision-maker. He has observed more-senior colleagues who have experienced more difficulty finding a job post-Theranos.

As a recruiter himself, Hamory sees both sides of the equation. He recommends people who have a smear on their resume frame the experience in terms of the skills they picked up and the lesson they learned. “Approach it as a positive,” he said. Talk about what made that job interesting, what you learned from it and how it made you stronger.

Here’s how he said he would frame his experience in conversations with potential employers: “I’ve always been a risk taker. When I joined Theranos, it was a really exciting, dynamic company … I feel I did a good job in hiring people. I didn’t obviously know all that was going on behind the scenes because I was in talent. I mean, that’s the god-honest truth.”

As a recruiter, Hamory said there are no companies that he would never hire someone from. In some instances for technical recruiting, managers will tell him they don’t like a company’s technology or feel that it’s weak. “That will kind of sway me,” he said, but not necessarily a company’s reputation.

“The nature of the failure matters,” said Chris Toy, CEO of MarketerHire, a talent platform that matches startups with marketers. So something relatively embarrassing like Juicero is going to be less shameful than, say, an election-interference scandal at Cambridge Analytica. He also recommends that people focus on breaking down their work experience to “skills and expertise” rather than on the company itself.

“Startups fail all the time,” Toy added, and recruiters are more focused on “the story of your resume.” Were you at the company for years before it blew up? Did you do good work during that time? He doesn’t recommend that people take those names off their resume “unless it’s going to cost you the interview.” Once you’re in an interview, “you can handle it,” because you have the opportunity to explain and put your time there into context.

According to Toy, companies that use MarketerHire’s platform will on occasion filter out certain companies on candidates’ resumes, though not because of reputation. Sometimes, an early-stage startup might not want to hire someone who has only had experience at big tech companies, because they wouldn’t have the right skill set to work at a smaller startup.

Some tech executives even claim that having a failed startup on the resume is a good thing, revealing a healthy appetite for risk and a hungry bent towards exploration and creativity rather than taking the safe route. One CEO even seeks out failed startups on prospective candidates’ resumes as a sign of an “independent mind” and someone he’d want on his team.

Another ex-Theranos employee, Grace Ko, who worked on formulating reagents and is now a junior frontend developer at a cybersecurity company, wrote in a message to Protocol, “... most of my colleagues from Theranos were rather in demand. It’s because there’s a lot to learn from people who worked at a company that almost made it but didn’t, organization and technology wise. I mostly focused on the positive side of the experience as mine really was a good one, despite how the media portrays the company.”

A visitor plays a game using Microsoft's Xbox controller at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and what it means for the tech and game industries. Then, Issie Lapowsky talks about a big week in antitrust reform, and whether real progress is being made in the U.S. Finally, Hirsh Chitkara explains why AT&T, Verizon, the FAA and airlines have been fighting for months about 5G coverage.

For more on the topics in this episode:

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

Keep Reading Show less
Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.

Congress’ antitrust push has a hate speech problem

Sen. Klobuchar’s antitrust bill is supposed to promote competition. So why are advocates afraid it could also promote extremists?

The bill as written could make it a lot riskier for large tech companies to deplatform or demote companies that violate their rules.

Photo: Photo by Elizabeth Frantz-Pool/Getty Images

The antitrust bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday and is now headed to the Senate floor is, at its core, an attempt to prevent the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google from boosting their own products and services on the marketplaces and platforms they own.

But upon closer inspection, some experts say, the bill as written could make it a lot riskier for large tech companies to deplatform or demote companies that violate their rules.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Ask a tech worker: How many of your colleagues have caught omicron?

Millions of workers called in sick in recent weeks. How is tech handling it?

A record number of Americans called in sick with COVID-19 in recent weeks. Even with high vaccination rates, tech companies aren’t immune.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker! For this recurring feature, I’ve been roaming downtown San Francisco at lunchtime to ask tech employees about how the workplace is changing. This week, I caught up with tech workers about what their companies are doing to avoid omicron outbreaks, and whether many of their colleagues had been out sick lately. Got an idea for a future topic? Email me.

Omicron stops for no one, it seems. Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 10, 8.8 million Americans missed work to either recover from COVID-19 or care for someone who was recovering, according to the Census Bureau. That number crushed the previous record of 6.6 million from last January, and tripled the numbers from early last month.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

The fast-growing paychecks of Big Tech’s biggest names

Tech giants had a huge pandemic, and their execs are getting paid.

TIm Cook received $82 million in stock awards on top of his $3 million salary as Apple's CEO.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Tech leaders are making more than ever.

As tech giants thrive amid the pandemic, companies like Meta, Alphabet and Microsoft have continued to pay their leaders accordingly: Big Tech CEO pay is higher than ever. In the coming months, we’ll begin seeing a lot of companies release their executive compensation from the past year as fiscal 2022 begins.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.
Latest Stories