Workplace

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.”

Workplace

Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

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.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.

Entertainment

Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Workplace

This machine would like to interview you for a job

Companies are embracing automated video interviews to filter through floods of job applicants. But interviews with a computer screen raise big ethical questions and might scare off candidates.

Although automated interview companies claim to reduce bias in hiring, the researchers and advocates who study AI bias are these companies’ most frequent critics.

Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images

Applying for a job these days is starting to feel a lot like online dating. Job-seekers send their resume into portal after portal and a silent abyss waits on the other side.

That abyss is silent for a reason and it has little to do with the still-tight job market or the quality of your particular resume. On the other side of the portal, hiring managers watch the hundreds and even thousands of resumes pile up. It’s an infinite mountain of digital profiles, most of them from people completely unqualified. Going through them all would be a virtually fruitless task.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Fintech

A crypto advocate’s plea: Cool the Twitter trash talk

A top blockchain advocate says the SEC is wrong in its efforts to regulate crypto, but crypto advocates’ personal attacks aren’t helping.

Chamber of Digital Commerce founder Perianne Boring spoke with Protocol about how crypto can strike a better tone.

Photo: Chamber of Digital Commerce

Chamber of Digital Commerce founder Perianne Boring cites a Bible verse to sum up her philosophy about how the crypto trade group should take on the industry’s many critics.

Her Twitter page refers to Ephesians 4:29, which says — oh, let’s use the King James version, it’s more fun: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” For her, it’s a reminder that trash talk in defense of crypto is unacceptable.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories
Bulletins