In The End She Was Vulnerable To Facts

I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup last week on my Q2 vacation. In my post talking about the various books I read, I wrote the following about it.

“Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.”

This morning, Amy emailed me a link to an article by Matthew Herper titled Elizabeth Holmes’ Superpower. He strongly recommends Carreyrou’s book and talks about his coverage of Theranos and how he was snowed over the years, partly through his interactions directly with Holmes. In contrast, Holmes never talked to Carreyrou, leaving Herper to reflect:

“Holmes never did talk to Carreyrou, leaving her greatest weapon, her weird charisma, holstered. Now his portrayal of her, put together from other people’s recollections, will define her in the public memory, especially if the planned movie starring Jennifer Lawrence gets made. For those of us she did talk to, at least to me, the book presents a humbling puzzle. Why was what seems so visible now invisible when Holmes was in the room?”

While this is all complicated stuff, Herper’s self-reflection is helpful. At a meta-level, it’s just another example of the challenge of promotion vs. substance. Or, aspiration goals vs. what’s actually going on. Or fantasy vs. reality. Or what you hope to create being articulated as what you have created.

Entrepreneurship is incredibly difficult. Among other challenges a founder has is balancing the vision of what is being created compared to what exists today. At the very beginning of the journey, this is easy because it’s obvious that it is all aspirational. But, as things progress, the substance of what has been created so far starts to matter, especially as the founder needs to raise more money to continue to fund the aspiration goals.

The best founders that I’ve worked with combine a mix of their aspirational goals with a real grounding in the current reality of where the business is. They know that their aspirational goals are goals – not current reality. And they know that there isn’t a straight line to the goals. If they use their reality distortion field as a charismatic founder, it’s to motivate their team to build something, not deceive investors or customers into believing it has been built.

Because, after all, in the end, we are all vulnerable to facts.

Also published on Medium.