Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, planned to “change the world” by reinventing blood testing. The company’s claims and the attendant hype fetched the biotech darling of Silicon Valley a valuation of over $9 billion. But after a series of stories from the Wall Street Journal detailing fraudulent claims over its transformative blood-testing device, the company has been in turmoil. A Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the company concluded Wednesday when the SEC officially charged Holmes and the company’s former president, Ramesh Balwani, with “massive fraud.”
Today, Theranos’s future is still very much uncertain. Equally unclear is how employees at the embattled company have dealt with the long-running claims of working inside a fraudulent organization. But thanks to the employer rating and review site Glassdoor, we have a small, imperfect window into what it’s like to work at Theranos after the fall.
A caveat: Glassdoor reviews are based on anonymous ratings that have been submitted by alleged employees. It’s an imperfect system; Glassdoor reviews can be faked, however the company says it takes steps to regularly vet its data using proprietary filters and algorithms to detect fraud.
Theranos Glassdoor reviews written since April 18, 2016 — when it was first reported that the company was under federal investigation — paint a bleak picture of employee morale.
“Motivation is close to zero due to many recent developments and negative media coverage,” one October 2016 review says. “Many people just come to work to fill their hours and leave without doing anything…Projects are halted suddenly without any explanation after spending so much time and money.”
Another suggests management is, uh, listless:
“Are there any adults in the room? There is zero direction or structure, the quality and regulatory systems and knowledge and compliance thereof is almost nil. SCARY. There is no communication or transparency even within the company, silo mentality — in a company whose purpose is to PROVIDE INFORMATION to its clients and patients (I guess employees are not included.) It is like eighth-graders running around in a sandbox to design medical devices, and having petty and political cliques.”
A different review, from August 2017, described working at Theranos as “not a happy experience,” noting that “the goal is exciting….not sure whether it can be achieved.”
Reviews from late 2016 and early 2017 suggest employees were nervous about pending investigations and anxious to leave.
“Everyone I know is looking [for] a way to get out and leave the company especially after the recent layoffs,” one review read. “It all causes a toxic environment where we can be the next ones to be laid off. We are left with no hopes for the future. We all feel deceived and fooled like the investors who trusted the vision of the company.”
A review from August 2017 said that secrecy was still a problem. “Too many things hidden from employees. Company was struggling to figure out their many accusations and avoiding lawsuits,” it read.
One constant theme among reviews is that Theranos’s lower and mid-level employees are not to blame. A January 2017 review described the company this way: “Good colleagues, but not a legitimate business.”
The sentiment was echoed in another January 2017 review: “a lot of very smart and driven and kind people, thrown into a smelly swamp.”
Reading reviews, there’s a feeling that employees tried to make the best of a worsening situation, in many cases, lured by the company’s mission statement to “change the world.”
“The mission drove me to Theranos, but it’s the people I work with day in and day out that keep me motivated,” one review from January 2017 read, before blaming the company’s floundering on an “inability to execute project plans and non-existent ownership of failures.”
“I knew when I interviewed with execs that they like literally had no idea at all what they were doing,” one review of an alleged current employee read. “But at the time I thought if I could get in just before the bubble got popped by regulators, this could potentially be an unparalleled opportunity.”
But the reviewer said the opportunity was undercut by management. “I saw no convincing commitment to quality (vapid, hollow town hall buzzwords aside) or tangible progress made toward establishing core systems, and at the time I left I still could not get answers to the same very basic compliance questions.”
Not all recent Glassdoor reviews for Theranos were negative. Some, like this February 2017 review from someone who identifies themselves as an R&D employee, are jarringly upbeat:
“From day 1, an unnerving feeling I’d joined a cult (like an observer not yet brainwashed) that only escalated in sinister intensity until my last day,” one February 2017 review said.
It continued: “There was a stunning dearth of operational infrastructure and lack of core personnel competency, with no commitment (made in my time) to implementing the absolute bare minimum industry standards missing across the board.”
At the end of the review, under the prompt “advice for management,” the reviewer wrote, “Don’t ever contact me ever again.”
Another reviewer described some Theranos employees as “victim[s] of gaslighting.” Employees are “showered with attention,” “devalued,” then “discarded.” “They know they have drained the victim dry, that they have now outlived their usefulness,” the review states. “And now it is time for the narcissist to move on to the next source of supply.”
Their advice to management? “You should never work for a CEO that acted like an adult as a child. Now as an adult acts like a child.”
A number of reviews caution prospective employees to do their homework. “Read WSJ, that says it all,” one review said.
“Start over, use some real scientists,” a review chided.
“Restart, rebuild, restructure. May be too late to save anything though,” a different September 2016 review added.
A different reviewer from January 2017 argued that the company should shut down. “Make it a graceful and planned shut down with respect to all who have supported you, rather than the last ones standing come to work to find the doors chained and locked.”
Many reviews conclude on a hopeless note, underscoring the company’s precarious position. “I have no hope nor faith in this company at all,” a January 2017 review said.
Others, like this reviewer from January 2017, struck a more philosophical tone:
“Can a canoe sinking in the middle of an ocean without a paddle or inkling of hope really recover?”
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at [email protected].
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