Bad Blood

(Axel Boer) #1

atop the cat door at an angle. Inside, the robotic arm made loud,
grinding sounds. Sometimes, it would crash against the cartridge and
the pipette tips would snap off. The overall impression was that of an
eighth-grade science project.

When Aaron and Mike arrived at their friends’ offices, they were
greeted with chuckles and cups of coffee. Everyone was a good sport,
though, and agreed to go along with their little experiment. One of the
stops was at Bebo, a social networking startup that was acquired by
AOL a few weeks later for $850 million.

As the day progressed, it became apparent that one pinprick often
wasn’t enough to get the job done. Transferring the blood to the
cartridge wasn’t the easiest of procedures. The person had to swab his
finger with alcohol, prick it with the lancet, apply the transfer pen to
the blood that bubbled up from the finger to aspirate it, and then press
on the transfer pen’s plunger to expel the blood into the cartridge. Few
people got it right on their first try. Aaron and Mike kept having to ask
their test subjects to prick themselves multiple times. It got messy.
There was blood everywhere.

These difficulties confirmed what Aaron already suspected: the
company was underestimating this part of the process. To assume that
a fifty-five-year-old patient in his or her home was going to
immediately master it was wishful thinking. And if you didn’t get this
part right, it didn’t matter how well the rest of the system functioned;
you weren’t going to get good results. When they got back to the office,
Aaron passed on his findings to Tony and Elizabeth, but he could tell
they didn’t think they were a priority.

Aaron was getting frustrated and disillusioned. He’d initially bought
into Elizabeth’s vision and found work at Theranos exciting. But after
nearly two years, he was getting burned out. Among other issues, he
didn’t get along with Tony, who’d become his boss. To get out from
under him, he had asked to transfer from engineering to sales. He’d
even spent a recent Saturday driving around shopping for a suit in the
hope that Elizabeth would let him tag along on her trip to Switzerland.
She didn’t, but she seemed to at least be taking his transfer request
under advisement.

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