In early 2014, recent Stanford University graduate Tyler Shultz was in a quandary. He had been working at Theranos, a blood-diagnostic company founded by Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford-dropout wunderkind, for almost a year. Shultz had learned enough about the company to realize that its practices and the efficacy of its much-touted finger-prick blood-testing technology were questionable and that the company was going to great lengths to hide this fact from the public and from regulators.
Theranos and Holmes were Silicon Valley darlings, enjoying positive press and lavish attention from potential investors and technology titans alike. Just as companies like PayPal had revolutionized the stagnant payments industry and Uber had upended the for-hire transportation sector, Theranos had been positioned as the latest technology firm to substantially disrupt yet another mature sector: the medical laboratory business. By the start of 2014, the company had raised more than $400 million in funding, and had an estimated market valuation of $9 billion.
Shultz’s situation was exacerbated by the fact that his grandfather, the highly respected former US Secretary of State George Shultz, was on the Theranos board and was one of Elizabeth Holmes’s biggest supporters.
But Tyler Shultz worried about the customers he was convinced were receiving highly unreliable and often inaccurate blood-test results. With so much at stake, Shultz wondered how he should proceed. Should he raise his concerns with the firm’s investors? Blow the whistle externally? Report to industry regulators? Go away quietly?
This case and its subsequent four brief follow-up cases are based largely on interviews with Tyler Shultz, and outline the dilemma he faced and the various steps he would take both to extricate himself from his unsavory position and let the public know the full extent of the deception at Theranos.
Five optional handouts are available to instructors to further discussion after the case has been debriefed. The handouts serve as additional decision points for the students if your class time permits.