The Inventor

Photo by Max Morse for TechCrunch TechCrunch [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Holmes was only 19 when she decided to leave Standford University to become an entrepreneur. While she was studying medicine, she had an idea of how to simplify blood tests and wanted to establish a company based on that. The company was called Theranos, and her concept of health diagnostic was quite revolutionary, so very quickly Holmes gained a lot of publicity, investments poured in from top Silicon Valley VC firms, and she got endorsed by senior politicians, even by Barack Obama.

Almost overnight, she became a tech star, in those days many compared her even with Steve Jobs. She was on top of the world.

Steve Jobs was obviously her role model, noticeable by the way she behaved, dressed, ran the company, talked to employees, and developed the product. She was driven by the idea to create an Apple of healthcare and was well underway to achieve it, but then a “small” problem occurred. Her invention, the infamous Edison machine which was supposed to run diagnostics for over 200 different diseases, didn’t work.

She and her team had overestimated entirely the level of difficulties of building such a machine and ended up secretly performing blood tests using old systems and selling them to the public as a product of their device. Of course, quite a few staff members were not happy with the fraud and informed the press, and the whole thing fell apart rather rapidly. 

This story is well known, but what is interesting for us is her obsession with two other innovators, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison. She copied Steve Jobs’s product development and presentation methods, while the machine itself was named after Thomas Edison. We discovered all three of them have quite similar charts.

Elizabeth Holmes is a Yin Fire with a strong presence of Earth and Wood, which represents very high intelligence. Steve Jobs was a Yang Fire while Thomas Edison was a Yin Fire, both also with a strong presence of Wood and Earth, again strong intellectual and creative abilities.

All three of them have typical inventors’ charts. In their case, Wood represents the INTELLECT Component, while Earth is the OUTPUT Component. INTELLECT gave them analyzing and learning skills, while OUTPUT gave them the ability to present their ideas, the so-called showmanship. Their ability to talk and persuade people gave them access to human resources, free publicity, and investments.

In a nutshell, all three are very good, highly functional charts.

The question is, what went wrong with Elizabeth Holmes? From the very beginning, she was using a notable Steve Jobs tactic of putting pressure on developers, pushing them to solve technical challenges. It is well known that Apple often presented products that were barely working, such as the first version of the iPhone, but they somehow managed to put everything together on time for production and sales, and they kept improving.

Elizabeth Holmes took a similar route. She was aware of all the shortcomings but kept taking money from investors, making deals with companies, and acquiring customers, hoping that along the way they would be able to fix the flaws and propel the company into a bright future. But this didn’t happen. The company kept failing to make their device work, and after some time wasn’t able to keep the story straight. The whole thing broke down like a house of cards.

From the chart perspective, the situation is quite straightforward. From 2014, when Holmes’ legal troubles started, she was experiencing a clash between the Water Pig year and the Earth Snake Dynamic period. Before that period she had been enjoying support from influential people (POWER Component), for many years. Earth Snake clashed that support away, and suddenly she found herself in the middle of a crisis, completely alone. The investors started to withdraw their financial support, employees were leaving, and her crucial partner and CEO, Ramesh Balwani, left the company (who was also btw her lover).

Snake also broke a Wood combination between Rabbit and Pig, affecting her INTELLECT Component, and with it her public recognition and support.

The million-dollar question is if she hadn’t had this clash, would her machine be working and would she have become a highly successful and respected businesswoman? Hard to say, at this point, we can only speculate about possible outcomes in different scenarios. I also often ask myself, how it all works. Did this clash stop her from developing a functional product? How did this clash influence her team of engineers and developers? As a founder of the company Elisabeth was transmitting her energy to all of her employees; therefore her Snake / Pig clash somehow made them all less productive and unable to solve the technical issues which they were facing. 

In any case, it was a tricky situation for anyone involved, and it is a pity that she wasn’t aware of the issue. With a bit more transparency towards the public and investors, she could have gained more time which was needed. But greed and arrogance took over; she got caught in the spotlight, enjoying the publicity and support from the highest instances, while on the other hand, her project was falling apart.

Sometimes a person needs to draw a line and realize when it’s time to give up and try something else. Elizabeth Holmes didn’t know how to do that. Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison were lucky enough that their inventions and products eventually worked, but that luck came from a supportive static and dynamic chart. They didn’t have the issue that Elizabeth is facing, and that is the significant difference between them and her.



Also published on Medium.