While the rest of the country has spent the past year debating gay marriage, policing tactics, Obamacare, and Deflate-gate, the inescapable topic of discussion in Silicon Valley is whether we are in a technology bubble. Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of his eponymous venture firm, is perhaps the leading advocate against the bubble chatter. On his Twitter feed, he has referenced the word “bubble” more than 300 times, repeatedly mocking or refuting anyone on his radar who even hints at such a possibility. One of his arguments, as the slides in the Rosewood ballroom suggested, is the exponential growth of mobile phones, which have fundamentally changed the way we buy and sell virtually everything, from groceries to taxi-like services, and created unprecedented disruption. Also, in contrast to the days of the dot-com boom, many tech companies are creating revenue—in some instances, lots of it. ... there may be no greater monument to what’s going on in the Valley than the 1,070-foot edifice under construction at 415 Mission Street. The new, glassy Salesforce Tower is slated to soon become the tallest building in San Francisco, rising more than 200 feet above the Transamerica Pyramid. ... Snapchat has offered Stanford undergrads as much as $500,000 a year to work for the company. Jana Rich, founder of Rich Talent Group, a well-regarded tech recruiting firm, told me that she hasn’t seen such bidding wars since the late 90s. “I’ve seen two of these life cycles, where things are going fabulously well,” she said. “Then we have the bust. We are now, in my opinion, at the height of the demand curve.” ... “You know there’s a bubble,” the saying goes, “when the pretty people show up.” ... All across the Valley, the majority of big start-ups are actually glorified distribution companies that are trying, in some sense, to copy what Domino’s Pizza mastered in the 1980s when it delivered a hot pie to your door in 30 minutes or less. ... Or maybe it’s simpler than that. As one technologist overheard and posted on Twitter, “SF tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?” ... Either you can go public, which is inadvisable without a lot of revenue, or you can sell, which is difficult given the paucity of companies that can afford to make such an offer. So, for many, the choice becomes fairly simple. You continue to raise more and more money, or you die. ... countless people from all over want this to be a bubble and they want it to burst.
There are a lot of directions in which to point fingers. There is Holmes, of course, who seemed to have repeatedly misrepresented her company. There are also the people who funded her, those who praised her, and the largely older, all-white, and entirely male board of directors, few of whom have any real experience in the medical field, that supposedly oversaw her. ... But if you peel back all of the layers of this tale, at the center you will find one of the more insidious culprits: the Silicon Valley tech press. They embraced Holmes and her start-up with a surprising paucity of questions about the technology she had supposedly developed. They praised her as “the next Steve Jobs,” over and over (the black turtleneck didn’t hurt), until it was no longer a question, but seemingly a fact. ... The system here has been molded to effectively prevent reporters from asking tough questions. It’s a game of access, and if you don’t play it carefully, you may pay sorely. Outlets that write negatively about gadgets often don’t get pre-release versions of the next gadget.
In a searing investigation into the once lauded biotech start-up Theranos, Nick Bilton discovers that its precocious founder defied medical experts—even her own chief scientist—about the veracity of its now discredited blood-testing technology. She built a corporation based on secrecy in the hope that she could still pull it off. Then, it all fell apart. ... At Theranos, Holmes preferred that the temperature be maintained in the mid-60s, which facilitated her preferred daily uniform of a black turtleneck with a puffy black vest—a homogeneity that she had borrowed from her idol, the late Steve Jobs. ... Holmes had learned a lot from Jobs. Like Apple, Theranos was secretive, even internally. Just as Jobs had famously insisted at 1 Infinite Loop, 10 minutes away, that departments were generally siloed, Holmes largely forbade her employees from communicating with one another about what they were working on—a culture that resulted in a rare form of executive omniscience. At Theranos, Holmes was founder, C.E.O., and chairwoman. There wasn’t a decision—from the number of American flags framed in the company’s hallway (they are ubiquitous) to the compensation of each new hire—that didn’t cross her desk. ... And like Jobs, crucially, Holmes also paid indefatigable attention to her company’s story, its “narrative.” ... In a technology sector populated by innumerable food-delivery apps, her quixotic ambition was applauded. ... she is often surrounded by her security detail, which sometimes numbers as many as four men, who (for safety reasons) refer to the young C.E.O. as “Eagle 1”—and headed to the airport. (She has been known to fly alone on a $6.5 million Gulfstream G150.) ... it is impossible to get a precise result from the tip of a finger for most of the tests that Theranos would claim to conduct accurately. When a finger is pricked, the probe breaks up cells, allowing debris, among other things, to escape into the interstitial fluid. While it is feasible to test for pathogens this way, a pinprick is too unreliable for obtaining more nuanced readings. Furthermore, there isn’t that much reliable data that you can reap from such a small amount of blood.