The Dropout, a fascinating new podcast from ABC, charts the rise and fall of the Silicon Valley huckster Elizabeth Holmes and her now-defunct company, Theranos. The show's weekly installments mix high production values and a wealth of interviews with those who saw the fraud play out in real time.
The narrator, ABC business reporter Rebecca Jarvis, explains how Theranos sold itself as a visionary company that promised to make an affordable, over-the-counter tool capable of diagnosing cancer or diabetes with a single drop of blood. The tantalizing and lucrative product attracted a number of A-list investors and boosters, including Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton.
They were kept around by another vision Holmes was selling: that of herself as the next Steve Jobs. The Dropout's early episodes describe how Holmes tried to copy everything about Apple's famous founder, from poaching designers from his company to donning his iconic black turtleneck, all while leaning on the "genius college dropout" trope made famous by Jobs and others.
But unlike Jobs' creations, Theranos didn't do what it claimed, and the company collapsed in 2018 amid charges of massive fraud. Unfortunately for the investors who shelled out millions and for the patients who used the company's error-prone product, innovation requires more than mimicry. It's a lesson that echoes throughout the podcast, serving as a powerful reminder that society-changing products aren't so easily planned.