A while ago, I wrote on this website about my fondest theatrical wish, which was that no one in Hollywood would be stupid enough to make a tech-porn movie aggrandizing Elizabeth Holmes and conveniently neglecting to remind us of her fraudulent schemes and her willingness to heedlessly risk the lives of thousands of patients using her fake blood testing equipment. Certain stories have no happy endings and certain crooks and scumbags don't deserve any attempts (fictional or otherwise) to restate and rehabilitate their misdeeds and their soiled reputations.
The main message of that Inc.com piece was that the entire morally bankrupt Silicon Valley culture of "fake it 'til you make it" had led hundreds of entrepreneurs and millions of investors down the slick and shabby slope from passion to perjury and from fanciful fictions to outright fraud. And Ms. Holmes was one of the poster people for the whole sordid mess, right alongside Adam Neumann, the drug- and drink-addled scam artist from WeWork. It felt to me like any attempt to rationally explain or present both sides of their basically bullshit stories was like trying to pick up the clean end of a shit stick or polish a turd. They were crooks -- plain and simple -- and glorifying their lies and ignoring the people they hurt and deceived was a service to no one.
The pandemic for the moment has sidelined the Theranos film (sadly, along with the Holmes trial and prosecution), but the ugly specter of WeWork has lately arisen (right in time for Halloween) in a most unlikely and unfortunate location. Lo and behold, my morning treadmill read of DealBook was rudely interrupted by the image of a new fundamentally laudatory book on WeWork and Neumann that calls him the "Billion Dollar Loser," which was accompanied by a short promotional interview with the author.
The author is so enthralled with Neumann's miraculous and epic rise that he gives short shrift to the company's abrupt and long overdue fall from grace which -- just to be clear -- wasn't due to any heroic miscalculation or grand ambitions. These were scammers who were finally found out with fake financials and with too many hands in the cookie jar. The DealBook "interview" feels more like a bought-and-paid-for PR release and utterly neglects to even mention that Neumann was every bit as big a fraud and liar as Holmes and the rest of their ilk. It's a complete crock and gives you the feeling from time to time that the author actually feels bad that it happened to such a nice guy who only meant well. Gag me.
Starting with the softball question about Neumann's sincerity, the author reports that he came to think that Neumann "believed" that he was changing the world and was more qualified than governments to solve the world's problems. To even see this crap in print in a publication run by Andrew Ross Sorkin -- one of the world's most lovable and polite cynics -- was worse than heresy. It was abject flackery.
Next came an embarrassing question about lessons to be learned. Nowhere was there the slightest mention of the fact that inventing your own fake financial statistics and trying to foist those on the public and the SEC might be the height of stupidity, cupidity, and fraud. Nary a word about excessive spending, wasteful side adventures, self-dealing, and abundant drug use and drinking as a standard and often required business practice.
Instead, there's a self-serving humble brag by the author that he hopes people won't read this tripe as a how-to guide to be an ambitious entrepreneur, although he modestly admits "it could be read that way." I suppose it could be interpreted like that if you were an arrogant man-child surrounded by sycophants and enabled by PR and financial types all looking to ride your coattails while the hype lasted and trying to make as much money as they could before the bubble burst. Sounds frighteningly like the White House these days.
Another trenchant observation and useless "lesson" the author shares is that it's worth thinking about taking risks and knowing when to stay the course. Yes, to be sure. It's also good to work hard, wash your hands, and wear a mask. These utterly pedestrian and vacuous thoughts lead to the stirring sentiment that you can build very nice businesses without trying to be a world-famous billionaire. Hard to argue with that.
But it's the closing thought of this most observant "interview" that is actually the most embarrassing. Asked whether the tag "loser" is a temporary judgment, the author says that still-young Adam -- once he dries out and gets off the drugs -- won't retire early. He concludes that "people will give him a second chance." Maybe it was just the absurdity and the timing of this comment that really struck me.
As the entire nation confronts the very same issue about giving a narcissistic man-child who's clearly intent on killing civility in our country a "second chance," we have a writer who obviously learned nothing from his own process and investigation trying to rewrite, excuse, and justify the wanton waste, wretched excess, and frauds perpetrated by the scammers and grifters at WeWork. The flatulent folks at Fox could learn a thing or two from this guy.