Elizabeth Holmes has caused a lot of...bad blood in her industry. The then-20-year-old Stanford student founded Theranos in 2003, promising investors and patients a breakthrough diagnostic technology that required only a drop of blood. 12 years and $700 million in venture funding later, Holmes was a business rock star, embracing publicity and collecting accolades. Then John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal published a startling article indicating that all at Theranos was not what it seemed. It was the beginning of the end for Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.
After the embarrassment of Theranos, you might think that no one would want to innovate in the blood diagnostic business. But Nicolas Durand, who has a master's degree in microengineering and a PhD in nanotechnology, wants to change the narrative in the field. Dr. Durand is the founder and CEO of Abionic, which uses patented nanofluidic technology to measure specific markers in a tiny blood sample.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Durand in New York a few weeks ago, and he shared how he successfully navigated Abionic through the Theranos minefield:
1. Don't Dwell on the Problem - Seize the Opportunity
When your industry is in turmoil, your instinct might be to lay low and not make any more waves. But doing so squanders a chance for your company to make its own, good waves in the field and in business more broadly. Instead of hiding, Durand believes businesses should forge their own path. While it requires a shift in mindset, you cannot allow someone else's bad intentions to cloud your vision or dictate your future.
2. Don't Reflexively Reject Big Brother's Attention
This may sound like counterintuitive advice for business, especially for a field where proprietary technology is so critical to business. But Durand saw the government and regulatory backlash against Theranos as an opportunity to both make the industry safer and rebuild consumer confidence. Remember, there's no such thing as bad press - just make sure you leverage the discussion to your advantage.
3. Differentiate with Transparency
After a Theranos-type incident, every company wants to make clear how unlike the bad actor they are. Durand has behaved exactly counter to Holmes; where she was secretive and vague, he has been an open book. Abionic describes exactly what their technology is and how it works, and it hasn't meant they've revealed any proprietary information. They've also made a point of sharing the clinical studies that validate the functionality of their product. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and it's also the best way to prove your company's integrity.
4. Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
With consumers, regulators, and investors, it's always better to under-promise and over-deliver. This strategy protects you from missed milestones and failed promises, and it makes you look great when you exceed your target. Holmes promised the moon, but was never able to produce. Durand and Abionic have taken a more measured, honest approach, which has kept all their categories of stakeholders pleased with their progress. Running a business is hard enough without setting unachievable standards.
5. Hold Your Cards Until You're Truly Ready
One of the most important distinctions between Theranos and Abionic is the nature of the claims of what their technologies can do. Holmes claimed she could gather "vast amounts of data" from a tiny amount of blood, yet her claims remained largely theoretical. Durand, meanwhile, can list exactly what his technology can currently test for. Abionic is always improving its technology and expanding what it can detect, but it doesn't make that move until it is absolutely ready.