Podcast Review: The Dropout

The Dropout is about the Silicon Valley startup company Theranos and its creator Elizabeth Holmes. This podcast is created ABC and hosted by its correspondent Rebecca Jarvis. You are guided through the rise and fall of Theranos. Investors, former employees, and patients are interviewed about their experiences with the company and Holmes. This podcast presents a lot information in an interesting way that will maintain your attention. It is an insightful podcast to listen to as you follow her trial.

In The Dropout you learn how many people believed in Elizabeth Holmes. Besides receiving millions of dollars of investments for her company, prominent people such as George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Matis joined the Theranos board. With charisma, confidence, and deception, Holmes was able to convince people of the capabilities of the blood reading device she was developing. This device supposingly only needed a tiny drop of blood that could diagnosis numerous diseases and even cancers. During the podcast, you hear how convicting and articulate Elizabeth was from recordings of her speeches and interviews with various people about her. In certain cases, people were afraid to miss out on the latest high earning Silicon Valley venture so they choose to join the bandwagon. This podcast does a great job of showing how a lie was able to flourish for so long. 

In reality, the blood reading device that Theranos developed never came close to functioning. Tests run on it were unreliable or were not completed at all due to malfunctions. Former staff members describe in the podcast working against impossible odds to make Holmes’ promises come true. Criticism of her ideas were ignored and lead to the firing of employees. Employees were additionally bullied by her and Theranos executive Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani when they reported problems with the reader. In parts of the podcast where these incidents are described, you sympathize with the employee who was fired or berated by the executives. You are also are given a clear understanding of how Theranos ended up collapsing.       

The demise of Theranos occurs through the help of one of its former employees, Tyler Schultz. Schultz gets in touch the Wall Street Journal and an article by journalist John Carreyrou about the company leads to its undoing. The Dropout contains interviews with Schultz and Carreyrou that detail what the process was like having the article published. Those interested in journalism will especially this part of the podcast.    

The Dropout covers an enormous amount of information in the podcast but it does not seem like it because the story is presented in such an interesting way. Along with dozens of interesting interviews, there is an audio recording of a deposition Elizabeth Holmes gave regarding fraud at Theranos included in the podcast. In the deposition, you truly learn the extent to which Holmes was lying and how she plays down her previous bold speculations.

Season Two of the podcast is following the trial of Holmes in real time. So far it has proved to be just as thrilling as Season One.

The Dropout can be listened on podcast apps such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music. You can also listen to it on the ABC Audio website.   

The book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is a good followup to The Dropout