Peter Attia Almost Worked for Theranos


2 years ago



Peter Attia

3 appearances

Peter Attia, M.D., is a physician specializing in the science of longevity and optimal performance. He is the founder of Early Medical, host of "The Drive" podcast, and author, along with Bill Gifford, of "Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity.


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I wanted to talk to you about this is a little bit of a deviation but it's not really. I wanted to talk to you about Theranos because I am fucking completely obsessed with that lady and her scam company. Dude, did you know that I was almost the chief medical officer of that company? No. Yeah, dude. So in 2006, my McKinsey office, which was in Palo Alto, was on the same, was on Page Mill, which was one street over from where Theranos was located. So Theranos at the time was a super small company. So a good friend of mine, his father-in-law was on the board and knew Elizabeth Holmes very well. He was her professor at Stanford. And the company was small at that time. It's like maybe 30 people there, something like that. And he said, look, I want you, my friend, to potentially look at this company because they could really use a CFO. And he was in private equity at the time, really smart guy. And to make long story short, I got introduced to Elizabeth. So I went down and had lunch with her one day. Did you ever catch her talking in a real voice? I met her later and she already had the fake voice, but I can't remember that day what her voice was like. I wish I could remember, but it's like 15 years ago, right? I would remember if it was weird. I don't think it was. I think it must have been a real... Did she talk like this? I would say, what is going on? Yeah, yeah, yeah. What is cancer? I don't think... What are you doing? I think she must have been talking in a normal voice. But here's what interested me. I sat down in the office and she pulled out a black box that was... I don't know if it was called Edison at the time or if it was the precursor to what would become Edison. Diagnostics is not something I knew a ton about, but I'd spent two years at the NIH and I certainly understand how chemical reagents work and I understand how chemical assays work. And I know how, for example, and Eliza works. And Eliza is a type of assay that you do to measure something, but it requires a lot of washing and rinsing and repeating. And I know that many biomarkers that are of interest, for example, something like insulin, if you want to measure a person's insulin level, you have to do these types of assays, right? So I was saying to her, you know, Elizabeth, I don't understand how you could put a drop of blood in here and get anything out that's more interesting than glucose, hemoglobin, sodium and potassium. Really simple things that can work, you know, that can be measured off a drop of blood. And she kind of gave me some answer and I said, well, can I see the inside of the box? And she said, absolutely not. And I said, well, I've signed an NDA, you know, I had to sign an NDA to get in the building, so she was like, no. So I just decided I wasn't interested in the company because I couldn't get sort of straight answers from her. So I ended up not doing it. So fast forward to 20... This was 2006. Fast forward to 2015, she's now on the cover of Forbes. And you're like, hmm. Well, no, no, I remember one day saying to my wife, because she was on the cover of Forbes and the company was valued a little over $9 billion. And I said to my wife, do you know how much we would be worth if I had taken that job now? And she's like, how much? And I told her and she's like, good God. And so I'm at the Vanity Fair event in San Francisco. I didn't know it at the time. This was a week before the Wall Street Journal article would fall, John Cario's article that was the one that kind of unraveled all of Theranos in October of 2015. How did he figure it out? How did this one guy figure out that it was all... So I haven't read his book, Bad Blood, but I saw the documentary, so, you know, that's like a poor man's version of it. But basically just interviewing people who were formerly employees of the company. Oh, so they were bean spillers. Yeah. And they were basically like, yeah, this is a total scam. Oh my God. And so sure enough, I'm at this reception, and she's the speaker of the event. So she's like, it's a four day conference and she's the one everyone there does there to see. So I'm sitting at a table and I'm having a cocktail and she walks up and she... And I said, hey, Elizabeth, you probably don't remember. She goes, no, I remember you exactly. And she remembered my name and even remembered how I had been introduced to her. I was like, really blown away. We exchanged pleasantries. She gave me her card and then a week later it all unraveled. And it's really funny. I still have the card. I should frame it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She must have known that the shit was hitting the fan. No, no, she totally did. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because the shit was hitting the fan six months earlier. What does one do? And it's not like you can liquidate, right? Like if you're worth $9 billion, but it's all stock and the product is nonsense, you can't even get out. Well, it's a private company. So at best, she could have, along the way, been doing secondaries off her take. Oh, so it wasn't even... Yeah. Yeah. I'm fascinated that she wouldn't let you look into the box. Because I guess if you looked into the box, you would immediately be able to be... I don't know that I would have. I don't want to overstate my credentials. I'm not a clinical chemist. She could have duped me, I'm sure. And again, we're under NDA. We're talking about me joining her company as a chief medical officer. How are you not going to let me see inside this freaking box? How am I going to do my job? How could she have duped you though, if she's not technically astute? She doesn't really understand it. I don't know if she could. I mean, look, she presumably duped people smarter than me, right? This is what drives me crazy. I think she duped people from the image. I think they wanted to believe. They wanted to believe that there was this female wonderkind who left Stanford at 19 years old, dropped out of school, and figured out this amazing technology along the way became, at least until she got busted, the richest self-made woman ever. She was worth, I think, like her own personal... Four and a half billion. Crazy. Crazy. And she just faked it. And one of the ways she got busted was people from college that she went to school with. We're like, why are you talking like that? Like what's happening? And then people started hearing that that wasn't her real voice. And then people started to like, rumors and murmurs. There's so many layers to that story. Oh man, no doubt. Yeah, it's a fascinating one. It really is. It's such an interesting story. So for you, when all that was going down, that must have been incredibly sweet. Because now you don't have to think, man, I missed out on all that money. Yeah, for sure. And I was also, I felt a little bit validated. Like, okay, there was a reason she didn't want to show me the inside of the box. Right. Yeah. It might have been empty. It literally might have been empty. That was candy in there. It's a giant little thing. Dude, she got so many people. She got Betsy DeVos for like a hundred million. And poor General Mattis, the guy didn't have two nickels to rub together when he gets out of the military. He put like a couple hundred K in or something obscene for him. Yeah. Fuck. Crazy. Whenever someone comes to me, like some guy came to me with some crazy, I mean, I don't know if it's real. So I don't want to talk about it, like say it specifically. But if it's true, it sounds like this guy's going to revolutionize a form of travel. And so he's telling me about this. I'm just like, wow. And then I said to my business manager who was with me at the time, I go, don't ever forget about Theranos. Whenever someone tells you something, the moment someone tells me, I go, yeah, yeah, when it happens, I believe you. I don't want to be involved in any groundbreaking shit before it actually looks, especially in some area where I'm completely ignorant. And what am I to do? Just start going to school, try to figure out engineering to think of this guy saying something that's actually possible and plausible. No, can't do it. Not interested, buddy. So for you, though, when it did come out, though, there had to be like a cool feeling of satisfaction. There had to be a little something there where you're like, I mean, the first person I called was my buddy, the guy who had introduced me to her way back. And I was like, dude, what are the dinner conversations like? And he's like, oh, dude, it's not good because his father-in-law was still in the believing camp. Oh, no. Oh, yeah. They talk about him in the. Yeah. Oh, fuck. So it was. So he got duped long after the jig was up, right? Yeah. But again, I don't know the details, but it was it was I was like, man, fuck, it's good that we didn't do that. But watch the entire episode for free only on Spotify.