Few startup businesses in the history of Silicon Valley have had such a dramatic rise and fall as the fallen MedTech company Theranos and its enigmatic founder Elizabeth Holmes.
With the story of the dream of a blood-testing machine that could change the world with a pinprick of blood entering its final chapter with the conviction of its founder on fraud charges, it may seem that the only lesson to learn from Elizabeth Holmes is not to lie and deceive.
However, there are lessons about the case that are important to learn from a lean startup coach as well that will through the benefit of examples help every startup operate in a way that will help them succeed beyond the short term.
Only Promise What You Can Deliver
The Theranos story was a case of promising the seemingly impossible to such a degree that all sense of reality and expectations were lost, not only by Ms Holmes but the stakeholders surrounding her and a lot of the media who followed the story from beginning to end.
There is a principle in customer service that you should always promise what you can deliver and deliver what you promise, and startups with a big idea should do the same.
Lean principles help in this regard, as the focus is on producing a minimum viable product to see if the dream makes any realistic sense, and to change course if not.
Theranos tried for 15 years to build the same type of product through three iterations and rather than be open about their struggles started to lie about their results, causing tangible damage in the process.
Listen To Feedback
Criticism can be tough to hear sometimes, but feedback and constructive criticism is vital to self-improvement and the culture of an organisation and should be especially encouraged in a startup that is rapidly developing and adapting to the needs of its consumers.
Ms Holmes’ work culture was brutal and toxic, but the warning signs could be seen in Theranos media appearances, which seemed to hold both internal and external critics in complete contempt.
Do Not Fall For Your Own Hype
Not one person always hits the bullseye. We all make mistakes, errors in judgement and react to the inevitable issues that come with running a startup.
Part of the reason why lean is an important startup principle is it allows the room to make mistakes without losing everything in the process.
Be confident, passionate and driven, but do not let that turn into arrogance or stop you from listening to the feedback that could make your product the best it can possibly be.