Why Blood Test Startup Theranos Raised Money So Easily

Jul 11, 2016

In the months since blood testing company Theranos started facing serious questions about its technology, another big question has emerged: How on earth did it manage to raise $400 million in funding at a $9 billion valuation?

"It’s probably not that different from when technology investors wanted to become green investors—and that didn’t’ work out too well," said GV managing partner Bill Maris on Monday at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.

Maris, of course, was referring to the short-lived trend in the mid-2000s of venture capitalists rushing to invest in renewable energy startups—without much real success. Famed VC firm Kleiner Perkins is the poster child for this, after a series of failed investments in green technology led it to abandon its ambitions.

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In October, the Wall Street Journal published several reports that questioned Theranos' technology and its accuracy. Since then, the company has come under fire from regulators, and in May, it threw out two years of results conducted from its proprietary blood testing machine.

Maris, who has publicly said that his firm has looked at Theranos, but passed on investing, added that it usually makes investments alongside other biotech-focused funds. Although GV does have strong expertise in biotech and health technology, this is added reassurance. When it comes to doing due diligence on biotech companies, it requires a level of thoroughness and subject matter expertise that isn't as necessary for a photo app or e-commerce business, for example. It's easy to fool an investor with a polished presentation and carefully selected data (or no data at all).

"Companies have gotten so good at manufacturing data," chimed in TPG partner David Trujillo, adding that Theranos was also able to operate under relatively little oversight from regulators.

"The amount of scrutiny that Uber gets when they’re trying to move people from place to place, compared to the amount of scrutiny Theranos got when they’re trying to roll out blood tests around the country" is very different, Maris added. GV is, of course, an investor in Uber.

Though Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes has been very vocal about her company's desire to get FDA approval for its tests (and has so far gotten it for one), it's not a requirement for a company like Theranos, she has emphasized. Instead, labs like Theranos comply with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' CLIA standards for clinical labs, though earlier this week, its CLIA license was revoked. Holmes has also been banned from operating a lab for two years.

An earlier version of this story attributed a quote to David Trujillo instead of Bill Maris. The story has been corrected.

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