On Sunday, former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée wrote about his personal experience using Theranos, the controversial blood-testing startup that has been valued at $9 billion by private investors. Specifically, he claimed that certain test results he received from the company were well out of line with what he had received from Stanford Hospital’s Hematology Lab, and that subsequent efforts to contact Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes were met with silence.
Gassée is not the only person to have this sort of experience.
I recently was contacted by a senior technology executive in Silicon Valley who years ago was diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer. (We have agreed to keep his identity confidential in the interest of privacy.) Last fall, he had blood drawn by finger stick at a local Walgreens store, which then was sent to Theranos for analysis.
One of the results he received—for something called “free T4,” which helps track thyroid function and disease—was a whopping 308% higher than any of his prior test results since being treated. Theranos marked the result as “high.”
Worried, the executive chose to have the same test done three days later at Stanford Hospital, which produced a result well within his normal range.Fortune has viewed both sets of test results.
The executive says that he called a Theranos customer service number and spoke to someone who took his contact information and promised a call back. It never happened. When the executive shared this lack of reply with his internist, he says the internist was dumbfounded, having had the exact same experience with Theranos.
“I’m very fortunate to have great medical care and have been very diligent in tracking my results over a period of years,” the executive explains. “But what if I was newly-treated, or had an overworked or young doctor who didn’t react by realizing that this result was so far out of line? This isn’t about a startup not doing a grocery delivery properly. It’s about people’s health, people’s lives.”
Theranos does not publish error rates for the free T4 test. It is not clear whether the executive’s blood was analyzed using one of the company’s proprietary Edison machines or with a more conventional machine purchased from a third party, though Holmes said yesterday at a WSJ conference that all finger-stick tests are analyzed using the company’s own equipment.
A Theranos spokesperson says the company logs and tracks inbound calls from ordering physicians. It is common in the laboratory industry for ordering physicians to request reruns, the spokesperson added, and Theranos performs them. The company is, like its peers, federally regulated to track customer complaints.
Founded in 2003, Theranos rose to prominence for technology that allowed its blood diagnostic tests to be performed with a fraction—as little as 1/1000th—of the blood necessary for a conventional test. A series of WSJ reports published last week raised serious questions about the validity of the technology. The company this morning issued a detailed response.
New firm alert: iRobot, the publicly-traded maker of the Roomba, has quietly launched a corporate venture arm, led by Hanns Anders (ex-Claremont Creek Ventures). More strategic than financial.
• Yes, it matters: Two weeks ago, I wrote about how investors were finally beginning to pull back on valuations of private tech startups, after a multi-year rocket ride that created more than 130 companies valued at $1 billion or more. And I’m hardly alone. In short, we seem to have reached peak unicorn.
In response, many have shrugged and said something like, “Even if all of these companies were to completely fail, it wouldn’t really have a broad economic impact. The amount of venture capital invested each year is tiny compared to the public markets, and just half of the amount of VC invested in the dot-com boom.”
But that's a pretty narrow view of what matters, given how many people each of these companies employ (and how many new employees they keep adding). Research firm PitchBook reports that 91 of the U.S.-based unicorn cohort employ around 57,000 people, with many of them adding hundreds of new workers within the past year.
PitchBook reports that 91 U.S.-based unicorn companies employ around 57,000 people. And that’s a low estimate, given that PitchBook doesn’t have data on some companies and has dated figures for others.
The downside of the valuation peak is almost certain to result in fewer jobs, which has all sorts of negative economic consequences (less spending, etc.).
Now, I’m not saying you should be shedding tears for tech engineers, and I’m sure that some San Francisco housing advocates would celebrate widespread tech layoffs. But it is a reminder to all of us that these much-derided, made-up valuations of “unicorns” have tangible effects on real people (including lower-paid, non-engineer employees). Just because it won’t create widespread panic doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential.
THE BIG DEAL
• NASDAQ has acquired SecondMarket, a New York-based facilitator of liquidity for private company securities. No financial terms were disclosed. In related news, SharesPost has sold its stake in the NASDAQ Private Market back to Nasdaq. Read more.
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• Cohera Medical, a Pittsburgh-based developer of absorbable surgical adhesives and sealants, has raised $50 million in growth equity funding from KKR. The company previously raised more than $25 million from firms like Kern Whelan Capital. www.coheramedical.com
• Adjust, a Berlin-based business intelligence firm for mobile apps, has raised $17 million in new VC funding from Highland Capital Europe. www.adjust.com
• Betabrand, a San Francisco-based platform for crowdsourcing and crowdfunding new fashion products, has raised $15 million in new VC funding from Morgan Stanley and Foundry Group. www.betabrand.com
• Conversocial, a London-based provider of social customer service solutions, has raised $11 million in new VC funding. Dawn Capital led the round, and was joined by return backers Octopus Ventures and Draper Esprit. www.conversocial.com
• Periscope Data, a San Francisco-based customized visualizations platform for data scientists, has raised $9.5 million in Series A funding. DFJ led the round, and was joined by seed backers Susa Ventures and Innovation Endeavors. www.periscope.io
• Clutter Inc., an on-demand self-storage startup, has raised $9 million in Series A funding led by Sequoia Capital. Read more. www.clutter.io
• Worthy, an online marketplace for pre-owned luxury goods, has raised $8 million in Series B funding led by Carmel Ventures. The company is based in New York with R&D facilities in Israel. www.worthy.com
• Boombox, a Lehi, Utah-based provider of tools that let online publishers create and embed polls and interactive lists, has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding. Pelion Venture Partners led the round, and was joined by Kickstart Seed Fund and Peterson Partners. www.boombox.com
• Mouth Foods Inc., a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based online retailer of "American-made indie food, spirits and wine,” has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding. KarpReilly led the round, and was joined by Vocap Investment Partners, Cherubic Ventures, Bridge Investments, Joanne Wilson and Jason Calacanis. www.mouth.com
• Solinea, a San Francisco-based provider of open infrastructure solutions for deployment and adoption of production clouds, has raised $4 million in Series A funding. Translink Capital led the round, and was joined by ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corp. (as part of a larger strategic agreement). www.solinea.com
• Bownty, a Danish deal aggregator, has raised €3.4 million in Series A funding from HOWZAT Partners and Seed Capital. www.bownty.com
• Rollout, an Israel-based mobile dev/ops startup, has raised $2 million in Series A funding. Canaan Partners Israel led the round, and was joined by return backers Plus Ventures, 2B Angels and Star Farm Ventures. www.rollout.io
• RevBoss Inc., a Durham, N.C.-based provider of sales prospecting software automation solutions, has raised $1.1 million in seed funding led by Sovereign’s Capital. www.revboss.com
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• Argosy Investment Partners has acquired AUC Group LP, a Houston, Texas-based provider of wastewater treatment solutions to municipalities, from Bow River Capital. No financial terms were disclosed. Greene Holcomb Fisher managed the process. www.aucgrouplp.com
• Arle Capital has received four bids for Spanish theme park operator Parques Reunidos, in a deal that could generate around €2 billion, according to Reuters. The suitors are Apax Partners, Advent International, The Carlyle Group and KSL Capital Partners. Read more.
• Calera Capital has acquired a majority equity stake in RFIB Holdings Ltd., a London-based international Lloyd’s insurance and reinsurance broker. No financial terms were disclosed. Dennis Mahoney, former CEO of Aon UK, co-invested on the deal and will become RFIB’s executive chairman. www.rfib.com
• Imaginetics LLC, an Auburn, Wash.-based maker of precision metal components and assemblies for the aerospace industry, has acquired Azmark Aerosystems LLC, a Gilbert, Ariz.-based manufacturer of hard metal components for the aerospace and defense industries. No financial terms were disclosed. Imaginetics is a portfolio company of Kidd & Co. and Centerfield Capital Partners. www.imagineticsinc.com
• J.W. Childs Associates has acquired a majority stake in KeyImpact Sales and Systems Inc., an Odenton, Md.-based sales and marketing agency to the foodservice industry, from Eos Partners. No financial terms were disclosed. www.kisales.com
• Kraco Enterprises, a Compton, Calif.-based portfolio company of Sun Capital Partners, has acquired Who-Rae, an Australian maker and distributor of automotive aftermarket accessories. No financial terms were disclosed. www.kraco.com
• Pfingsten Partners has acquired Crane 1 Services Inc., a Franklin, Ohio-based provider of overhead crane and hoist services and equipment. No financial terms were disclosed. www.crane1services.com
• Profile Products LLC, a Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based portfolio company of Platte River Equity, has acquired Central Fiber LLC, a Wellsville, Kansas-based manufacturer of cellulose and wood fiber products. No financial terms were disclosed. www.profileproducts.com
• Silver Lake and Thoma Bravo have agreed to acquire SolarWinds (NYSE: SWI), an Austin, Texas-based provider of IT management software, for $4.5 billion, or $60.10 per share in cash (43.5% premium to the closing price on Oct. 8, the day before SolarWinds said it was exploring strategic alternatives). Read more.
• Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm, has raised an undisclosed amount of growth funding from Teakwood Capital. www.stratfor.com
• Stone-Goff Partners has acquired a control stake in The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, an Edgewater, Md.-based chain of 41 company-owned and franchised casual dining restaurants and sports bars. No financial terms were disclosed. www.thegreeneturtle.com
• Thoma Bravo has completed its previously-announced acquisition of a majority stake in DigiCert, a Linden, Utah-based provider of enterprise certificate management solutions. Existing majority investor TA Associates retained a minority equity position. No financial terms were disclosed. www.digicert.com
• China International Capital Corp., a Chinese investment bank whose shareholders include KKR, has cut back the size of its proposed Hong Kong IPO from $1 billion to $800 million, according to the • . Read more.
• Multi Packaging Solutions International Ltd., a global manufacturer of packaging solutions for the consumer and healthcare markets, raised $215 million in its IPO. The company priced 16.5 million shares at $13 per share, compared to plans to offer 13.5 million shares at between $15 and $17 per share. The company has an initial market cap of around $1 billion (EV of $2b), and will trade on the NYSE under ticker symbol MPSX. BofA Merrill Lynch and Barclays served as lead underwriters. MPSI was formed in 2013 via the merger of Chesapeake Services (owned by The Carlyle Group) and Multi Packaging Solutions (owned by Madison Dearborn Partners). www.multipkg.com
• Noble Midstream Partners LP, a Houston, Texas-based spinout of Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL) that will focus on domestic midstream energy infrastructure assets, has filed for a $100 million IPO. It plans to trade on the NYSE under ticker symbol NBLX, with Barclays, Baird and J.P. Morgan serving as lead underwriters. www.nobleenergyinc.com
Viventia Bio Inc., a Canadian developer of targeted protein therapeutics for cancer, has filed for an $86.25 million IPO. The pre-revenue company plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol VITA, with Leerink Partners, Cowen & Co. and Guggenheim Securities serving as lead underwriters. www.viventia.com
• Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) reportedly has agreed to acquire Israeli cybersecurity startup Secure Islands. Sellers include Credit Suisse. Read more.
• Navient (Nasdaq: NAVI) has acquired Xtend Healthcare, a Hendersonville, Tenn.-based provider of revenue cycle software for the healthcare market. No financial terms were disclosed, except that Xtend is expected to generate around $70 million in 2015 revenue. Sellers are WestView Capital Partners and Brentwood Capital Partners. www.xtendhealthcare.net
• Silver Lake and Warburg Pincus were expecting final bids yesterday on portfolio company Interactive Data Corp., a Bedford, Mass.-based financial information provider that could garner more than $5 billion, according to peHUB. Both Markit Group Ltd. and Intercontinental Exchange Inc. are expected to be among the bidders, as may be The Nasdaq OMX Group. Read more.
• Docker Inc., a San Francisco-based open-source engine for app deployment, has acquired Tatum, a startup that helps users “run Docker containers in any cloud.” No financial terms were disclosed. Docker has raised over $160 million in VC funding from firms like Benchmark, Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, AME Cloud Ventures, Trinity Ventures, and Insight Venture Partners. www.docker.com
• Eni SpA has hired Barclays to explore a sale of its Versalis chemicals unit, according to Bloomberg. The business could be valued at upwards of €1 billion. Read more.
• Santos Ltd. (ASX: STO), an Australian energy giant, has rejected a $5.15 billion cash takeover offer from Scepter Partners. Read more.
• TransAlta Corp. (TSX: TA), an Alberta power generation company, has held takeover talks with multiple suitors over the past few months, according to Bloomberg. The company had a market cap of around C$1.8 billion at market close Tuesday. Read more.
FIRMS & FUNDS
• General Mills (NYSE: GIS) is launching a corporate venture capital unit to invest in food startups. Read more.
• Jaguar Growth Partners, a New York-based private equity firm focused on real assets, has opened a new office in Brazil. It will be led by new hires Christian Klotz (co-founder of UJAY Capital) and Ricardo Costa (former partner with Gavea Investimentos). www.jaguargrowth.com
MOVING IN, UP, ON & OUT
• Eran Broshy and Cliff Gookin have joined Tailwind Capital as operating executives. Broshy previously served as chairman and CEO of inVentiv Health Inc., while Gookin was VP of business devel opment with Omnicare (NYSE: OCR). www.tailwind.com
• Jeffrey Rabel has joined Intermediate Capital Group as a managing director on its U.S. private debt investment team. He previously was with Barclays as a managing director in the financial sponsors group. www.icgam.com
• Spark Capital has quietly made its first full-time hire in San Francisco: Will Reed, a new associate focused on growth equity deals, who previously was with Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe.
• John Thain, the onetime CEO of Merrill Lynch, is stepping down as CEO of lender CIT Group, effective next April. He will remain as CIT’s chairman. Read more.
• Erika White has joined TPG Capital as a San Francisco-based member of its external affairs team. She previously was director of corporate communications with Pandora.
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