It’s been a hell of a year for a pair of the best corporate con artists in the US — Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos) and Shane Smith (Vice).
Their ‘marks’ have always been bumbling boomer executives that get taken by their tales of magic, social caring, riches, and millennial fairy dust.
Both their yarns of bullshit have unraveled rather spectacularly this year along with the vaporization of billions in capital. A pair that were once lauded as the new ‘it’ in healthcare and media are now viewed as the embodiment of all that is truly messed up with selfie capitalism.
The big ‘winners’ of selfie capitalism all share the common pathology of a sociopath: an unwavering love for themselves, delusions of grandeur, and pathological lying.
We examine the obvious sociopathic tells of both illustrious selfie capitalists.
Elizabeth Holmes – The Steve Jobs Knockoff with Chutzpah
Earlier this year Grizzle summarized the ‘fake it till you make it’ start up valley stardom checklist that Holmes executed to perfection with the creation of Theranos.
With mainstream media dutifully drinking out of her fraudulent blood siphoning goblet she also created a social movement to empower women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) called Iron Sister (#ironsisters).
These iron sisters were plucked from every corner of earth to project pan-global United Colors of Benetton imagery for media outlets hungry for more of Holmes’ unique form of liberal amazing.
This kind of Sears portrait charity work was par for the ‘millennial leadership playbook’. Don’t call it a day after creating a useless app or phoney blood testing machine — go that extra mile and alter humanity.
Her op-ed in the Huffington Post that unveiled the iron sister movement to the world provided readers this rather dismal venture capital fact:
It takes a truly messed up mind to knowingly run a multi-year, multi-billion dollar venture capital fraud as a woman while at the same time viewing herself as the chosen champion to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling. Her billion dollar con act has undoubtedly done more to harm than to help her enterprising iron sisters.
After the Securities Exchange Commission formally charged Holmes with an elaborate fraud in March it was naturally assumed that she would lay low (as virtually all criminals do).
Ohh but not this #ironsister, she seamlessly pivoted to the next magical invention, having been spotted around Silicon Valley seeking capital for her new startup.
The delusional journey has now likely come to an end with the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California formally charging Holmes and her ex-lover/ex-Theranos COO Sunny Balwani last Friday with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. If convicted, they each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Vice: Shane Smith Hawking Millennial Cred to Hapless Boomer Media Execs
Reeves Wiedeman’s brilliant piece in NY Magazine (“A company built on bluff”, June 10th 2018) laid bare the genius millennial sales bullshit of Shane Smith and the sucker boomer investors that bought into his come-to-Jesus millennial prophet-teering. She chronicles the bravado, hype, and lies that Smith peddled to create the $5.7 billion millennial media darling.
Unlike Theranos, which was fake from the ground up, Vice genuinely had a media product that stood out and engaged — however, most of that magic was under the hilarious editorial direction of co-founder Gavin McInnes while Smith played the greasy promoter.
McInnes was pushed out of Vice in 2008 as his brand of dark ironic humour took on a distinctly ‘alt-right’ bent. Smith knew this morphing wouldn’t be a good look for a brand trying to attract hundreds of millions of dollars to go mainstream.
Under Smith’s guidance Vice became more of a vision of what its boomer funders thought an amazing millennial media brand was— an outlet dedicated to social justice and soft drugs.
For Vice 2018 will go down as the year when their millennial hype fog machine stopped working. Their $100 million partnership with Rogers has been severed, their weekly show on HBO likely won’t get renewed, web traffic has flatlined and their office culture has been exposed as a poster child of the #MeToo era (ironic given their editorial social justice bent).
Smith officially stepped down as CEO earlier this year and now A&E’s Nancy Dubuc (zero millennial media cred) has been charged with righting the ship.
In a short 6-month span Vice has gone ex-growth and ex-millennial — investors will be lucky if they can salvage a unicorn valuation (>$1 billion) from this.
Guy Laurence, CEO of Rogers Comm., busts out his leather jacket to announce partnership with Vice's Shane Smith. pic.twitter.com/h31TTBZHSn
— Simon Houpt (@simonhoupt) October 30, 2014
Smith has always taken a guns blazing approach to any media piece questioning Vice’s master-of-the-universe bonafides.
In March of 2016 The Globe and Mail published a scathing teardown of Vice and Smith specifically — Smith took exception immediately on Twitter quipping about the ‘failure of success in Toronto’ to The Globe’s business editor Derek DeCloet.
lol the failure of success in Toronto.
— shane smith (@shanesmith30) May 26, 2016
It’s rather telling that Smith hasn’t challenged the NY Magazine piece with the same zeal. In this respect it seems like he’s far more cognizant of the limits of his own hyperbole unlike Holmes who chose to push her false narrative right to jail.