TV series about startup failures

Bora
5 min readMay 8, 2023

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I have recently watched a few dramas that explore startup failures. This series exposes the negative consequences of flawed business models and the unethical behaviors of some startup founders, shedding light on the challenges that entrepreneurs face in the startup ecosystem and highlighting the importance of ethical leadership and sustainability in business.

✦ The Dropout

Documents the disgraced biotechnology company Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. At 19, after dropping out of Stanford, she claimed to revolutionize laboratories through blood tests that could be performed rapidly while using tiny amounts of blood.

Holmes made false statements to investors and showed them fake demonstrations of the medical testing device to persuade them to invest in her company, breaching the principles of honesty and integrity.

The show touches on experiences that motivated Holmes’s deceptions and lies, from the beginning to her exposure as a fraud.

In the end, millions of people’s health and lives were put in danger due to inaccurate blood test results, 700 million dollars of investors’ money was lost, and 800 people lost their jobs.

Holmes was sentenced to 11+ years (135 months) in prison. Sunny Balwani, who spent six years as Theranos’s chief operating officer and ex-romantic partner of Holmes, has been sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison over his role in the now-defunct blood-testing firm.

✦ Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber

The TV series documents the rise and fall of Travis Kalanick, the corruption in his Uber empire, and the myriad of scandals, including allegations of data privacy scandals, workplace discrimination, and sexual harassment, and captures the arrogance of the company executives very well.

During his ride-hailing company’s meteoric rise, he came to personify the aggressive, risk-taking nature of a new generation of tech start-ups intent on “disrupting” other industries like taxis, hotels, and food delivery. Uber flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers, and secretly lobbied governments during its aggressive global expansion.

CEO Travis Kalanick ultimately stepped down from the company’s board of directors, severing his last tie with the business in a boardroom coup after tense internal and external battles.

Uber has turned Kalanick into a billionaire. He currently runs a venture fund and a start-up that operates “dark kitchens”—cooking facilities that prepare food for delivery.

✦ WeCrashed

Documents the greed-filled rise and inevitable fall of WeWork, a coworking space company and one of the world’s most valuable startups whose valuation reached $47 billion in 2019 before crashing due to financial revelations.

Behind the crash are the narcissists, real-life married couple Adam and Rebekah Neumann, whose chaotic love made it all possible.

Adam Neumann announced in 2019 that he was stepping down as CEO. In retrospect, Neumann’s knack for amassing billions of dollars in venture capital with no viable business model was one of the greatest scams of the twenty-first century.

Though the well-documented megalomania of Adam and Rebekah Neumann is now primarily recognized as the stuff of nightmares, it worked wonders on investors with too much cash on their hands. So, if it was all a scam, its most prominent victims were the ultra-wealthy.

Neumann received $245m in company stock and $200m in cash, part of an enormous exit package from the office rental company he led to dizzy heights before its equally dramatic fall and the layoff of 2,400 employees globally.

Here is to the crazy ones that change the world!

✦ Bonus: General Magic

After watching all this greed and fraud in modern startups with unrealistic valuations and investments, I can’t help but think of General Magic and extraordinary people in the 90s with a passion for inventing the future by making products and creating amazing things.

The ideas that dominate the tech industry and our day-to-day lives were born at a secretive Silicon Valley start-up named “General Magic” which spun out of Apple in 1990 to create the first handheld personal communicator (or “smartphone”).

They didn’t care about money, salary, or fame. They worked tirelessly, sat on the floors, made products, and created innovations that are the foundation of everything we take for granted today.

We all started in the same place
you are in today.
Everyone has the same self
doubts, and no one’s perfect.
And when you meet your heroes
and when you work with them
and they treat you as a peer,
learn from it.
Keep moving. If you’re
dreaming the right dream,
you’re on the right path.
I’ve been there before,
it’s tough; keep going.
These people helped me
to become the person I am.
How can we take this same idea
of bold, dramatic change
to help create a better society?
We are going to have
to invent those things
and do it in all of these other domains that are
being touched or revolutionized by technology.
It may seem daunting, it may seem difficult,
it may seem impossible,
but if you just find the right people
and keep seeking out
knowledge and advice
keep staying open
to make a better world
regardless of where you come from,
great things can happen.

Tony Fadell, co-creator of the iPod & iPhone

Have you watched any similar shows? Let me know! 💬

Featured on Hacker News. People recommended similar things to watch, which you can find in the comments.

— Thanks for reading.

I’m Bora, an independent designer exploring practical design knowledge, principles, design thinking frameworks, cognitive biases, and how to use design for good.

As designers, by expanding our knowledge, we can increase our impact.

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Bora

Designer with 17+ years of experience. Writing about practical design knowledge, principles and frameworks. 🌱