Two Tech Titans' Troublesome Monday

There were two really big stories in the tech industry today, neither of them good.

One of them was Uber announcing it would be exiting the Chinese market, selling out to Chinese ride-hailing rival Didi Chuxing.  The other was news that the blood-testing company Theranos was going to finally show and explain in detail how the science works in its technology at the annual meeting of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry in Philadelphia -- but it didn’t happen.

The China mission abort was a surprise for Uber, which has pretty much run roughshod over any speedbump that’s risen in its way, and shown a fairly cutthroat penchant for racing past them. But the Chinese market proved to be a wall, not a speedbump, just as Alibaba proved to eBay, and a legion of Chinese hackers showed Google.

As the New York Times article points out, Uber swerved around many of the mistakes made by of its American tech forebears, focusing on building local teams after seeing other American companies flail and fail by trying to control Chinese operations from the United States.

But in the end, Uber and Did both were losing money, there was no light at the end of the tunnel about that, and the Chinese company had more oomph and in-country financial support to hang on.

Still, weep not for Uber. They’ll be fine, and Didi is actually going to helping them push Uber Global around the world with a new $1 billion investment. Maybe in five years, under a single world economy, we’ll be hailing Uber Didi.

You might, on the other hand, be weeping for Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, though. The oft-turtlenecked black-clad CEO and her company parlayed another potentially positive PR move into a fiasco at the annual American Association for Clinical Chemistry conference, where the firm said it would finally be revealing the science behind its….uh….”controversial” technology -- but instead used the session as a marketing pitch for a new product launch, a “miniLab” version of its blood-testing device. A little digging quickly revealed the device isn’t yet for sale and hasn’t been approved by regulators.

One attendee called Holmes’ presentation/pitch “a bait and switch,” which sounds like a bullseye. On top of that, the little bit of science Theranos did reveal came from studies where blood was drawn from an arm, not a simple pin-prick, as the company has touted previously.

As a guy who’s worked in journalism and PR for almost two decades, I personally can’t understand how anybody could’ve let Holmes do this presentation. By promising one thing but delivering another -- a self-serving “another,” at that -- it buttresses ongoing concerns about the company’s veracity about its product(s). One wonders how much longer this can go on before Theranos just plain bleeds out.

Uber, on the other hand, is taking a braver front, particularly by releasing this news on a Monday instead of burying it (or at least trying to) on a Friday. It shows the inherent confidence at the company, as well as the seeming certainty of its long-term success.