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Tech The rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, who started Theranos when she was 19 and became the world's youngest female billionaire before it all came crashing down

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Elizabeth Holmes started Theranos at age 19 and became the world's youngest female billionaire. But 15 years later, she was charged with massive fraud.

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(Kimberly White/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)

These days, blood-testing startup Theranos is on its last legs.

But in 2014, the billion-dollar company and its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, were on top of the world. Back then, Theranos was a revolutionary idea thought up by a woman hailed as a genius who styled herself as a female Steve Jobs. Holmes was the world's youngest female self-made billionaire, and Theranos was one Silicon Valley's unicorn startups.

Then it all came crashing down.

The shortcomings and inaccuracies of Theranos's technology were exposed, along with the role Holmes played in covering it all up. Theranos and Holmes were charged with massive fraud, and the company was forced to close its labs and testing centers.

This is how Holmes went from precocious child to ambitious Stanford dropout to embattled startup CEO.

Elizabeth Holmes was born on February 3, 1984 in Washington, D.C. Her mom, Noel, was a Congressional committee staffer, and her dad, Christian Holmes, worked for Enron before moving to government agencies like USAID.

Elizabeth Holmes was born on February 3, 1984 in Washington, D.C. Her mom, Noel, was a Congressional committee staffer, and her dad, Christian Holmes, worked for Enron before moving to government agencies like USAID. play

Elizabeth Holmes was born on February 3, 1984 in Washington, D.C. Her mom, Noel, was a Congressional committee staffer, and her dad, Christian Holmes, worked for Enron before moving to government agencies like USAID.

(@eholmes2003/Twitter)

Source: Elizabeth Holmes/Twitter, CNN, Vanity Fair



Holmes' family moved when she was young, from Washington, D.C. to Houston.

Holmes' family moved when she was young, from Washington, D.C. to Houston. play

Holmes' family moved when she was young, from Washington, D.C. to Houston.

(Orhan Cam/Shutterstock)

Source: Fortune



When she was 7, Holmes tried to invent her own time machine, filling up an entire notebook with detailed engineering drawings.

When she was 7, Holmes tried to invent her own time machine, filling up an entire notebook with detailed engineering drawings. play

When she was 7, Holmes tried to invent her own time machine, filling up an entire notebook with detailed engineering drawings.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

At the age of 9, Holmes told relatives she wanted to be a billionaire when she grew up. Her relatives described her as saying it with the "utmost seriousness and determination."

That same year, Holmes wrote a letter to her father: "What I really want out of life is to discover something new, something that mankind didn't know was possible to do."

Source: CBS News, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



Holmes had an "intense competitive streak" from a young age. She often played Monopoly with her younger brother and cousin, and she would insist on playing until the end, collecting the houses and hotels until she won.

Holmes had an "intense competitive streak" from a young age. She often played Monopoly with her younger brother and cousin, and she would insist on playing until the end, collecting the houses and hotels until she won. play

Holmes had an "intense competitive streak" from a young age. She often played Monopoly with her younger brother and cousin, and she would insist on playing until the end, collecting the houses and hotels until she won.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

If Holmes was losing, she would often storm off. More than one, she ran directly through a screen on the door.

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



It was during high school that Holmes developed her work ethic, often staying up late to study. She quickly became a straight-A student, and even started her own business: she sold C++ compilers, a type of software that translates computer code, to Chinese schools.

It was during high school that Holmes developed her work ethic, often staying up late to study. She quickly became a straight-A student, and even started her own business: she sold C++ compilers, a type of software that translates computer code, to Chinese schools. play

It was during high school that Holmes developed her work ethic, often staying up late to study. She quickly became a straight-A student, and even started her own business: she sold C++ compilers, a type of software that translates computer code, to Chinese schools.

(Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Source: Fortune, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



Holmes started taking Mandarin lessons, and part-way through high school, talked her way into being accepted by Stanford University’s summer program, which culminated in a trip to Beijing.

Holmes started taking Mandarin lessons, and part-way through high school, talked her way into being accepted by Stanford University’s summer program, which culminated in a trip to Beijing. play

Holmes started taking Mandarin lessons, and part-way through high school, talked her way into being accepted by Stanford University’s summer program, which culminated in a trip to Beijing.

(Shutterstock)

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



Inspired by her great-great-grandfather Christian Holmes, a surgeon, Holmes decided she wanted to go into medicine. But she discovered early on that she was terrified of needles. Later, she said this influenced her to start Theranos.

Inspired by her great-great-grandfather Christian Holmes, a surgeon, Holmes decided she wanted to go into medicine. But she discovered early on that she was terrified of needles. Later, she said this influenced her to start Theranos. play

Inspired by her great-great-grandfather Christian Holmes, a surgeon, Holmes decided she wanted to go into medicine. But she discovered early on that she was terrified of needles. Later, she said this influenced her to start Theranos.

(Flickr/thirteenofclubs)

Source: San Francisco Business Times



Holmes went to Stanford to study chemical engineering. When she was a freshman, she became a "president's scholar," an honor which came with a $3,000 stipend to go toward a research project.

Holmes went to Stanford to study chemical engineering. When she was a freshman, she became a "president's scholar," an honor which came with a $3,000 stipend to go toward a research project. play

Holmes went to Stanford to study chemical engineering. When she was a freshman, she became a "president's scholar," an honor which came with a $3,000 stipend to go toward a research project.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Source: Fortune



Holmes spent the summer after her freshman year interning at the Genome Institute in Singapore. She got the job partly because she spoke Mandarin.

Holmes spent the summer after her freshman year interning at the Genome Institute in Singapore. She got the job partly because she spoke Mandarin. play

Holmes spent the summer after her freshman year interning at the Genome Institute in Singapore. She got the job partly because she spoke Mandarin.

(Wong Maye-E/AP)

Source: Fortune



As a sophomore, Holmes went to one of her professors, Channing Robertson, and said: "Let's start a company." With his blessing, she founded Real-Time Cures, later changing the company's name to Theranos.

As a sophomore, Holmes went to one of her professors, Channing Robertson, and said: "Let's start a company." With his blessing, she founded Real-Time Cures, later changing the company's name to Theranos. play

As a sophomore, Holmes went to one of her professors, Channing Robertson, and said: "Let's start a company." With his blessing, she founded Real-Time Cures, later changing the company's name to Theranos.

(Getty Images)

Thanks to a typo, early employees’ paychecks actually said "Real-Time Curses."

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



Holmes soon filed a patent application for "Medical device for analyte monitoring and drug delivery," a wearable device that would administer medication, monitor patients' blood, and adjust the dosage as needed.

Holmes soon filed a patent application for "Medical device for analyte monitoring and drug delivery," a wearable device that would administer medication, monitor patients' blood, and adjust the dosage as needed. play

Holmes soon filed a patent application for "Medical device for analyte monitoring and drug delivery," a wearable device that would administer medication, monitor patients' blood, and adjust the dosage as needed.

(Anukool Manoton/Shutterstock)

Source: Fortune, US Patent Office



By the next semester, Holmes had dropped out of Stanford altogether, working on Theranos in the basement of a college house.

By the next semester, Holmes had dropped out of Stanford altogether, working on Theranos in the basement of a college house. play

By the next semester, Holmes had dropped out of Stanford altogether, working on Theranos in the basement of a college house.

(Jeff Chiu/AP)

Source: Wall Street Journal



Theranos's business model was based around the idea that it ran blood tests using proprietary technology that required only pinprick in your finger and a small amount of blood. Holmes said the tests would be able to detect medical conditions like cancer and high cholesterol.

Theranos's business model was based around the idea that it ran blood tests using proprietary technology that required only pinprick in your finger and a small amount of blood. Holmes said the tests would be able to detect medical conditions like cancer and high cholesterol. play

Theranos's business model was based around the idea that it ran blood tests using proprietary technology that required only pinprick in your finger and a small amount of blood. Holmes said the tests would be able to detect medical conditions like cancer and high cholesterol.

(Steve Jennings/Getty Images)

Source: Wall Street Journal



Holmes started raising venture capital money for Theranos from prominent investors like Oracle founder Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, the father of a childhood friend and the founder of prominent VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. To date, Theranos has raised more than $700 million.

Holmes started raising venture capital money for Theranos from prominent investors like Oracle founder Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, the father of a childhood friend and the founder of prominent VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. To date, Theranos has raised more than $700 million. play

Holmes started raising venture capital money for Theranos from prominent investors like Oracle founder Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, the father of a childhood friend and the founder of prominent VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. To date, Theranos has raised more than $700 million.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Source: SEC, Crunchbase



Holmes took investors' money on the condition that she wouldn't have to reveal how Theranos' technology worked. Plus, she would have final say over everything having to do with the company.

Holmes took investors' money on the condition that she wouldn't have to reveal how Theranos' technology worked. Plus, she would have final say over everything having to do with the company. play

Holmes took investors' money on the condition that she wouldn't have to reveal how Theranos' technology worked. Plus, she would have final say over everything having to do with the company.

(JP Yim/Getty)

Source: Vanity Fair



That obsession with secrecy extended to every aspect of Theranos. For the first decade Holmes spent building her company, Theranos operated in stealth mode. She even took three former Theranos employees to court, claiming they had misused Theranos trade secrets.

That obsession with secrecy extended to every aspect of Theranos. For the first decade Holmes spent building her company, Theranos operated in stealth mode. She even took three former Theranos employees to court, claiming they had misused Theranos trade secrets. play

That obsession with secrecy extended to every aspect of Theranos. For the first decade Holmes spent building her company, Theranos operated in stealth mode. She even took three former Theranos employees to court, claiming they had misused Theranos trade secrets.

(Kimberly White/Getty)

Source: San Francisco Business Times



Holmes' attitude toward secrecy was borrowed from a Silicon Valley hero of hers: Steve Jobs. Holmes started wearing black turtlenecks like Jobs, decorated her office with his favorite furniture, and like Jobs, never took vacations.

Holmes' attitude toward secrecy was borrowed from a Silicon Valley hero of hers: Steve Jobs. Holmes started wearing black turtlenecks like Jobs, decorated her office with his favorite furniture, and like Jobs, never took vacations. play

Holmes' attitude toward secrecy was borrowed from a Silicon Valley hero of hers: Steve Jobs. Holmes started wearing black turtlenecks like Jobs, decorated her office with his favorite furniture, and like Jobs, never took vacations.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Source: Vanity Fair



Even Holmes's uncharacteristically deep voice may have been part of a carefully crafted image intended to help her fit in in the male-dominated business world.

Even Holmes's uncharacteristically deep voice may have been part of a carefully crafted image intended to help her fit in in the male-dominated business world. play

Even Holmes's uncharacteristically deep voice may have been part of a carefully crafted image intended to help her fit in in the male-dominated business world.

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



Holmes was a demanding boss, and wanted her employees to work as hard as she did. She had her assistants track when employees arrived and left each day. To encourage people to work longer hours, she started having dinner catered around 8 PM each night.

Holmes was a demanding boss, and wanted her employees to work as hard as she did. She had her assistants track when employees arrived and left each day. To encourage people to work longer hours, she started having dinner catered around 8 PM each night. play

Holmes was a demanding boss, and wanted her employees to work as hard as she did. She had her assistants track when employees arrived and left each day. To encourage people to work longer hours, she started having dinner catered around 8 PM each night.

(Theranos)

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



Shortly after Holmes dropped out of Stanford at age 19, she had been dating Theranos president and COO Sunny Balwani, who was 20 years her senior.

Footage of Sunny Balwani presenting. play

Footage of Sunny Balwani presenting.

("60 Minutes")

Holmes first met Balwani during her third year at Stanford’s summer Mandarin program, the summer before she went to college. She was bullied by some of the other students, and Balwani had come to her aid.

Balwani became Holmes' No. 2 at Theranos despite having little experience. He was said to be a bully, and often tracked his employees' wherabouts.

Holmes and Balwani broke up in spring 2016 when Holmes pushed him out of the company.

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



In 2008, the Theranos board decided to remove Holmes as CEO in favor of someone more experienced. But over the course of a two-hour meeting, Holmes convinced them to let her keep her company.

In 2008, the Theranos board decided to remove Holmes as CEO in favor of someone more experienced. But over the course of a two-hour meeting, Holmes convinced them to let her keep her company. play

In 2008, the Theranos board decided to remove Holmes as CEO in favor of someone more experienced. But over the course of a two-hour meeting, Holmes convinced them to let her keep her company.

(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



As Theranos started to rake in millions of funding, Holmes became the subject of media attention and acclaim in the tech world. She graced the covers of Fortune and Forbes, gave a TED Talk, and spoke on panels with Bill Clinton and Alibaba's Jack Ma.

As Theranos started to rake in millions of funding, Holmes became the subject of media attention and acclaim in the tech world. She graced the covers of Fortune and Forbes, gave a TED Talk, and spoke on panels with Bill Clinton and Alibaba's Jack Ma. play

As Theranos started to rake in millions of funding, Holmes became the subject of media attention and acclaim in the tech world. She graced the covers of Fortune and Forbes, gave a TED Talk, and spoke on panels with Bill Clinton and Alibaba's Jack Ma.

(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Source: Vanity Fair



Theranos quickly began securing outside partnerships. Capital Blue Cross and Cleveland Clinic signed on to offer Theranos tests to their patients, and Walgreens made a deal to open Theranos testing centers. Theranos also formed a secret partnership with Safeway worth $350 million.

Theranos quickly began securing outside partnerships. Capital Blue Cross and Cleveland Clinic signed on to offer Theranos tests to their patients, and Walgreens made a deal to open Theranos testing centers. Theranos also formed a secret partnership with Safeway worth $350 million. play

Theranos quickly began securing outside partnerships. Capital Blue Cross and Cleveland Clinic signed on to offer Theranos tests to their patients, and Walgreens made a deal to open Theranos testing centers. Theranos also formed a secret partnership with Safeway worth $350 million.

(Melia Robinson/Tech Insider)

Source: Wired, Business Insider



In 2011, Holmes hired her younger brother, Christian, to work at Theranos. Christian Holmes didn’t have a medical or science background — he’d worked as an analyst in Washington, DC, after graduating from Duke University.

Elizabeth and Christian Holmes. play

Elizabeth and Christian Holmes.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Christian Holmes spent his early days at Theranos reading about sports online and recruiting his Duke fraternity brother to join the company. People called Holmes and his crew the "Frat Pack" and "Therabros."

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



At one point, Holmes was the world's youngest self-made female billionaire with a net-worth of around $4.5 billion.

At one point, Holmes was the world's youngest self-made female billionaire with a net-worth of around $4.5 billion. play

At one point, Holmes was the world's youngest self-made female billionaire with a net-worth of around $4.5 billion.

(Kimberly White/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)

Source: Forbes



Holmes was obsessed with security at Theranos. She asked anyone who visited the company’s headquarters to sign non-disclosure agreenments before being allowed in the building, and had security guards escort visitors everywhere, even to the bathroom.

Holmes was obsessed with security at Theranos. She asked anyone who visited the company’s headquarters to sign non-disclosure agreenments before being allowed in the building, and had security guards escort visitors everywhere, even to the bathroom. play

Holmes was obsessed with security at Theranos. She asked anyone who visited the company’s headquarters to sign non-disclosure agreenments before being allowed in the building, and had security guards escort visitors everywhere, even to the bathroom.

(Michael Dalder/Reuters)

Holmes hired bodyguards to drive her around in a black Audi sedan. Her nickname was “Eagle One.” The windows in her office had bulletproof glass.

Source: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup



Around the same time, questions were being raised about Theranos's technology. Ian Gibbons — chief scientist at Theranos and one of the company's first hires — warned Holmes that the tests weren't ready for the public to take, and that there were inaccuracies in the technology. Outside scientists began voicing their concerns about Theranos, too.

Around the same time, questions were being raised about Theranos's technology. Ian Gibbons — chief scientist at Theranos and one of the company's first hires — warned Holmes that the tests weren't ready for the public to take, and that there were inaccuracies in the technology. Outside scientists began voicing their concerns about Theranos, too. play

Around the same time, questions were being raised about Theranos's technology. Ian Gibbons — chief scientist at Theranos and one of the company's first hires — warned Holmes that the tests weren't ready for the public to take, and that there were inaccuracies in the technology. Outside scientists began voicing their concerns about Theranos, too.

(Melia Robinson/Tech Insider)

Source: Vanity Fair, Business Insider



By August 2015, the FDA began investigating Theranos, and regulators from the government body that oversees laboratories found "major inaccuracies" in the testing Theranos was doing on patients.

By August 2015, the FDA began investigating Theranos, and regulators from the government body that oversees laboratories found "major inaccuracies" in the testing Theranos was doing on patients. play

By August 2015, the FDA began investigating Theranos, and regulators from the government body that oversees laboratories found "major inaccuracies" in the testing Theranos was doing on patients.

(Mike Segar/Reuters)

Source: Vanity Fair



By October 2015, Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou published his investigation into Theranos's struggles with its technology. Carreyrou's reporting sparked the beginning of the company's downward spiral.

By October 2015, Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou published his investigation into Theranos's struggles with its technology. Carreyrou's reporting sparked the beginning of the company's downward spiral. play

By October 2015, Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou published his investigation into Theranos's struggles with its technology. Carreyrou's reporting sparked the beginning of the company's downward spiral.

(Shutterstock)

Source: Wall Street Journal



Carreyrou found that Theranos' blood-testing machine, named Edison, couldn't give accurate results, so Theranos was running its samples through the same machines used by traditional blood-testing companies.

Carreyrou found that Theranos' blood-testing machine, named Edison, couldn't give accurate results, so Theranos was running its samples through the same machines used by traditional blood-testing companies. play

Carreyrou found that Theranos' blood-testing machine, named Edison, couldn't give accurate results, so Theranos was running its samples through the same machines used by traditional blood-testing companies.

(Carlos Osorio/AP)

Source: Wall Street Journal



Holmes appeared on CNBC's "Mad Money" to defend herself and her company. "This is what happens when you work to change things, and first they think you're crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world," Holmes said.

Holmes appeared on CNBC's "Mad Money" to defend herself and her company. "This is what happens when you work to change things, and first they think you're crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world," Holmes said. play

Holmes appeared on CNBC's "Mad Money" to defend herself and her company. "This is what happens when you work to change things, and first they think you're crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world," Holmes said.

(CNBC/YouTube)

Source: CNBC



By 2016, the FDA, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and SEC were all looking into Theranos.

By 2016, the FDA, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and SEC were all looking into Theranos. play

By 2016, the FDA, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and SEC were all looking into Theranos.

(Getty)

Source: Wall Street Journal, Wired



In July 2016, Holmes was banned from the lab-testing industry for two years. By October, Theranos had shut down lab operations and wellness centers.

In July 2016, Holmes was banned from the lab-testing industry for two years. By October, Theranos had shut down lab operations and wellness centers. play

In July 2016, Holmes was banned from the lab-testing industry for two years. By October, Theranos had shut down lab operations and wellness centers.

(Mike Blake/Reuters)

Source: Business Insider



In March 2018, Theranos, Holmes, and Balwani were charged with "massive fraud" by the SEC. Holmes agreed to give up financial and voting control of the company, pay a $500,000 fine, and return 18.9 million shares of Theranos stock. She also isn't allowed to be the director or officer of a publicly traded company for 10 years.

In March 2018, Theranos, Holmes, and Balwani were charged with "massive fraud" by the SEC. Holmes agreed to give up financial and voting control of the company, pay a $500,000 fine, and return 18.9 million shares of Theranos stock. She also isn't allowed to be the director or officer of a publicly traded company for 10 years. play

In March 2018, Theranos, Holmes, and Balwani were charged with "massive fraud" by the SEC. Holmes agreed to give up financial and voting control of the company, pay a $500,000 fine, and return 18.9 million shares of Theranos stock. She also isn't allowed to be the director or officer of a publicly traded company for 10 years.

(Jeff Chiu/AP)

Source: Business Insider



Despite the charges, Holmes has been allowed to stay on as CEO of Theranos, as it's a private company, not public. But the company is hanging on by a thread, and Holmes has written to investors asking for more money to save Theranos. "In light of where we are, this is no easy ask," Holmes wrote.

Despite the charges, Holmes has been allowed to stay on as CEO of Theranos, as it's a private company, not public. But the company is hanging on by a thread, and Holmes has written to investors asking for more money to save Theranos. "In light of where we are, this is no easy ask," Holmes wrote. play

Despite the charges, Holmes has been allowed to stay on as CEO of Theranos, as it's a private company, not public. But the company is hanging on by a thread, and Holmes has written to investors asking for more money to save Theranos. "In light of where we are, this is no easy ask," Holmes wrote.

(Kimberly White/Getty Images for Fortune)

Source: Business Insider

Maya Kosoff contributed to an earlier version of this story.



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