How this billionaire went from “the next Steve Jobs” to “massive fraud” in just two years
In 2004, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford at 19 to start a company that was going to revolutionise healthcare. In 2014, Theranos was valued at $9 billion, making Holmes, who was touted as “the next Steve Jobs”, the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. Just two years later, Theranos was cited as a “massive fraud” by the The US Securities and Exchange Commission, and her company was worthless.
Directed by Oscar and Emmy winner Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief), the HBO documentary reveals what happened and explores the psychology of deception behind Silicon Valley’s “fake it till you make it” mindset.
“This story is a classic example of truth is more dramatic than fiction,” says Gibney. “The characters are at once larger-than-life and real.”
No surprise, then, that earlier this month Hulu announced they’d ordered The Dropout, a series about Holmes starring Emmy winner Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters). Legendary Pictures also has a movie adaptation in development, Bad Blood, with Oscar winner Adam McKay (Succession, Vice, The Big Short) directing and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes.
Holmes’ most hyped invention was a portable device – named The Edison – that she claimed could quickly and inexpensively diagnose a host of infections and illnesses, using only finger-prick samples of blood to provide potentially life-saving early detection.
Holmes dazzled Silicon Valley and Wall Street over the next few years, raising hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital and enlisting such notables as former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former senators Sam Nunn and Bill Frist, and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis to sit on the company’s board. Among her investors were Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Rupert Murdoch and current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
In 2013, Holmes partnered with Walgreens to introduce her compact blood-testing device in pharmacies.
Soon after, the company was said to be valued at $9 billion, with Forbes calling Holmes the youngest self-made female billionaire.
Then it all collapsed.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley shows that Holmes’ rise from visionary dreamer to self-made billionaire was a hall of mirrors, aided and facilitated by top diplomats and corporate titans who continued to believe in her, despite Theranos’ paranoid secrecy in guarding its purportedly revolutionary device.
Using never-before-seen insider footage and specially created 3D graphics, the documentary goes behind the scenes, revealing how Holmes’ invention was plagued with problems from the start, how Theranos rigged test results and defrauded investors, and how rigid non-disclosure agreements prevented employees from telling the truth.
The documentary features interviews with John Carreyrou, who first broke the story in the Wall Street Journal and went on to write the bestselling Bad Blood; journalists Ken Auletta (The New Yorker) and Roger Parloff (Forbes), who wrote profiles of Holmes; Theranos whistleblowers Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung; former Theranos employees Dave Philippides, Douglas Matje, Ryan Wistort and Tony Nugent; behavioral economist Dan Ariely; and Dr Phyllis Gardner, MD, professor of medicine at Stanford University.
Newsday praised it as a “must-watch”; The Wall Street Journal called it “enthralling”; The Financial Times labelled it “a knuckle-chewing ride for the age of the lie”; and CNN hailed it as “one of those documentaries… that really gets under your skin.”