The name Elizabeth Holmes will forever be associated with Silicon Valley fraud and deception — and if you're unfamiliar with who she is, then you're in a for a wild ride.
When she was a 19-year-old student at Stanford, Elizabeth dropped out to start a company called Theranos that would supposedly change the way people got their lab work done forever. For a while, Elizabeth and her startup were a huge success (valued at $9 billion) that the entire world was calling a massive innovation for the health and medical industry.
The idea that fueled Theranos was this: These days, getting blood drawn is kind of a pain, and healthcare professionals often need a few vials in order to properly analyze one's conditions. Plus, you're relying on a third-party lab (like Quest Diagnostics, for instance,) so results take a while.
Elizabeth's "elevator pitch" was basically this: What if you could run a myriad of tests based on a single drop of blood? What if people were able to routinely self-test and therefore prevent a lot of major health problems?
The thing is: That's not scientifically possible. The device that was supposed to do all this testing was called the Edison (named after Thomas Edison,) and it was basically built to replace lab chemists and give instant lab work results. Except that the product was a disaster. In The Inventor, the HBO documentary about Elizabeth and Theranos, we learned that the Edison would often jam, or its glass tubes filled with blood would break (sometimes while the chemists were reaching their hands inside, which posed as a huge hazard.)
Basically? The invention that meant to prove someone could truly get lab results from a single drop of blood was non-functioning. It didn't actually exist. And for years, Elizabeth got away with lying to investors about the Edison, and even partnering up with Walgreens as a trial run.
Patients ended up getting their lab work sent to a third party lab anyway, since the Edison couldn't handle testing samples — many people got false positives and negatives in their results since Theranos wasn't equipped to actually provide people with real answers).
As the truth began to surface, so did Elizabeth Holmes's behavioral peculiarities. Before, she was lauded as a young Steve Jobs — a genius who was on her way to changing the healthcare industry forever. Once it was discovered Theranos wasn't what it claimed to be, the media began looking into Elizabeth and learned that she, herself, was a fraud and wannabe startup pioneer. A major giveaway was the way she presented herself.
First, that voice. How did Elizabeth Holmes change her voice?
Elizabeth was known for her deep, baritone voice, but many people suspected it was fake. Former employees claim that she'd let her guard down and revert back to her "normal" more effeminate voice, especially after a few drinks. It was speculated that Elizabeth faked her deep voice in order to compete in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley. In a podcast clip (below), you can hear Elizabeth shift to a higher pitch for a second.
Her carefully crafted persona worked: She was able to get powerful male venture capitalists like Tim Draper and even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to give her millions of dollars in funding.
People also commented on Elizabeth's intense eyes that never blinked.
If you watched The Inventor, you'll notice that Elizabeth never blinks. She maintained steady eye contact, even widening her eyes to make it known that her focus was completely on the person to whom she was talking. It was an intimidation tactic, and a way to make investors (or anyone she was lying to) feel like she was telling the truth.
By never blinking or looking away from her subject, Elizabeth was able to manipulate people into think that she knew what she was talking about. It's basically how she duped the world.
Other details about the way she presented herself were scrutinized, like the fact that Elizabeth went out and had the exact same black turtleneck Steve Jobs wore designed (by famous designer Issey Miyake) for her. While one can argue Elizabeth faced more criticism as a woman, it's undeniable how purposely deceiving her made-up image was.
What happened to Theranos?
In August, 2015, the FDA began looking into Theranos and found "major inaccuracies" in the testing. After the Wall Street Journal published an investigation in October, 2015, Theranos's reputation took an even greater hit. In July, 2016, Theranos was banned from lab-testing and the company completely shut down its lab operations.
In March, 2018, Elizabeth Holmes and her COO (and at one time, romantic partner) Sunny Balwani were charged with "massive fraud" by the SEC. Later that year, the company finally shut down.
What happened to Elizabeth Holmes?
Elizabeth met William "Billy" Evans, a 27-year-old heir to a major property management company in California. They had reportedly met back in 2017. The last time anyone knew for sure, Elizabeth and Billy were living in an apartment in San Francisco that costs $5,000 a month to rent out.
Is Elizabeth going to jail?
Elizabeth was charged with nine counts of wire fraud and her court date was scheduled for this summer. She could face 20 years in prison, along with a $2.7 million fine. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, Elizabeth's lawyers want to push the date. They argue that it's unfair to remotely prepare for Elizabeth's trial.
"There are certain core functions such as serving subpoenas and meeting with witnesses that cannot be performed remotely. They need to, under existing law, be performed in-person and some need to be performed now to keep the current schedule," Lance Wade, Elizabeth's defense attorney stated. U.S. District Judge Edward Davila denied this request and says that the date won't be changed, although he's aware of the current conditions.
"I'm not going to disturb our trial date date. But I'm also mindful July 28 is coming quickly. I'm concerned what our jury pool is going to look like and be like in July, what the national condition is going to be like in July given these terrible conditions. That's not lost on me," the judge stated.
At this point, everyone wants to see Elizabeth finally face real consequences. The damages brought upon by Theranos, along with the thousands of lives negatively impacted, are shocking. All of the people, including investors (although, IDK, maybe do a little more research next time, guys,) deserve justice. Hopefully we'll see that happen this summer.