What You Don't Know About Elizabeth Holmes

When Elizabeth Holmes first came onto the scene in the early aughts as the young, blond Silicon Valley virtuoso disrupting the health-tech world, she was met with frenzied media coverage, including being named one of Time's top 100 influential people in 2015. Her rise as the founder of Theranos, a company that sought to make blood testing cheaper, faster, and painless, made her the youngest self-made billionaire in history. In the very same year she was on the Time list, an expose by journalist John Carreyrou in the Wall Street Journal alleged that the technology Theranos' claimed to be releasing was virtually non-existent, and the house Elizabeth built began to crumble. By 2018, Theranos was completely shuttered.

Holmes' meteoric rise and subsequent downfall (and potential imprisonment) have spun into a captivating story that continues to unfold. She's been the subject of podcasts, books, and documentaries, and a Hulu series and Hollywood film portraying her life are in the works. It takes a rare human to go from media wunderkind to villain in so short a timeframe. We take a look at the mystique around Elizabeth Holmes, from her early decision to drop out of school and start Theranos to her domination of Silicon Valley, to her mysterious life and legal troubles after her claim on Theranos dissolved.

Her fear of needles inspired Theranos

When Elizabeth Holmes began presenting her concept of a pinprick blood test that eliminated vials and needles, the notion stuck immediately with audiences who all wondered why hadn't anyone thought of this before. But for Holmes, drawing blood wasn't a mere inconvenience. "I really believe that if we were from a foreign planet and we were sitting here and said, 'OK, let's brainstorm on torture experiments,' the concept of sticking a needle into someone and sucking blood out slowly, while the person watches, probably qualifies," she once said to The New Yorker.

Holmes has said she has a "traumatic fear of blood," and she told Wired in 2014 that needles were the only thing that scared her. Holmes also believed that the long process and waiting for results created anxiety that led people to put off seeing a doctor. "Phlebotomy is such a huge inhibitor to people getting tested," she said, adding that "a substantive percentage of patients who get a lab requisition don't follow through, because they're scared of needles or they're afraid of worrying, waiting to hear that something is wrong."

In interviews, Holmes made the issue personal. She often cited the death of a favorite uncle to skin cancer as a reason easy, early diagnostics would save lives. But according to Refinery29, even the uncle story might be a stretch: In journalist John Carreyrou's book "Bad Blood," family members complained that she was using his death in an "exploitative" manner.

Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford

Part of the intrigue surrounding Elizabeth Holmes was her unconventional backstory on the path to uber-success. She dropped out of Stanford University at 19, where she was studying chemical engineering, to pursue Theranos (via The Stanford Daily). "I got to a point where I was enrolled in all these courses, and my parents were spending all this money, and I wasn't going to any of them," Holmes told The New Yorker. It wasn't long after that she became the youngest self-made billionaire on the planet.

The notion of the "college dropout genius" isn't new – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, all left school, only to dominate their fields after. Holmes became a continuation of their legacies, eschewing conventional education for bold, out-of-the-box thinking to bring world-changing results. Dropping out of an elite school became part of her mystique, and ABC even named its Holmes investigative podcast "The Dropout."

Professor Dr. Phyllis Gardner taught Holmes while she was enrolled at Stanford, and she has since become one of her most scathing critics. When Holmes tried to pursue ideas doggedly in school despite little science to back her up, Gardner had trouble redirecting her student, according to Business Insider. "Look, in high tech, you can fake it 'til you make it. In medicine, you do not fake it. Ever. That is verboten, and that is why we have regulatory agencies," Gardner told Mercury News, noting that while Holmes was a sensation in the business world, not many people at Stanford were lauding her.

She convinced investors to part with hundreds of millions of dollars

After leaving Stanford in 2003, Elizabeth Holmes used the money her parents planned to spend on her tuition to kickstart her company, as noted by The New Yorker. With a mission to revolutionize blood tests, she first called it "Real-Time Cures," and later changed the name to the catchier Theranos, a combination of the words "therapy" and "diagnosis" (via The Washington Post). The idea was immediately popular in Silicon Valley. Her first round of investments brought in nearly $7 million in 2004, according to Investopedia. Just ten years later in 2014, Theranos had over $400 million in funding and the company was valued at about $9 billion.

Along with the company's impressive portfolio was a board of directors that added gravitas to its name. Former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former U.S. senators Sam Nunn and Bill Frist, General Jim Mattis, and former CEOs Richard Kovacevich (Wells Fargo) and Riley P. Bechtel (Bechtel Group) served on the board at different points. Notably, Theranos was criticized for the lack of scientific background represented on the board in exchange for a lineup of powerful men.

After reporting shed light on Theranos' capabilities vs. what the company claimed, the SEC eventually charged Holmes and Theranos with "years-long fraud in which they exaggerated or made false statements." Investors who lost enormous sums of money in Theranos include Walmart's Walton family ($150 million), media tycoon Rupert Murdoch ($125 million), and Betsy DeVos ($100 million).

Elizabeth Holmes was reportedly obsessed with Steve Jobs

Before her fraud charges, Elizabeth Holmes was featured on the covers of numerous magazines in her signature black turtleneck, with Inc. emblazoning the words "The Next Steve Jobs" by her image in 2015. The comparison to Apple's founder was very much by design. In his book "Bad Blood," Carreyrou details the numerous ways she modeled her company and life after Jobs, from hiring Apple employees to obsessing over design (she called her product "the iPod of healthcare") to copying his management style.

And then there were the turtlenecks. Jobs famously owned and wore 100 Issey Miyake black turtlenecks. Holmes claimed to have 150 by the same designer, but told Glamour in 2015 that her mother dressed her in turtlenecks as a child, calling it her "uniform." She said, "It makes it easy, because every day you put on the same thing and don't have to think about it — one less thing in your life. All my focus is on the work."

Coincidence or not, her transformation into a singular-minded visionary with no time for fashion fit the stereotype of Silicon Valley's quirky billionaire set. "She no longer devotes time to novels or friends, doesn't date, doesn't own a television, and hasn't taken a vacation in ten years," The New Yorker wrote of Holmes in 2014. Marketing this Jobs-like image was what helped make Theranos and Holmes notorious — but the same attention eventually exposed that underneath Theranos' hype and Apple-like design, the product was not sound.

There's a fierce debate over Elizabeth Holmes' voice

Reporting on Elizabeth Holmes almost always notes her unusual voice, which some allege she purposefully makes sound deeper. In "Bad Blood," reporter John Carreyrou cites sources who claim her voice broke character at times. During an interview with "CBS This Morning," the first question he fielded was about her voice. He described an instance where she "slipped back into a more natural-sounding, young woman's voice" during a meeting with an employee she recently hired. On "The Dropout" podcast (via ABC News), former Theranos employee Ana Arriola also recalled Holmes' voice changing. "It was maybe at one of the company parties, and maybe she had too much to drink or what not, but she fell out of character and exposed that was not necessarily her true voice," Arriola said, speculating that perhaps Holmes used a deeper voice to seem "more convincing" to her male colleagues.

However, Holmes' family members told TMZ her low voice is natural and that many women in the family speak in a baritone. They alleged that sometimes her pitch changes in conversation when she gets "excited or passionate."

Sexist coverage of Holmes and her voice might make an impact in court. Per CNBC, Holmes' lawyers are using the media's hyper-focus on her character to expand the jury selection for her trial, noting, "Media coverage also trades on prejudicial tropes and recurring themes, often relating to Ms. Holmes' demeanor, voice, and physical appearance."

A small industry has developed around her mystique

With Elizabeth Holmes' trial looming, she's popped up as a tongue-in-cheek meme on TikTok and Instagram by acolytes dubbing themselves Holmies. And with any trend comes merchandise. Sites like eBay and Etsy are selling Elizabeth Holmes swag, from ironic tees to mugs decorated with #girlboss next to her image. And Holmies are scooping them up for the 'gram. Etsy shop owner Rania Blaik told Elle she has sold more than 1,200 Holmes items since opening shop at the start of the pandemic. She sees the Holmes #girlboss trend as "mired in irony." "I was never sympathetic," Blaik said. "I was more engrossed with the scope of it, and how her image was always squarely at the center of it."

Real Theranos and Holmes merchandise is also up for grabs. A former employee told Elle magazine that she was fired from Theranos so suddenly during company layoffs in 2015 that she walked out in her lab coat. She's now selling it on Poshmark for $17,000 along with her company fleece (priced at a cool $7,000). And on eBay, old magazines with Holmes on the cover are currently listed from $70 to $5,000.

"You see it with Wall Street Bets — people love to talk about how much they've lost," an Etsy shop owner told CNBC. "There's an obsession with fraud, gambling and taking bad risks. Everyone loves a good villain."

Elizabeth Holmes secretly got married

In a surprising twist, Elizabeth Holmes began appearing sans turtleneck alongside new beau Billy Evans on social media as Theranos dissolved, with one spotting at Burning Man where she wore fur and pink-tinted sunglasses. Evans, a wealthy hotel heir, reportedly met Holmes in 2017 at a Bay-area party, according to the New York Post. Two years later, the couple was planning their wedding (via New York Post), and Evans reportedly gave her his beloved MIT signet ring.

"It was shocking," Evans' former colleague told the New York Post, regarding when people received the couples' wedding invitations. "Some friends are saying, 'I want to go to this wedding because I want to see this spectacle,' and others are like, 'I'm not going. I don't respect her.'" Even Evans' family reportedly had concerns about the relationship, fearing Holmes "brainwashed" Evans. "He's had a lot people very close to him sit him down and have a talk," a colleague said.

Rumors of the wedding started after an audience member spilled the beans at a live recording of the "B*tch Sesh" podcast in San Francisco in 2019 (via Page Six). "Inside the Hive" podcast confirmed with sources that Holmes wed Evans in 2019, revealing that her famous pet Balto was in attendance. "I heard that no Theranos people were invited, which is really interesting because she's still friendly with some of her Theranos folks," Bilton said. Little else is known about the actual celebration.

Elizabeth Holmes' lawyers announced she was pregnant in March 2021

Elizabeth Holmes is apparently full of surprises. Two years after her secret wedding, her attorneys revealed during a Zoom court call that she was pregnant (approximately five months at the time, given her July 2021 due date), as CNBC reported. The bombshell news complicates the tricky business of her criminal fraud trial related to Theranos, for which she faces 20 years in prison.

Though proceedings were set to begin in July, her lawyers requested that the pending trial be moved. The court documents read (via CNN), "The parties have met and conferred, and both parties agree that, in light of this development, it is not feasible to begin the trial on July 13, 2021." The trial was delayed for another six weeks, set for August 31, 2021, when jury selection will begin (her court date was previously postponed three times due to the pandemic). Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Leach told CNBC, "It's frustrating and disappointing to learn about this now," in regards to when prosecutors were told about Holmes' pregnancy. 

Along with delaying the trial, many speculate that Holmes' status as a new mother will garner sympathy from jurors. "Whether conscious or unconscious, judges, prosecutors, and jurors might worry about the effect of maternal incarceration on a newborn baby in a way that they don't when the defendant is male," legal analyst Danny Cevallos noted.

While Holmes wed hotel heir Billy Evans in 2019, court documents do not reveal the name of the father.

A-list stars have fought to portray her in projects

Outside of articles and features on Elizabeth Holmes, she's been the subject of a number of books, podcasts, and documentaries. It was the reporting by investigative journalist John Carreyrou and his book "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup" that originally started the fire, breaking the story of Theranos' alleged fraud. Popular podcast "The Dropout" and HBO documentary "The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley" followed, highlighting the rise and fall of Holmes at Theranos. Though Holmes' story is far from finished, it makes for the kind of drama people cannot resist. So, of course, Hollywood isn't far behind.

On the big screen, Jennifer Lawrence has been named as the lead in the upcoming "Bad Blood," with Adam McKay set to direct the film. Legendary Pictures won a massive bidding war to snag the project in 2016, as Deadline reported. At the time of this writing, no release date has been set (it's still considered in development).

According to Deadline, Amanda Seyfried is set to portray Holmes in the Hulu series "The Dropout," a role "SNL" star Kate McKinnon was originally set to take on but had to ... drop out of. Naveen Andrews will play Holmes' ex-boyfriend and Theranos COO Sunny Balwani, and stars William H. Macy and Laurie Metcalf are also attached to the project (via Variety).

Elizabeth Holmes has a wolf-dog named Balto

Elizabeth Holmes adopted a 9-week-old Siberian Husky in 2017, amidst the turmoil of trying to save Theranos from its eventual demise. She named it Balto after the famous Alaskan sled-dog, and she took him everywhere, including work. Scientists feared the dog would contaminate samples, and Vanity Fair reported that Balto caused other issues in the office. "Balto frequently urinated and defecated at will throughout Theranos headquarters," the magazine's Nick Bilton wrote, noting, "Balto could be found in the corner of the room relieving himself while a frenzied assistant was left to clean up the mess."

Not content to have a regular old dog, Holmes latched onto the fact that Balto, like most Siberian huskies (and the 1995 fictionalized Balto), had a trace of wolf origin. Bilton wrote, "Whenever anyone stopped to pet the pup and ask his breed, Holmes soberly replied, 'He's a wolf.'"

While Balto has become somewhat of a cult figure in the Holmes saga, little is known about the wolf-dog's life now that his owner has largely exited social media. He is said to have failed out of an emergency dog program (huskies are not bred for rescue) and also graced the office of her now-husband Billy Evans' former workplace while they were courting (via New York Post). Holmes and Evans have also been seen walking him in rare snaps. Along with reports that Balto attended their 2019 wedding, the pup's new co-parent is smitten with him, affectionally referring to him as Baltisimo.

Here's how long Elizabeth Holmes could be in prison

After Theranos' carefully constructed story began to unravel due to an expose in The Wall Street Journal in 2015, the floor began to drop at the company. Through interviews with ex-employees, reporter John Carreyrou claimed Theranos overstated its technology's capabilities and that the company was utilizing traditional blood testing methods on competitor machines to produce results. Theranos' largest investor, PFM, sued the company in 2016, and Holmes answered, "I don't know," over 600 times while being questioned by the SEC in 2017. By March 2018, Theranos, Holmes, and COO Sunny Balwani (her boyfriend while at Theranos) were charged with fraud by the SEC. Theranos ultimately began shutting down in 2018, as reported by The New York Times.

Holmes denies wrongdoing and pled not guilty to her criminal charges by a federal grand jury. She faces up to 20 years in prison for her role as CEO in Theranos if she is found guilty. Her trial, after delays due to the pandemic and her surprising pregnancy, begins August 31, 2021.