• Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University to start blood-testing startup Theranos when she was just 19.
  • By 2014, the company was a huge success, and Holmes became the world's youngest female billionaire.
  • But it all came crashing down when the shortcomings and inaccuracies of the company's technology were exposed, and Theranos and Holmes were charged with massive fraud.
  • Here's the story of Holmes' rise and eventual downfall.

In 2014, blood-testing startup Theranos and its founder, 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 of 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.

Last June, Theranos announced Holmes was stepping down as CEO, and the Justice Department announced that a grand jury had indicted Holmes and former Theranos president and COO Sunny Balwani for "alleged wire fraud schemes." Then, in September, Theranos announced it planned to shut down for good after it finished repaying its creditors.

This is how Holmes went from precocious child, to ambitious Stanford dropout, to an embattled startup founder charged with fraud.

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.

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@eholmes2003/Twitter

Source: Elizabeth Holmes/Twitter , CNN , Vanity Fair

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

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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.

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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.

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REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

If Holmes was losing, she would often storm off. More than once, 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.

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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 Universitys summer program, which culminated in a trip to Beijing.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 a finger pinprick and a small amount of blood. Holmes said the tests would be able to detect medical conditions like cancer and high cholesterol.

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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, and Draper has continued to defend Holmes and Theranos even after she was charged with "massive fraud."

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CNBC

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"60 Minutes"

Holmes first met Balwani during her third year at Stanfords 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' whereabouts.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Melia Robinson/Tech Insider

Source: Wired, Business Insider

In 2011, Holmes hired her younger brother, Christian, to work at Theranos. Christian Holmes didnt have a medical or science background hed worked as an analyst in Washington, DC, after graduating from Duke University.

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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.

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Kimberly White/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize

Source: Forbes

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

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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' 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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CNBC/YouTube

Source: CNBC

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

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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.

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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.

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Jeff Chiu/AP

Source: Business Insider

Despite the charges, Holmes was allowed to stay on as CEO of Theranos, as it's a private company. But the company has been hanging on by a thread, and Holmes wrote to investors asking for more money to save Theranos. "In light of where we are, this is no easy ask," Holmes wrote.

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Kimberly White/Getty Images for Fortune

Source: Business Insider

On Friday, June 15th, Theranos announced that Holmes was stepping down as CEO. On the same day, the Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury had indicted Holmes, along with her former partner Balwani, in alleged connection to "wire fraud schemes."

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Jamie McCarthy / Getty

Source: Business Insider , CNBC

In September, Theranos sent an email to shareholders announcing that the company was shutting down. According to The Wall Street Journal, Theranos said it planned to spend the next few months repaying creditors with its remaining resources.

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Thomson Reuters

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Maya Kosoff contributed to an earlier version of this story.

See Also:

SEE ALSO: Leaked video shows Theranos employees playing the video game they created where you shoot at the reporter who exposed the startup's problems