Theranos: when a sociopath convinces investors

8 min readSep 29, 2020

Her rocksteady gaze and baritone voice lured you in. Then, her idea blew your mind.

One drop of blood, hundreds of results: Theranos was going to revolutionize the healthcare industry. And Elizabeth Holmes led this revolution.

Investors blindly trusted her. She rocked magazine covers, and the media called her the female Steve Jobs. Her company was worth billions. But it was all a lie.

How did one person fool the entire world? We’ll tell you all about it in this Company Forensics: Theranos.

The birth of Pandora’s box

By age 9, Elizabeth Holmes had envisioned her time machine. By high school, she was fluent in Mandarin and sold C++ compilers and had her sights on becoming a billionaire. She wanted to study medicine but was afraid of needles.

So, she enrolled in Chemical Engineering at Stanford. There, she met Channing Robertson and insisted he let her work at his lab. A lab, mind you, in which mostly Ph.D.’s worked, not first-year students.

During her first college break, she spent a stint in Singapore, working at a lab testing for SARS.

And it was there that she began questioning current medical blood tests: one needed to draw blood, then transfer it to another device for analysis. Once results were in, medications came from a different place and medical follow-up from yet another source. It was a labor-intensive, error inducing process unchanged in decades.

To a point, she was right, as 70% of errors in testing occur before the lab tests the sample.

Once back at Stanford, she began working on an idea to obtain not just one, but hundreds of results quickly, from drops of blood, instead of traditional vials. Her pace was relentless. It took her less than a year to file her first patent: a smart drug delivery patch.

But her obsession was blood testing. Holmes believed in the power of a single drop of blood. She was so adamant that she dropped out of Stanford to form Theranos, even if her professor Channing Robertson told her not to.