Drawing on extraordinary access to never-before-seen footage, Oscar winner Alex Gibney (HBO’s Emmy-winning “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief“) directs the riveting documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which reveals what happened and explores the psychology of deception behind Silicon Valley’s ”fake it till you make it” mindset. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley debuts Monday, March 18, exclusively on HBO.
In 2004, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford to start a company that was going to revolutionize 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 SEC, and her company was worthless.
The documentary features interviews with: John Carreyrou, who first broke the story in the Wall Street Journal and went on to write “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.
Brilliant, determined and self-assured, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University at age 19 and founded Theranos the following year with the goal of “democratizing healthcare.” The company’s most innovative and radical 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. The device would revolutionize health care, bringing down diagnostic costs and providing doctors and patients with 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 store 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 3-D graphics, director Gibney 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.
Elizabeth Holmes was a brilliant storyteller and media handler, well-spoken, attractive, and exuding intelligence and confidence. For years, she rebutted negative rumors about her blood-testing device and dismissed employee defections. In addition to her high-profile board members, Holmes boasted such powerful defenders as her attorney, David Boies, and venture capital investor Tim Draper, who lamented in March 2018, “We have taken down another great icon,” amidst mounting scrutiny from press and regulators. Soon after, federal prosecutors indicted Holmes and her COO, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, for conspiracy to commit fraud.
“This story is a classic example of truth is more dramatic than fiction,” says Alex Gibney. “The characters are at once larger-than-life and real.”