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The True Story of Sunny Balwani in The Dropout. Where Is He Now?

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Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani first met future Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in Beijing in 2002. Holmes was then 19 and attending Stanford University’s Mandarin program, which was held over the summer before the start of the school year. Balwani was 37.

As in The Dropout, Hulu’s new series dramatizing the rise and fall of Theranos, Holmes and Balwani immediately became close. They developed a friendship, which later turned into a romantic relationship and then a dysfunctional partnership with Balwani investing some $12-14 million into Holmes’ company before leaving in 2016.

By then, Theranos was under investigation for fraud, having been exposed for touting a questionable technology—a machine that was purported to revolutionize healthcare by providing test results with only a drop of blood.

Balwani had become the company’s president and COO, despite having little experience in biochemistry. In a deposition, a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) attorney asked Holmes about Balwani’s hiring.

“Did he have any qualifications in the lab testing business?” the attorney asked.

“He did not,” Holmes answered.

“Or in pathology or anything like that?” the attorney asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” Holmes answered.

Alongside Holmes, Balwani was indicted on charges of defrauding investors in 2018. Theranos dissolved that same year.

Here’s how Holmes’ seemingly unqualified partner came to be one of the top dogs at Theranos.

Who Is Sunny Balwani?

san jose, california   april 22 former theranos coo ramesh balwani leaves the robert f peckham us federal court on april 22, 2019 in san jose, california former theranos ceo elizabeth holmes and former coo ramesh balwani appeared in federal court for a status hearing both are facing charges of conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly engaging in a multimillion dollar scheme to defraud investors with the theranos blood testing lab services photo by justin sullivangetty images

Justin Sullivan

Little is known or has been reported about Balwani’s pre-Theranos life. The New York Times has reported that Balwani worked as sales manager for Microsoft. In 1999, he became president of the startup CommerceBid.com. The company was bought within a year for $225 million. Though it would later collapse, Balwani reportedly left with $40 million.

According to reporting by The Wall Street Journal’s John Carryrou, who first exposed Thernos’ fraudulent claims to investors in a series of articles, Balwani and Holmes’ relationship began as a friendship in the summer of 2002. They met in Beijing before Holmes’ freshman year in college. Divorce papers earlier that year show that Balwani was then recently separated.

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By 2004, after Holmes had launched Theranos, Balwani had become something of a confidant. He bought a condo in Paolo Alto, and in 2005 Holmes moved in with him. By 2009, Holmes had burned through most of the company’s early investor capital and needed a loan to reach the next stage of fundraising. Balwani says he gave her a $12-14 million loan. He then came on to Theranos to run the company alongside Holmes. No one at the time—investors, board members, partners, employees—knew of their romantic relationship.

According to Carryrou’s reporting in Bad Blood, Balwani then began to take on an immediate management role to the confusion and discomfort of many at the company; he is described as something a paranoid bully.

By this time, Theranos was hoping to market directly to consumers through retail partners, even though their blood-testing machine was still not ready; it could not consistently or accurately give results for the number of tests it claimed to be capable of running.

Although Holmes’ defense at the recent trial would claim that Balwani was the one actively overseeing lab testing and inflating the company’s financial models, texts obtained by Carryrou show that both he and Holmes were actively involved with the company’s day-to-day operations.

Holmes also testified that Balwani abused her and forced her to have sex with him during the time the fraud charges took place.

In 2015, the company came under scrutiny. Walgreens severed its partnership and filed a lawsuit against Theranos. In 2017, the company came under investigation by the SEC. And in 2018, both Holmes and Balwani were indicted on charges of fraud.

Where Is Sunny Balwani now?

san jose, ca   july 17  former theranos coo ramesh balwani appears in federal court for a status hearing on july 17, 2019 in san jose, california former founder of theranos elizabeth homes and balwani are facing charges of conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly engaging in a multimillion dollar scheme to defraud investors with the theranos blood testing lab services  photo by kimberly whitegetty images

Kimberly White

Although Holmes was recently convicted of fraud charges (and awaits sentencing later this year; she could face up to 20 years), Balwani’s trial has not yet started. It is scheduled to begin on March 15 and to last 13 weeks. (Balwani will face the same charges and potential sentencing as Holmes.)

Like Holmes, Balawani does not appear to be in jail awaiting the trial. His whereabouts now have not been reported.

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