The trial of Elizabeth Holmes is dominating headlines, with the disgraced founder being found guilty of conspiracy and fraud for her involvement in the creation of blood-testing start-up, Theranos.
With The Dropout (starring Amanda Seyfried) currently streaming on Disney+, there has been a renewed sense of interest in the creation of the company, which managed to scam investors, business partners and patients into providing funding and placing their trust in the hands of people who had no idea what they were doing. Apart from Elizabeth Holmes herself, the second most important figure is a man known as Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani.
Holmes and Balwani met in 2002 and quickly struck up a friendship which went from platonic to romantic to strategic over the course of a few short years. Balwani would go on to become a major player in Theranos, while hiding his romantic relationship with Holmes for over a decade, before it all came crashing down for them both. Now, it seems they will likely turn on each other during their own trials in an attempt to reduce their own sentence.
So, from friends to lovers to enemies, below is everything you need to know about Sunny Balwani, and his involvement with Elizabeth and Theranos.
Who is Sunny Balwani?
Elizabeth’s ex-boyfriend Ramesh Balwani (more commonly known as Sunny Balwani) played a large role in the development of Theranos. Balwani is currently on trial, facing charges for 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy.
Little is known about his early or personal life, but Balwani was born in Pakistan and moved to the US in 1986 for college. He would then go on to make millions working as an executive at a software start-up during the dot-com boom.
His involvement with Theranos
Speaking to ABC, Balwani’s attorney confirmed that the software mogul had gotten involved in Theranos because his father had died of a preventable heart attack. He hoped, that by getting involved in such a venture, he would be able to prevent similar deaths in the future. While Holmes worked to be the face of the company, Balwani was thought to be the mastermind working behind-the-scenes and managing the day-to-day operations at Theranos. That being said, his presence was still felt, with former employees reportedly claiming that Elizabeth would often begin sentences with ‘Sunny says.’
In 2009, Balwani joined Theranos as President and Chief Operating Officer, despite having no experience in medicine or lab testing. At this point, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy after burning through $47 million in seed money. Balwani offered up a personal $13 million investment just to keep things afloat.
By 2013, it became clear that both Holmes and Balwani were hiding something, despite continuing to raise insane amounts of capital ($945 million to be exact). Employees were aware that the technology Theranos was peddling out in market simply did not work, and they were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the promises both Holmes and Balwani were making about its capabilities.
While they thought they had most people fooled, Wall Street journalist named John Carreyrou was onto them, and quickly became public enemy number one after writing a series of articles criticising Thereanos’ technology.
During his time as ‘head honcho’ from 2009 – 2016, Balwani was said to have established a culture of terror, where he would frequently fire people to make examples of them, monitor all staff emails and meticulously document the hours of which they worked (eight a day was simply not enough). Most employees claimed to know that Balwani was out of his depth from the get-go, with Carreyrou reporting that Balwani once misheard ‘end effector’ (the claw at the end of a robot’s arm) as ‘endofactor’ (which is not a word) and repeated the error throughout a meeting.
His relationship with Elizabeth
Balwani met Elizabeth in 2002 on a Chinese language exchange program. He was 37-years old, and she was just 18 and about to begin her freshman year at Stanford University. At the time, he was married to artist Keiko Fujimoto, but the pair divorced in December of the same year.
Unbeknown to everyone (including their investors), Holmes and Balwani were in a secret relationship for over a decade. The pair struck up a romance shortly after Holmes dropped out of Stanford in 2003, to found Theranos at age 19. By 2005, they would be living together in Sunny’s Palo Alto condominium.
In 2013, the couple purchased a five-bedroom, seven-bathroom house in Atherton for $9 million. The pair created a limited liability company (LLC) in order to carry out the purchase, which they named ‘HMFR’.
After he left the company in 2016, his relationship with Elizabeth not long after, likely due to the pressure of the scandal. Following the breakup, Balwani bought out Holmes (who owned a 50% stake in HMFR) for $7.9 million in 2018. In January 2022, he sold the 6,800-square-foot property for a staggering $15.8 million, essentially doubling his profit.
Elizabeth’s claims of abuse
Elizabeth Holmes’ trial began in September 2021, and after taking the stand, the disgraced founder revealed a bombshell accusation against her former boyfriend, Balwani (per The Cut). In a tearful testimony, she claimed that he would, “force me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to because he would say that he wanted me to know he still loved me.”
She also told the court that he would exercise high degrees of control over her, including what she ate, how she dressed and how she ran Theranos. According to Holmes, the tech-mogul would force her to follow a strict, daily prayer routine and consistently drink green juices which he thought would keep her ‘pure.’
“He told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity and if I followed my instincts I was going to fail,” Holmes state during testimony.
Throughout their relationship, Holmes claimed that Balwani estranged her from her family, forced her to work seven days a week, withheld affection and threw sharp objects at her.
‘I will spend 20 percent of my time (80%) on things that are important to cash flow (short-term cash flow and long-term strategy and will spend
‘I will always give crisp, clean goals to my subordinates, even if they don’t like it – especially if they don’t like it. I will not assume that people will do the ‘right’ or noble thing. They are not motivated by what I am motivated by. Don’t feed pasta and pesto to fish,’ it continued.
Balwani’s lawyers have denied the allegations, labelling them “salacious and inflammatory.”
Where is Sunny Balwani now?
As of yesterday, Balwani is currently standing trial at the San Jose federal courthouse. He has been charged with the same crimes as Holmes, with each carrying a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty, but in January of this year, a jury found Holmes guilty on four counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She is currently awaiting sentencing.