'The Dropout': Inside Sunny Balwani's Company He Sold for $40 Million Before Meeting Elizabeth Holmes

Prior to meeting Elizabeth Holmes and getting involved in Theranos, as chronicled in Hulu’s The Dropout, technology entrepreneur Sunny Balwani had already made millions.

Sunny Balwani made $40 million for the CommerceBid acquisition

Before meeting Elizabeth Holmes in 2002, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani worked for software companies Lotus Software and Microsoft.

Around 1998, he had a role in launching the software development company CommerceBid created to help organizations buy and sell commodities using the Internet, which began exploding in popularity. In July 1999, business-to-business e-commerce company CommerceOne, which used auctions to connect businesses to its suppliers, had its first trading day after going public.

The stock price reportedly soared 190%. In November of that year, CommerceOne acquired CommerceBid from Balwani for $4.5 million in cash and 785,000 shares in the company before partnering with General Motors for an online marketplace.

He then joined the board of CommerceOne before selling his shares for nearly $40 million in July 2000, shortly before the dot-com bubble burst that eventually put CommerceOne out of business six years later.

Balwani was married and 37-years-old when he met Elizabeth Holmes

After selling his shares, Balwani went back to school and attended the University of California, Berkeley. While a student, the then 37-year-old met 18-year-old Holmes during a 2002 Beijing trip as part of Stanford University’s Mandarin program.

Reportedly married at the time, he and Holmes didn’t begin a romantic relationship until 2003, when he earned his Master of Business Administration, and she dropped out to pursue Theranos. The couple moved in together in 2005.

As she focused on launching the health technology company, he enrolled in a computer science graduate program at Stanford University, where he studied for four years before dropping out in 2008 to help with Theranos. He didn’t officially join the company until 2009 as Chief Operating Officer, but it’s reported that he always had something to do with Theranos behind the scenes.

While running the company together, the pair never revealed their romantic relationship until it began getting investigated, eventually leading to his departure in 2016. It’s unclear why Balwani exited, but she claims she fired him, and he has stated he chose to leave.

‘The Dropout’ portrayed Balwani and Holmes’s romantic relationship

The Dropout had portrayed Balwani (Naveen Andrews) and Holmes’s (Amanda Seyfried) decade-long relationship, which began when the 18-year-old met the technology entrepreneur in Beijing the summer before she started Stanford.

As documented in the show, Holmes seemed eager to learn Mandarin while he wanted something to fill his time after selling CommerceBid. However, the two quickly bonded over her desire to become a billionaire through an invention that helps people.

The couple briefly separated before reconciling and beginning an official relationship in 2003 when Holmes launched Theranos. Before Balwani joined the board, the show portrayed him as someone who had a lot to do with her change into “professionalism” and how she operated the company.

He eventually joined the board as COO when Holmes got cornered by investors and promised his money to help keep Theranos afloat. Balwani then became an unlikeable central figure who began running the day-to-day operations in a controlled and fear-based environment. When they received sanctions from the CMS, shutting them down for two years, and Theranos came under criminal investigation in 2016, the couple parted ways.

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