In 2013, the year before Forbes crowned her the world’s so-called “youngest self-made female billionaire,” Elizabeth Holmes and her then-boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani celebrated Theranos’ early fundraising success with the purchase of a lavish estate in Atherton, a small Silicon Valley city known for being home to many of California’s wealthiest tech moguls.
Of course, the notion of Holmes as self-made was somewhat controversial from the start, given that the Stanford dropout was born to well-to-do and very well-connected parents. But by 2016, that point was moot because Holmes was no longer a billionaire; the former media darling and her Palo Alto-based company were staring down a slew of federal investigations and lawsuits. Today, things are perhaps even bleaker for Holmes — the 38-year-old is facing up to 20 years in prison and millions in fines, convicted of criminally defrauding investors.
The tawdry tale of Theranos has become part of pop culture lore, with the ill-fated blood-testing startup’s story immortalized in Hulu miniseries “The Dropout,” starring Amanda Seyfried. A particularly bulbous Holmby Hills mansion was used to portray Holmes’ Bay Area residence, and Naveen Andrews portrays ex-Theranos president and COO Balwani, a former Microsoft employee who made his first fortune during the Y2K dot-com bubble. Outside the office, Balwani was also involved in a longterm and clandestine romance with Holmes, though their relationship was not disclosed to investors.
That paranoid sort of secrecy also extended to real estate. Holmes and Balwani used a mysteriously-named shell company to pay exactly $9 million for that Atherton mansion, carefully obscuring their ownership of the property from prying eyes. While the couple’s relationship disintegrated in 2016, the pair continued to jointly own the estate until March 2018, when records show Balwani paid Holmes $7.9 million to buy out Holmes’ 50% stake in the house. (Yes, the property apparently nearly doubled in value over five years.)
Last November, Balwani put the mansion up for grabs with a $16.5 million ask; it sold in January for just over $15.8 million to software engineer Hansong Zhang, a former Roblox executive, and his wife Sally Shi, a managing director at investment bank Oppenheimer Holdings. That’s good news for Balwani, who probably needs the capital — he’s currently embroiled in expensive and ongoing litigation, charged by the SEC with securities fraud.
But the Atherton estate itself feels a world away from all that ugliness. Situated in the same leafy town that’s also home to Steph Curry, Google cofounder Sergey Brin, Marc Andreessen, WhatsApp’s Jan Koum and Charles Schwab, the one-acre property lies on one of the neighborhood’s poshest streets.