Ex-Theranos employee lifts the lid on what it was like to work for Elizabeth Holmes

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A former Theranos employee is lifting the lid on what it was like to work as an executive assistant for disgraced founder Elizabeth Holmes and her righthand man Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani.   

Leona Marlene, 31, from California, has been sharing her experience at the failed blood-test startup in a series of TikTok videos, claiming she worked 18-hour days, fetched Holmes fresh green juice, and had to have ‘secret happy hours’ with co-workers because they weren’t allowed to communicate with each other.  

‘Watching “The Dropout” on Hulu knowing your first job in tech was at Theranos working for Elizabeth and Sunny,’ Leona captioned footage of herself watching the new docudrama starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes. 

‘And even though the employees weren’t allowed to talk to each other — a small group of us shared parts of our worlds, went to secret happy hours, and that’s where I met my current BF and besties.’ 

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Leona Marlene, 31, from California, has detailed what it was like to work for Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes' failed blood-test startup, in a series of TikTok videos

Leona Marlene, 31, from California, has detailed what it was like to work for Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes’ failed blood-test startup, in a series of TikTok videos

Leona said she was an executive assistant for Holmes, 38, (pictured) and her righthand man Ramesh'Sunny' Balwani, 56, who was the biotech company's COO at the time

Leona said she was an executive assistant for Holmes, 38, and her righthand man Ramesh'Sunny' Balwani (pictured), 56, who was the biotech company's COO at the time

Leona said she was an executive assistant for Holmes, 38, (left) and her righthand man Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani, 56, (right) who was the biotech company’s COO at the time

Holmes, a Stanford University dropout, founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19. She was, at one point, the youngest female billionaire in the United States and heralded as ‘the next Steve Jobs’ for revolutionizing lab testing with a proprietary blood analysis device nicknamed the ‘Edison.’

The Silicon Valley ‘unicorn’ startup raised $900 million and had more than 800 employees. Her company was more valuable than Uber, Spotify, and Airbnb.  

Early investors included powerhouses like Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, Jim Walton, Robert Kraft, and Betsy DeVos. 

What nobody knew at the time was that her ‘disruptive’ technology didn’t work. The Edison was falsely touted as a magical mini-lab that could process over 240 tests — from cholesterol to cancer — within one hour. 

But blood tests were often secretly conducted on third-party commercial machines made by Siemens. When results did come back from the Edison, they were inconsistent, flawed, or flat-out false. 

Leona first revealed she worked for the company when she shared footage of herself watching the Hulu docudrama'The Dropout' starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes

Leona first revealed she worked for the company when she shared footage of herself watching the Hulu docudrama'The Dropout' starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes

Leona first revealed she worked for the company when she shared footage of herself watching the Hulu docudrama ‘The Dropout’ starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes

'So far, the series has been pretty factual, except for like the cringe-dancing to Lil Wayne. I don¿t know if that happened,' she said of the show featuring Seyfried and Naveen Andrews

‘So far, the series has been pretty factual, except for like the cringe-dancing to Lil Wayne. I don’t know if that happened,’ she said of the show featuring Seyfried and Naveen Andrews

The shortcomings of the company’s technology were exposed in 2018, and its $10 billion valuation became worth ‘less than zero’ overnight. Operations were shut down and Holmes was charged with 11 counts of fraud.

Holmes’ incredible rise and fall has inspired books, a documentary, and most recently Hulu’s ‘The Dropout.’ 

Leona’s TikTok about her time at Theranos has been viewed more than 513,000 times, and people had plenty of questions for her in the comments, including her thoughts on Seyfried’s portrayal of Holmes. 

‘So far, the series has been pretty factual, except for like the cringe-dancing to Lil Wayne. I don’t know if that happened,’ she said in a follow-up video. ‘This was my first job right out of college, I supported Elizabeth and Sunny, and I have a lot of stories.’ 

Leona encouraged viewers to ask her questions, but she noted that she wouldn’t be answering everything.  

Leona admitted she has'no idea' how she got a job at Theranos in 2012, saying she graduated from Purdue University with a degree in fashion merchandising and was'not qualified'

Leona admitted she has ‘no idea’ how she got a job at Theranos in 2012, saying she graduated from Purdue University with a degree in fashion merchandising and was ‘not qualified’

Leona said her boyfriend at the time was living in California, and she ended up being hired as an executive assistant at Theranos after she relocated

Leona said her boyfriend at the time was living in California, and she ended up being hired as an executive assistant at Theranos after she relocated

Leona claimed she was only paid $18 dollars an hour, but she cleared six figures because she worked 18-hour days, including weekends

Leona claimed she was only paid $18 dollars an hour, but she cleared six figures because she worked 18-hour days, including weekends

‘I am still like mildly terrified of them, and like that I’m going to get in trouble for sharing this stuff somehow, so I will pick and choose what I think is appropriate to share,’ she explained.  

‘Anyone know if an NDA still holds up if the company no longer exists?’ she asked in the caption. 

Leona, who is now a travel blogger and works remotely, went on to answer questions about her role at the company, her bosses, and some of the red flags she had experienced. 

She admitted that she has ‘no idea’ how she got her job at Theranos in 2012, insisting she was ‘not qualified.’ 

The TikToker had graduated from Purdue University the year before with a degree in fashion merchandising and imagined herself being a buyer in New York City. 

Leona said she had to get Holmes four bottles of fresh juice from Whole Foods in the morning and the afternoon because they'absolutely needed to be very, very fresh'

Leona said she had to get Holmes four bottles of fresh juice from Whole Foods in the morning and the afternoon because they ‘absolutely needed to be very, very fresh’ 

However, she confessed that she was so busy she started buying the juice bottles in bulk and would shake them up before giving them to Holmes to make it look like they were fresh

However, she confessed that she was so busy she started buying the juice bottles in bulk and would shake them up before giving them to Holmes to make it look like they were fresh 

She explained that she got an internship on the TLC reality series ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ after graduation, but she had to turn it down because it wasn’t paid. 

Leona said her boyfriend at the time was living in California, and she ended up being hired as an executive assistant at Theranos after she relocated.

‘I’m sharing all of this, you guys, and if I end up going missing, then you know why,’ she said before detailing her grueling hours and responsibilities. 

‘My hours were from 9 [a.m.] to 8 [p.m.] and then every other Saturday from noon to 5:30 [p.m.],’ she shared while reviewing an email she allegedly received from the company. 

‘This was also like a straight-up lie. I worked so much more than this,’ she noted. ‘Like I started clocking in at 7 [a.m.] and would leave close to midnight, and I definitely had to come in most Saturdays and Sundays.’ 

In the on-screen text of one of her videos, she shared that she only ‘made $18 an hour’ but still ‘made over six figures’ because of her long hours. 

Leona recalled how Holmes grilled her after a co-worker brought her cupcakes for her birthday because they weren't supposed to communicate with each other

Leona recalled how Holmes grilled her after a co-worker brought her cupcakes for her birthday because they weren’t supposed to communicate with each other

She also alleged that Balwani, who was Holmes' secret boyfriend at the time, kicked her out of his office because of her black nail polish

She also alleged that Balwani, who was Holmes’ secret boyfriend at the time, kicked her out of his office because of her black nail polish

Leona’s most popular video about her time at Theranos, which has been viewed more than one million times, detailed Holmes’ widely reported green juice habit. 

She explained that she was the founder’s executive assistant, but when her personal assistant left, she had to take both roles — and the responsibility of getting Holmes’ juice.  

‘Every morning at 7 a.m. we were supposed to be at Whole Foods to pick up four juices for the day, and then we were supposed to go back later in the day to pick up four more juices because they absolutely needed to be very, very fresh,’ Leona said. 

‘I was already spending like 18 hours of my day at Theranos, so needless to say I did not have time to go back to Whole Foods. So I may have purchased green juice in bulk,’ she confessed. 

‘And I may have put four in one fridge, four in another. And I may have gone on a little walk in the middle day to pick up more green juice from the fridge, not Whole Foods. [I] swirled them around so they looked real, real fresh, and gave her her fresh green juice every day.’

Leona said she sat right outside of Holmes’ glass office, so her boss could see what she was doing at any given time. 

'We weren't being told the truth. We didn't know what was going on,' Leona said of working at the failed biotech company

‘We weren’t being told the truth. We didn’t know what was going on,’ Leona said of working at the failed biotech company 

Leona claimed having Theranos on her resume has actually helped her get interviews, saying'people lose their s**t' when she see it

Leona claimed having Theranos on her resume has actually helped her get interviews, saying ‘people lose their s**t’ when she see it 

She alleged that Holmes grilled her about her relationship with her friend Ana, another employee, after she brought cupcakes to her desk for her 23rd birthday.    

‘Ana walks up and I am pretending to be on the phone. I’m like, “Don’t. Go away. Don’t talk to me” — because we can’t talk to each other,’ she recalled. As soon as she brings me cupcakes, I get questioned, “How do you know her? Why did she leave you cupcakes? What do you guys talk about?”‘

Leona also shared a story about Balwani, the former chief operating officer at Theranos, who was Holmes’ secret boyfriend at the time. 

She explained that she had painted her nails black for a trip to Las Vegas with a friend, and he did not approve.

‘I walk into the office the next week and a certain COO was like, “Get out of my office with those nasty nails,”‘ she claimed. ‘And I wasn’t allowed in his office because my nails were black and he didn’t like that. “It was disgusting.” Truly, I wish I was kidding. This traumatized me, and I immediately took my fingernail polish off.’ 

Leona also addressed the company’s culture of secrecy and how many employees didn’t know what was going on with the faulty technology. 

Holmes, a Stanford University dropout, founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19. She claimed her blood-testing technology was a medical breakthrough when it was prone to wild errors

Holmes, a Stanford University dropout, founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19. She claimed her blood-testing technology was a medical breakthrough when it was prone to wild errors

During Holmes' trial, she and her attorneys painted Balwani (pictured in 2015) as a master manipulator who abused and controlled her

During Holmes’ trial, she and her attorneys painted Balwani (pictured in 2015) as a master manipulator who abused and controlled her 

In January, a jury found Holmes guilty of swindling investors out of $945 million and lying about her company's faulty blood test technology. She is facing up to 20 years in prison

In January, a jury found Holmes guilty of swindling investors out of $945 million and lying about her company’s faulty blood test technology. She is facing up to 20 years in prison 

‘Theranos really had some of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. Everyone was truly just working their a***s off, working 14-plus hour days,’ she said. 

‘People were so passionate and truly believed in the mission and what we were capable of doing, and we had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. 

How Holmes generated hype worth $10 billion with her Edison blood-testing machine that turned out to be a dud 

At the center of the Theranos dream was a small appliance about the size of a coffee machine dubbed the ‘Edison.’

The machine was supposed to run dozen of simultaneous blood tests from a sample that was up to 1/1000th the volume that would be required in top laboratories.

In reality, the Edison could not perform more than 12 tests, former lab associate Erika Cheung told the jury during Holmes’ trial.

Theranos' miniLab (pictured) was advertised as a new technology that could provide blood test results in a matter of minutes

Theranos’ miniLab (pictured) was advertised as a new technology that could provide blood test results in a matter of minutes

Even then, ‘the Edison analyzer could only run one type of test for one patient at a given time,’ Cheung said when she took the stand in September.

The Edison was designed to perform immunoassays. These biochemical tests can measure the presence or concentration of a macromolecule in a solution through use of an antibody or antigen.

Immunoassays can be used to check drug and hormone levels and also identify cancer markers.

Theranos offered a testing menu of 240 different checks it could make on the blood, including everything from celiac to cocaine.

Inside the machine a robotic arm was supposed to mimic what a chemist would do in a real lab: taking samples, diluting them, adding antibodies and reagent, and revealing a result.

But the Edisons did not just fail in carrying out accurate tests — they could barely work at all.

The doors wouldn’t close properly, parts of the machine would fall off, and it could not properly regulate its temperature.

Engineers who worked tirelessly to fix the problems were often summarily fired by Holmes when they raised issues.

‘I think that’s the hard part about these shows is it makes everyone maybe look so clueless at times because you have a bird’s eye perspective of what’s happening across the entire company, but not everyone in the company had that perspective,’ she noted. 

‘We weren’t being told the truth. We didn’t know what was going on. And we had also made promises to large corporations and had deadlines we needed to stick to. 

‘The entire goal was to make it work — like it didn’t feel like there was an option — and convince everyone else on the outside that it was working.’

Leona said she left Theranos in 2014 after about a year and a half at the company while detailing the hoops she had to jump through to attend a job interview.   

‘It was seriously impossible to ever get time off, so I said I had an emergency doctor’s appointment,’ she explained. ‘During that “doctor’s appointment,” I actually had an interview with another company called TuneIn, which was a radio app. 

‘Luckily, I had one interview with them. They liked me. I got the job, and I quit. I have to share the story about when I quit another time because that’s also a crazy story in itself.’ 

One person wanted to know if Leona has her time on Theranos listed on her resume, and she claimed it’s actually helped her get interviews.  

‘I’m not even kidding you when I tell you people lose their s**t when they see Theranos on my resume,’ she said. 

‘When I first started and during my time there, we weren’t allowed to share where we worked on LinkedIn, so I just had private biotech company.’

Leona explained that she had Theranos listed on her resume for references purposes when she was applying for jobs, and she kept it there after the company went under. 

‘I never experienced being shunned because Theranos was on my resume,’ she said. ‘I actually experienced the exact opposite. I feel like I would get interviews, and in those interviews, people would just ask me questions about Theranos. 

‘So, yes, I still keep it on my resume. I don’t think it reflects poorly on me,’ she added. 

‘I think it shows that I can thrive in some really crazy cultures and I’ve been through some s**t.’

Following the collapse of Theranos, Holmes, 38, married hotel heir William ‘Billy’ Evans, 29, and they welcomed their first child, a baby boy, in July.  

Holmes is facing up to 20 years in jail after a jury found her guilty of swindling investors out of $945 million and lying about her company’s failed blood test technology in January. 

She was freed on a $500,000 bond to await sentencing while her former lover, Balwani, will be tried on the same charges in the interim.

During her trial, she and her attorneys painted Theranos’ chief operating officer Balwani as a master manipulator who abused and controlled her. 

Holmes alleged she was the victim of a decade-long abusive relationship with Balwani. She testified that he had been secretly controlling her diet, her friendships, and more while claiming it would help her succeed in the business world.

Balwani has denied the allegations.

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