- The Dropout -Tyler Shultz Really Was Theranos' Whistleblower
The pressure for Theranos to live up to its enormous expectations is on for Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu's true crime series The Dropout. As we know from the real life trial of Holmes and her now former partner Sunny Balwani, the house of cards that is Theranos does comes crashing down — eventually. One person who helped pull a card out from underneath the sham company is Dylan Minnette's new character in The Dropout, Tyler Shultz.
In The Dropout, Shultz gets a job with Theranos after his grandfather, board member and former Secretary of State George Shultz, recommends him to Holmes. At the time, Shultz had just graduated from Stanford — the college that Holmes dropped out of to start Theranos — and is seeking a position. He gets a job working in the lab, but soon realizes that Theranos isn't exactly as wonderful a work environment as his grandfather suggested.
In real life, Shultz interned for Theranos after his junior year at Stanford, having met the founder while visiting his grandfather's home. According to his interview with NPR, Shultz was a biology major and excited by the prospect of Holmes' vision to test blood using just a single drop. He went full time with the company upon graduation.
However, upon going full time in 2014, he realized that their purported world-changing machine, the Edison, didn't work at all. In fact, instead of testing blood on the Edison, as Theranos claimed, it was using older, industry-standard machines to assess the blood. Shultz realized that there was an open secret within the company that the tech behind Theranos' billion-dollar valuation was completely fake.
After working for Theranos for eight months, he emailed Holmes, stating that the company had fake research and ignored failed quality control checks. When he received a harsh email back from Balwani, who claimed he did not understand the science behind the company, he quit.
Under a false alias, Shultz contacted regulators to report Theranos' fraud. He also turned to Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou, the reporter who revealed the truth about the company to the world, to share his intel about what was going on in the Theranos labs.
According to Shultz' interview with The Wall Street Journal in 2016, that led to the team at Theranos coming after Shultz — he claimed they hired private investigators to follow him around. Ultimately, he said he spent between $400,000 and $500,000 on lawyers fighting legal accusations from the company.
As for his grandfather, who worked in the cabinet of both the Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon administrations, the drama of Theranos ultimately hurt their relationship. Shultz pleaded with his grandfather to turn on Holmes and help the friends he brought into the company get out, but that ultimately, he didn't succeed.
Shultz told CBS News, "This whole saga has taken a financial, emotional and social toll on my relationships. The toll it took on my grandfather's relationship was probably the worst. It is tough to explain. I had a few very honest conversations with him."
Ultimately, however, Shultz told Uproxx in 2020 that he was able to repair his relationship with his grandfather.
"He definitely sees that he was lied to by Elizabeth," he said. "He definitely is proud of me for doing what I did."
George died in February 2021, at age 100 — just a year shy of Holmes' trial.
As for Shultz, he has since told his story on Audible's Thicker Than Water, which addressed how his time at Theranos affected his family life. He is also the founder of start-up Flux Biosciences, which, like Theranos, wants to simplify diagnostics.
In 2019, he told Refinery29 of his time with Theranos, "Luckily, I look back and have very few regrets. I'm pretty proud of myself for everything that I did. So things worked out really well."