Hi, welcome to your Weekend!
Anita Raghavan’s investigation into the life of Sunny Balwani began with a photograph. While googling around for images of the reclusive ex-president of Theranos, who went on trial this week for his part in the Elizabeth Holmes scandal, Anita stumbled over a 1988 yearbook from the University of Texas at Austin. There, amongst a group of Pakistani students, was a “pudgy, not particularly suave character” in a striped polo and stonewashed denim identified as Ramesh Balwani—the future Sunny. This discovery opened the door to many others about Balwani’s pre-Theranos life in Pakistan and Texas, which Anita details in this week’s cover story.
For Anita, who is the author of “The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund,” Balwani’s history revealed a deeper, stranger story about outsiders who become insiders.
“When I interviewed people who knew him at UT Austin and at [dot-com-era startup] CommerceBid, they talked about this nice, affable guy,” Anita says. “And then I started reporting on his Theranos years, and he’s universally reviled, really vilified.” So when did good Balwani become bad Balwani? “Perhaps the difference is that he made a lot of money. Then he met Elizabeth Holmes, this golden It Girl. It would have made him feel like he had arrived, like he deserved this success.
“And that,” she says, “is what turned Sunny into Sunny.”
the big read
As Balwani’s federal fraud trial kicked off at a courthouse in San Jose, Calif. this week, questions still swirl about what motivated the veteran tech entrepreneur to become embroiled in the most celebrated medical fraud of our time. Was it a crime of passion, or merely one of greed? Given his near-total silence for decades, gaps in Balwani’s biography still remain. But new clues have emerged that offer a deeper understanding of the decisions that brought Elizabeth Holmes’s ex-boyfriend and company enforcer to the brink.
In their new book, “Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh,” Wall Street Journal reporters Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre tell the full story of Hsieh’s life and the shocking circumstances of his death at age 46. Along the way, they probe bigger questions about work culture and mental health. “Why couldn’t someone of this stature, of this wealth get help? What exactly happened?” asks Sayre. “And what about our society—what about tech culture—set him up for a downfall?”
It’s no secret that NFTs are expanding into all arenas of life, so of course sports arenas are no exception. Some fans are even beginning to swap their trading cards for league-backed digital tokens. Indeed, NFTs have become an unlikely cash cow for sports leagues, players unions and official licensers, with the collectibles expected to generate more than $2 billion in 2022, about double their sales for 2021. But, is this non-fungible phenomenon built to last? Or is it simply a bubble waiting to burst?
Reporter Annie Goldsmith on creator Tinx’s new podcast:
Since 2020, social media creator Christina “Tinx” Najjar has built a brand based on candid advice and “Rich Mom Starter Packs” (satirical videos crafted by the childless Tinx). I’ve long been a fan of Tinx’s, whose quippy remarks populate her social feeds alongside astute observations on the effects of Internet fame. Her podcast feels inevitable in the current influencer landscape—but it turned out far more insightful than I expected. Rather than using the standard once-a-week, hour-long interview format, episodes of “It’s Me, Tinx” are 20ish-minute solo monologues, released twice a week. In partnership with SiriusXM, Tinx is also adding a retro call-in advice show, live every Wednesday. The episodes are snappy and topical, with Tinx recapping the “Euphoria” finale or doling out tips for writing breakup texts. In reviving an old-school, radio-style format, Tinx is adding a fresh spin to lifestyle podcasting. “It’s Me, Tinx” leaves me wanting more, instead of hitting pause early.
Watching: Ukrainians responding to pain with beauty.
A five-person band plays “Don’t Worry Be Happy” before the barricades protecting Odessa’s opera house. A woman dusts off a piano in a crumbling home, then unleashes a concert-caliber performance. A violinist in a Kharkiv bomb shelter serenades her fellow citizens. A pianist plays “What a Wonderful World” outside Lviv Station, as refugees flee in the background. And, strikingly, a little girl sings “Let It Go” inside her shelter, as the whole room comes to a hush. Through music, Ukrainians are finding shards of joy amidst the terror of the Russian invasion. Some things, like beauty, like art, like “Frozen,” are universal.
Reading: The tech company hoping to speed up deliveries by *checks notes* catapulting packages into space.
The New York Times’ Daisuke Wakabayashi reports on Inversion Space, a startup run by 23-year-old Justin Fiaschetti. Inversion is developing carry-on-sized capsules that will, once shot into space, either navigate to a space station or stay in orbit via solar panels until called back to earth. The invention could be used for important deliveries, like sending medical supplies to remote areas or organs to hospitals, or simply for transporting a New York pizza to San Francisco in 45 minutes. Sound far-fetched? Sure. But, should Inversion succeed, we’ll be one step closer to every Boomer’s dream—living like the Jetsons.
Noticing: A generation gap in the Metaverse
For those of us immersed in Silicon Valley-speak, the Metaverse is as common a proper noun as iPhone or Musk, but, of course, what happens in tech is not always grounded in reality. A new study from consumer research firm Toluna found that, while 46% of people aged 13 to 17 are up to speed on Zuckerberg’s vision, only 26% of adults felt they understood the Metaverse. Perhaps Meta itself will need to do some greater outreach among the “olds,” unless they want a Metaverse dominated by teens. Which, come to think of it, might be the point.
Makes You Think
The worst-timed tweet for International Women’s Day? Bain Capital’s since-deleted announcement of its (all-male) crypto team.
Until next Weekend, thanks for reading!
Weekend Editor, The Information