From Elizabeth Holmes to Anna Delvey, Here Is What Scammers Teach Us about “Making It” in the Business World

From Elizabeth Holmes to Anna Delvey What Scammers Teach Us

Whether you hate them or love them, Holmes and Sorokin’s stories are packed with invaluable lessons for success!

2022 is overrun with TV shows about scammers. Be it Tinder Swindler, Inventing Anna, The Dropout or Worst Roommate Ever, watching these shows opens a window into the world of devilishly clever grifters and those who get lured by their charms and end up incurring a financial loss. 

Of all the stories of scammers, the two that have received the most attention are those of Anna Sorokin (or Anna Delvey as she likes to call herself) and Elizabeth Holmes. Both these women are very different from each other. While one made everyone believe she was a German heiress, the other convinced the world about an idea that, to begin with, didn’t work. Despite their differences, the two have some similar attributes that entrepreneurs must take note of to get their ideas the attention they deserve. 

Confidence is key!

One of the main similarities between Sorokin and Holmes is that both of them were confident in themselves. Sorokin created an image where she convinced people that her father was keeping money locked up in a US$60 million trust fund for her in Germany and got everyone—from her boyfriend (who, surprise surprise, was also a grifter) to her rich friends—to pay for her lavish life. She went from hotel to hotel without paying any bills and almost convinced big-league hedge funds and bankers to invest in the Anna Delvey Foundation (an exclusive social club and art space).  

Similarly, dressed in Steve Jobs-esque turtleneck sweaters and backed by mentors, like American business magnate Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Holmes came across as a legitimate businesswoman. She put on a facade of legitimacy and convinced people that her technology could detect diseases with a single drop of blood, when, in fact, it couldn’t.

While we don’t condone lies and deceit, being confident in your ideas is crucial for entrepreneurs. You must believe that your idea can solve problems and have the skills to back it up. Both these examples should tell you that it is only when you are confident in yourself that you will be able to convince others to believe in you.  

Social skills are your best asset

Let’s face it, those with the gift of the gab end up getting the best opportunities in life. Success has a lot to do with how good you are at making connections. Let’s go back to Sorokin’s life and how she fooled everyone into thinking she was rich. In the Netflix show about her story, “Inventing Anna”, the people she scammed described her as having rich tastes, which made people decisively believe in her wealth. Once they believed she was rich, they wanted to be friends. And once they were friends, Sorokin would exploit these connections and use their money by making excuse after excuse on why her credit cards didn’t work. Whoever she met, she went through the same cycle of manipulating them. 

Holmes, on the other hand, did have actual connections. Her parents spent much of their lives as bureaucrats in the U.S. Congress, and Holmes used their connections to get the initial funds. 

Your connections can help you raise money (like Holmes’ connections did for her) and also give you advice on different business-related matters. Both of them gained a lot from making connections. Their connections gave them credibility and visibility, both of which are very important to ensure the success of your business. 

Be resilient 

To get what you want in life, you have to consistently work on your ideas. Minor setbacks and failures shouldn’t stop you from trying. In her tell-all interview with Jessica Pressler of the New York Magazine, Sorokin said, “Resilience is hard to come by… but not capital.” And Sorokin would know, considering how she had successfully conned people out of US$275,000

Sorokin was unrelenting in her pursuit to create the Anna Delvey Foundation. Looking to rent a building for the foundation, she wanted to get a loan from banks. Despite being rejected a US$40 million loan repeatedly by banks initially, she adamantly convinced a lawyer to act as her sponsor to vouch for her. Her persistence made her very close to getting the loan. She would have even received it had the Fortress, an investment group Anna was trying to receive funds from, not insisted on flying to Switzerland and speaking to her “fake” banker. 

Similarly, Holmes was resilient in building the health tech company of her dreams. She first wanted to create a patch that would scan the wearer for infections and then release antibodies. When her professor at Stanford told her that wouldn’t work, she pivoted to a microfluidic cartridge and reader system. When that didn’t work out, her company, Theranos, began creating Edison, a blood analysis machine that they claimed could perform tests for cholesterol, AIDS and Leukemia, to name a few, with just a single drop of blood. Holmes consistently kept on coming up with and moving away from different tech projects. 

What we can take away from her and Sorokin both is that neither of them was admitting defeat. They kept trying no matter what they encountered. They are classic examples of the fact that success doesn’t just depend on a good idea, but it is also determined by how willing you are to wait and power through the challenges that obstruct your idea from becoming a reality. 

It is perhaps because of these lessons that the media and the general public are fascinated by these scammers. You might hate how they get things done, but you do end up admiring their cleverness and charisma. This charisma made Elizabeth Holmes an icon of the girl boss generation, with female fans dressing like her and gathering outside the courthouse in 2021. It was also the reason why The Cut began selling “fake German heiress” T-shirts after their interview with Sorokin was released in 2018. 

For all their cleverness, both Holmes and Sorokin had to pay for their crimes. However, with their stories reaching the public, their hustle has become a lesson for entrepreneurs on how to make themselves stand out and a precautionary tale for investors to keep their eyes peeled for the grifters hidden between actual business professionals. 

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Header image courtesy of Flickr and Getty Images 


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