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Steve's ITK: Tone deaf


Steve's ITK

July 1 · Issue #26 · View online
Steve's In The Know: Everything I published recently, commentary you won't find elsewhere, write-ups of events I attended or spoke at, and industry rumours.

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Opening thought: Tone deaf
Perhaps Martin Bryant, ex-Editor at Large at The Next Web, summed it up best when he tweeted “Drip, drip, flood” in reference to a slew of stories coming out of Silicon Valley regarding inappropriate behaviour by VCs towards female founders and/or prospective female hires.
The first was alleged sexual misconduct at the venture capital firm Binary Capital by its co-founder Justin Caldbeck, a story carefully broken by The Information, which I’m told had been months in the making.
This was then followed by a similar story in The New York Times, this time involving alleged misconduct at other VC firms, including naming Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital, and Dave McClure of 500 Startups. Notably, the report was based on interviews, both on and off the record, with 12 women in the tech startup industry.
That in itself is telling of how far the story has come already, since it is often prohibitive for women entrepreneurs to speak out in the Valley (or in any other tight knit community) for fear of retaliation, including in this instance the perceived or real threat of being blacklisted by investors in the future.
But perhaps more than anything else, I’m struck by how tone deaf some of the responses by the tech industry in the U.S. has been, not least by the accused in their subsequent mea culpas.
Caldbeck, for example, manages to open his apology, issued in a statement to TechCrunch, by explaining that “the past 24 hours have been the darkest of my life,” which is in danger of making himself out to be the victim.
Then we have a long Medium post by Chris Sacca – put out before and without originally referencing that The New York Times had contacted him – where he says sorry a lot of times, although it is never quite clear what it is he is specifically apologizing for.
As one female friend in tech put it to me, the post comes across as mansplaining the issues and the multiple references to the braveness of women that speak out feels quite condescending, even if it probably wasn’t intended to be.
Finally, 500 Startups’ new CEO Christine Tsai – for it would seem McClure was already replaced a while ago, even if nobody told the fund’s LPs – issued a statement saying that McClure’s behaviour was not reflective of 500’s culture and values (which is at least questionable, given how large a personality McClure is) and that “he’s been attending counseling to work on changing his perspectives and preventing his previous unacceptable behavior”. (As an aside, why is it that whenever someone allegedly misbehaves, the remedy is professional help, as if it was some kind of out of body experience that happened to them, not by them).
Maybe it’s a cultural thing, lost in translation, or as one PR said to me, simply a case of crisis comms. However, for once, a simple sorry, no excuses, no pontification, no indulgent self-reflection via a Medium post, or claiming of victim status, is the only acceptable response.
Things I wrote
Infarm wants to put a farm in every grocery store
Your.MD raises $10M to grow AI-driven health information service and marketplace
Capnamic closes €115M fund for ‘digital transformation’ of Germany, counts Cisco and Axa as LPs
Monese, the mobile current account banking app, expands to Europe
Diffblue, a University of Oxford spin-out, raises $22M Series A to bring AI to software development
Company builder Entrepreneur First hires ex-Yahoo and Googler as new London head
Wefox acquires digital insurance carrier One
Starling Bank passports to Europe, first stop Ireland
TrueLayer raises $3M Series A to provide fintech companies with easy access to bank APIs
Construction tech company Aproplan closes €5 million Series A
Language learning startup Lingokids scores $4M funding and partners with Oxford University Press
Soldo, a London fintech startup that offers a multi-user spending account, raises $11M led by Accel
AimBrain, a startup that uses biometric authentication to fight fintech fraud, raises £4M Series A
Meltwater acquires Hong Kong-based Klarity to boost social media monitoring in Asia
Closing thought: Could it happen here?
The question on a lot of people’s minds in the European startup, investor and tech journalist community, and specifically in London/UK, is could a story similar to Justin Caldbeck and Binary Capital happen here?
In numerous discussions I’ve had with founders, investors and journalists in recent days, we’ve been asking ourselves not if inappropriate behaviour by men towards female founders and women in the tech industry more generally happens – there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to unequivocally suggest it does – but whether or not the climate and available outlets here would allow women to speak out in the way that has happened only very recently in Silicon Valley.
The conclusion by most people I’ve had discussions with is that fear of being ostracised would be even greater in Europe because of how few sources of funding there are compared to the Valley, and, although fragmented, ours is still a small world.
If true – and I’ve yet to have any reason to doubt what people are telling me – that is very sad and something I try hard to rally against as a journalist, following up every whisper, however faint, whilst always protecting sources and being careful not to spread unfounded rumours in the process.
At our best, we the media really do hold power to account, but we can only do so with your help. As always, you know where to find me.
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