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Rincon’s John Greathouse finally apologizes for sexist (and more!) WSJ op-ed. What took so long?

By Sarah Lacy , written on September 30, 2016

From The Gender Wars Desk

It’s hard to know exactly what John Greathouse was thinking when he penned his overtly sexist, but also implicitly racist, xenophobic, and anti-semitic article for the Wall Street Journal, arguing women should disguise their gender to get a fair shot in the tech world.

An excerpt:

But whatever the reason – and however unfair it may be – I would suggest that if you are a woman raising capital, you might consider not including photos of your team in your pitch deck. If you identify your team via their initials (men and women), you effectively strip out all preconceptions related to race, ethnicity and gender. In your LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, email address and online correspondence use your initials (or a unisex name) and eliminate photos.

After more than 24 hours of silence amid a social media backlash, he finally apologized:

It didn’t take his partner Jim Andelman quite as long. He sent this email to his portfolio even before the outrage began:

This article by John was posted in The Wall Street Journal last night. (pasted in below for those who get hit with a paywall):  http://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2016/09/28/why-women-in-tech-might-consider-just-using-their-initials-online/

I could not disagree with it more.  I apologize on behalf of the firm.

Regards,

Jim 

One of Andelman’s portfolio companies we spoke with backed up that the article in no way reflects their relationship with the firm. But they also mentioned they’d had almost no dealings with Greathouse. Which is strange since the Rincon Web site says this:

Rincon Venture Partners takes a team-based approach to everything we do. This requires more collaboration and less ego, but it provides for better decisions and better support of our portfolio companies. Each portfolio company gets the whole team, not just “their partner.”

After this week, Andelman may want to draw more of a distinction between partners. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Rincon Ventures’ annual meeting with its founders, which we understand starts… today. Astoundingly, several of them include women. I spoke with one founder in the portfolio who hadn’t planned on going— but now wishes they were was after learning how Greathouse thinks of women and implicitly minorities. This person had a few choice words to share with Greathouse.

In some ways Greenhouse’s piece was the worst kind bigotry because it’s wrapped in “studies have shown…” rationale and “I’m just saying’!” defenses. It has the thinnest veneer of being a “thought piece” that your average Internet troll may not. Perhaps, men who feel a similar lack of responsibility to allow anyone else who isn’t a white male into their circle of privilege can furrow their brows, pinch their chins, nod thoughtfully and say Greathouse’s argument “made them think.” And perhaps he can then throw up his hands and say “I was just trying to raise awareness of the problem” and “Start a conversation.”

Call it the “thinking man’s” bigotry. Or the “thought leader’s” bigotry. But what is clear is that asking women to respond to an unfair playing field by subjecting them to rules no one else has to follow in order to “assimilate” is astounding bigotry. Particularly given every VC will tell you they invest less in the “idea” or a “resume” than the “individual.”

Greathouse's examples of “blind symphony auditions” are as well known as the famous Harvard Business School study of Howard and Heidi Roizen— where the same achievements were displayed for students under a male and female name, and the bias against Heidi was clear and unambiguous. Especially in a post-Ellen-Pao-trial era, if unconcious bias in the startup world is new to you, you simply haven’t been paying the slightest attention.

And yet, other VCs have responded to these studies and test cases by trying to change their firms, not asking women to hide their identity. Greylock, for one, requires its partners to do unconscious bias training. Others have prioritized hiring female partners who can combat the homogenous group think. This was Mike Maples of Floodgate’s priority from day one: His first partner hire was Ann Miura-Ko, not only a woman, but a little known, little experienced one at that.

What may sound like tokenism or affirmative action has proven effective in the venture world: Firms with one female investing partner are twice as likely to fund female entrepreneurs.

A quick read of Greathouse’s Twitter feed, brings to mind the image of a wanna be Mark Suster, hoping to build his Santa Barbara VC brand through the same kind of thought leadership that has worked for other VCs who aren’t in the Valley. He blogs tactics for founders. He guests posts all over the Web. Suster, Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon have all done this well. And certainly the Journal is an upgrade from the usual Forbes or tech blog contribution. Perhaps posts like “This Startup Hacked LinkedIn To Recruit Customers & Reduce Churn” just weren’t getting the job done, so he decided to go for controversy. Or worse: He may not have thought his suggestion was controversial at all.

Indeed, Greathouse may well be telling himself right now that he isn’t alone in taking breathtaking stances that only white male privilege could afford. After all, Tom Perkins wrote on the same WSJ opinion pieces that rich people were in danger of being as persecuted as the Jews in Nazi Germany.

I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

Words so unbelievable, the whole thing was parodied on HBO’s Silicon Valley. (Watch out, Greathouse... Silicon Valley consultant Dick Costolo was one of the chorus of high profile founders and VCs expressing horror at your post on social media this week…)

And then there were the comments of Sequoia mega-rainmaker, Mike Moritz, who last year said that Sequoia would love to hire women, but the problem was the firm just refused to lower its standards.

And don’t forget, this has been the summer of Peter-Thiel-induced-outrage. While many in the Valley community feel his war against Gawker may have been justified— if questionably executed— even Thiel’s closest friends have expressed outrage at his willingness to serve as a delegate for Donald Trump and speak for him at the Republican National Convention: A man that no Fortune 100 CEO has endorsed.

Even though Thiel didn’t explicitly endorse Trump’s bigoted policies, comments and retweeted racist dog-whistle memes, his support of Trump has been a shadow on Founders Fund. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have had to repeatedly defend Thiel continuing to serve on Facebook’s board.

Then there’s Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey— Facebook’s other problematic billionaire who was caught secretly funding an alt-right troll group. That one is less of a problem for Facebook, but it’s a surprising problem for Oculus with at least one developer pulling support for Oculus and many others threatening to follow suit.

Here’s the problem for Greathouse: He isn’t Tom Perkins, Mike Moritz, Peter Thiel, or even Palmer Luckey. He isn’t even close.

He isn’t a founder of one of the most iconic venture firms in the history of the Valley, and a founder of the venture capital asset class itself as Perkins was.

He isn’t the most celebrated investors of the top venture firm in the world, as Moritz is.

He isn’t a noted contrarian, celebrated founder and famous investor, as Thiel is. At the same time Thiel was endorsing Trump, Founders Fund recorded its best return in the firm’s history.

He isn’t even a guy who managed to sell something as crazy as virtual reality goggles to Facebook for $2 billion, well before his company even had a product on the market.

And likewise, Rincon isn’t as enduring, successful, or known as an institution as KP, Sequoia, Founders Fund, or Oculus. It took me a few Google attempts to find its homepage. This Tuscon-based property management “Rincon Ventures” comes up first.

And yet, still, the bigoted or bigot-enabling words and actions I list above hurt each of these men’s brands and their firm’s brands, perhaps permanently in some cases.

The Steve Jobses, the Travis Kalanicks, the Evan Spiegels of the world barely get away with outrageous behavior like stiffing their kid on child support, bragging their companies get them laid, writing vile college emails. But just barely. Jobs and his sins against his family are well recorded in endless biopics and biographies. Kalanick was still called “Axe Body Spray” in a suit by Seth Myers. For instance, those emails popped up again in the Wall Street Journal’s recent news story of the Snapchat Spectacles launch— even though the Journal got the coveted exclusive interview with Spiegel. The sheer scale of their accomplishments may mean they are admired in spite of these traits, but even they can’t outrun them.

It’s telling that the current team at Kleiner Perkins full on threw the firm’s patriarch under the bus Tweeting the following: “Tom Perkins has not been involved in KPCB in years. We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree”

Moritz’s partner Alfred Lin said in an interview with us that he didn’t agree with Moritz and that Sequoia absolutely had a gender problem and needed to do better. Specifically, that it was on the firm to do better. Founders Fund has said little, but it and Facebook have made clear that Thiel’s political beliefs are his own.

And yet, Greathouse and Rincon took well over 24 hours to say a word. A firm with less of a track record, investing in deals in Santa Barbara and a guy whose entrepreneur chops include mostly sales and finance for companies you’ve likely never heard of. A guy whose own biggest claim to fame on his Twitter account is not investing in Uber. (Which is saying something, because that company has an astounding 72 investors.)

And that does seem some sort of cosmic douchebag shame: Greathouse gets all the downside of having a morally ambiguous view about women, while missing the upside of owning Uber shares.

Like I said, it’s hard to know exactly what Greathouse is thinking. Perhaps he’ll start submitting his term sheets to founders with nothing more than his initials on them.