Pando

“I am seething with anger… calling him an animal would be a disgrace to animals” Cuberon investors react to reports of domestic violence by CEO Abhishek Gattani

By Sarah Lacy , written on April 18, 2017

From The Equality Desk

Another day, another horrific story of domestic violence and abuse by a tech CEO.

According to the Daily Beast, Cuberon CEO Abhishek Gattani was recorded threatening and audibly smacking his wife, former Apple executive Neha Rastogi, nine times in front of their daughter. (Go here if you can stomach the video.)

Rastogi told the Daily Beast there was a long history of abuse in the marriage, dating back to early in the relationship, when a movie was sold out and Gattani berated her for not calling the movie theatre to check before they left. According to Rastogi, Gattani slapped her and kicked her in the belly once they got back home.

Stunned, she asked him days later why he would have done such a thing. His answer foreshadowed the future of their relationship: “That’s what happens.”

“That’s what happens.”

That answer is starting to become a familiar refrain in the tech world when it comes to treatment of women. One of many similar excuses for behavior that’s (depressingly) shocking the tech world less and less with each instance.

It’s another twist on the “boys will be boys” line used to excuse Evan Spiegel encouraging his college friends to get wasted and "Have some girl put your large kappa sigma dick down her throat." It’s similar to how Uber’s systemic problem with sexism was waved away: “That’s just how it is in the Valley!” and “It’s just some bad apples.” There was the VC who hired Gurbaksh Chahal after the second time he allegedly beat a girlfriend, saying she personally had only known him to be “a gentleman.” And of course, there was the justification by his friend that Brock Turner wasn’t “a rapist,” and Judge Aaron Persky’s concern that a stronger sentence might hurt Turner’s otherwise bright future.

Why should Turner have to live with that forever? It’s just what happens.

Indeed, at Stanford 43% of undergrads experience serious sexual misconduct. It is just what happens. And Stanford has taken little action to address this. It still hasn’t even followed up on its promise to light the area where Turner’s victim was assaulted.

The abuse that Rastogi allegedly experienced at her husband’s hands-- and his threats to kill her-- were just the beginning of the nightmare for her. Amazingly, in the same courtroom where the Brock Turner verdict came down, Gattani pled “no contest” to a lessened charge of “misdemeanor offensive touching” and was offered a deal of less than thirty days in jail.

The concern on the part of Assistant District Attorney Steve Fein? He didn’t want to jeopardize Gattani’s immigration status. The DA described it as a she said/he said case. The Daily Beast more appropriately called it a case of “he said/ she-and-the-iPhone-said.” Fein told the Daily Beast that Rastogi “seemed fine with [the light sentence.]” She strongly denied that.

The message from the court was clear: Sorry, Rastogi, but “this is what happens,” at least in this courtroom.

Michele Dauber, the Stanford Law professor who is leading the effort to recall Aaron Persky, sees a clear connection between the two cases. “This is a horrific case of domestic violence,” she said this morning via email. “This man is clearly a total monster and he belongs in jail and not just for a few weekends. This horror story just makes it clear that no one cared about her or took this crime seriously.”

“It is interesting that the prosecutor in the case said that he offered the lenient plea because his boss, Jeff Rosen, the Santa Clara County DA was very concerned that this privileged wife beater not lose his job or his immigration status,” she continued. “Jeff Rosen recently endorsed Judge Persky, so I guess we already know that he isn't standing with women, but this is pretty low. This man should have a conviction for felony domestic violence on his record because that is what he did, and if he loses his visa as a result, that's on him. We should consider immigration consequences of convictions when imposing sentences but that is not the only consideration."

Gattani seems to have deleted most of his accounts online, except on Crunchbase, which has been annotated to include this:

The “Team” section seems to have been hastily deleted from Cuberon’s website.

The copy left on the site about what the company stands for is grotesque knowing what we know about Gattani’s treatment of his wife, thanks to her iPhone. Particularly, its self-congratulatory culture of “work life balance” because after all “we are not a sweatshop.” Because nothing embodies respect for other engineers and prioritizing work life balance than a CEO who smacks his wife in the face nine times while berating her to define a software bug.

Indeed, this powerful post by one of Gattani's former colleagues (at Kosmix), John Bragg reveals the overlap between Gattani's behavior as a manager and as a husband:

We did not get along, to say the least. It is a very rare thing for me to really hate a person, but man did I hate him. He was manipulative, childish, quick to anger, but most of all, he was completely incompetent at everything he did, because he was one of those people who was so flagrantly (and disingenuously) arrogant that he knew he was correct and perfect in every way at all times...

I remember an occasion, one of very few, where he and his lovely wife Neha came to a gathering at the house of a mutual friend. I think at the time, he was trying to “make friends” with me and others in the office (most likely he was told that he needed to), so he was trying to be social. We decided to play a board game, a team game, and he and his wife were on a team, while the husband of the host and I were on another team... As we started pulling ahead, further and further, Abhishek was getting angrier and angrier. Looking back now, I realize what I did not realize at the time: he was getting angrier and angrier at his wife. He was deriding her for not doing well, even though they were a team - he was telling her it was her fault they were losing, which was not the case. I see that now. I wish I had seen it at the time.

 According to Crunchbase, Cuberon has raised one round of capital with seven investors including Milliways Ventures, Redpoint, and several individuals. We reached out to both Milliways and Redpoint (which is also a Pando investor) to ask if they had any statement on this.

Both got back to us immediately. Redpoint offered this official statement:

We are totally shocked and disturbed by this report. Redpoint made a seed investment in Cuberon in August 2015 with no board seat.  While we had no prior knowledge of this conduct, we unequivocally and strongly condemn this abuse. It is obviously unpardonable and we are severing all ties with this individual.

In a separate email Redpoint partner Satish Dharmaraj went much further: “We very STRONGLY condemn this asshole and this abuse… It’s appalling.” In a second email he added: “An asshole is being too nice to him…calling him an animal would be a disgrace to animals. I am seething with anger … [he] should never ever be able to roam this earth free.”

Finally, a major Valley VC responds to a case like this on the record with shock and horror. You know: Like a human being should respond to something like this.

Milliways’ Anand Rajaraman also issued a strong statement to Pando via email:

We are stunned and saddened by this news. We are a seed investor in the company and had no knowledge of the incidents described in the article. We do not support founders with this kind of behavior and have terminated all ties with Abhishek, and urged the company to do the same.

Update: The firm followed up shortly afterwards with a formal statement, confirming that Cuberon has "separated" with Abhishek:

"We were utterly shocked and saddened by the news. We did not know anything about this and categorically do not support founders with this kind of behavior. The company has separated with Abhishek as of today."

We also emailed Cuberon directly for comment, but have not yet received a response.

Despite the strong denouncements, the sad fact is there’ll be plenty of other people in tech who will try to excuse this as one man’s demons, as something that can happen in any industry, or a host of other reasons why tech should most definitely not be worried about this drumbeat of abuse and assault in our community.

Remember how investors worked to salvage RadiumOne’s IPO in the wake of the accusations against Chahal. After Chahal was sentenced to jail time, Chicago firm called NIN Ventures hired him as an advisor.

In the effort to recall Judge Persky, only a handful of Silicon Valley names and leaders have donated to the campaign, including Reid Hoffman and Twitter’s Omid Kordestani and his wife Gisel. The bulk of the money has come from young women donating whatever they could afford, typically less than $100, according to Dauber. The Valley could absolutely pressure Stanford to start taking campus assault seriously. It seemingly has not.

And now, we have another case of documented abuse. At least this time, the investors are speaking out and cutting ties. But we’ll see if, like Chahal, Gattani gets another shot at his startup dreams from elsewhere once the dust settles.

I’d emphasize any of his future professional enablers to consider this: The first time Gattani was arrested for assaulting his wife (yep, this wasn’t even the first time) his chief concern was what this would do to his career.

From the Daily Beast:

She would recall him being fearful that his colleagues would learn that he had been arrested.

“If somebody finds out, I’m going to kill myself,” he said by her recollection. “I’m such a senior executive.”

Rastogi has one final, slim shot at justice in court. The judge in the case, Allison Marston Danner, was -- astoundingly-- on vacation at the time of sentencing this past Thursday. Rastogi was finally given the opportunity to read her four page victim statement.

It included her outrage at the plea deal:

Please explain me is it offensive touching when a 8 month pregnant woman is beaten and then forced to stand for the entire night by her husband, is it offensive touching when a mother nursing her 6 day old child is slapped on her face by her husband because he thinks she is not latching properly with the child, is it offensive touching when a women is flung to the floor and repetitively kicked in her belly, is it offensive touching when a woman is slapped 9 times by her husband until she agrees to everything he is saying and then gets hit again for not agreeing with it sooner…?

The judge who was taking Danner’s place, Rodney Stafford, was so moved by Rastogi’s statement that he put the sentencing off until Judge Danner returns May 18. He assured Rastogi he would make sure Judge Danner got a copy of the statement. On May 18, she’ll learn if it makes any difference at all.

“At the end of the day, [District Attorney] Jeff Rosen can try to let batterers like this creep off the hook all he wants and it is the job of the judge to make sure that justice is done,” Dauber says. “The judge always has the ability -- and the obligation -- to refuse to agree to the deal if it is too lenient. This isn't a used car lot. They don't just get to make whatever deal they want down there. It's a court of law. And if DA Jeff Rosen isn't going to stand up for victims of domestic violence then it's the job of the judge to do it."

This courtroom has one final chance to prove Gattani’s words wrong. That violent abuse against women without any justice simply isn’t just “what happens” in Silicon Valley.