The new tech bro playbook: First the apology, then the walkback, then "fake news!"
For the last week, I’ve been as far from tech bros as it’s possible to get in the United States, hanging out with two young kids at my parents’ house in Memphis, Tenn.
And yet, while certainly more liberal than a lot of the South, Memphis has more than it’s fair share of racism and sexism. Before one meal, someone (not related to me) thanked God for Donald Trump. As this person saw it, he’s a divine instrument for “taking our country back” from that heathen Barack Obama. Y’know, the guy who has been married only once, isn’t accused of sexually assaulting anyone, wants all those elderly and disabled people to have healthcare, and doesn’t routinely lie and bully critics over Twitter and encourage assault at his rallies. Jesus would have hated that guy.
Still, compared to the brosplosion of Silicon Valley, Memphis was kind of refreshing. Much of the sexism and racism there is at least out in the open, not wrapped in a subterfuge of “well-meaning” Medium posts and highly paid for “mea culpas” drafted by crisis experts.
A bigot in Memphis will just tell me I should “watch myself” if I speak out about inequality, or flat out inform me I’m going to hell for believing in women’s rights, or declare me a bad mother for letting my son paint his nails pink.
A bro in Silicon Valley will pinch his chin and nod, Tweeting how grateful he is that I told him about the Aaron Persky recall or how admirable it is that I fight for women’s rights…. Amid his own campaign to smear me using every dirty Trump tactic in the book.
A bro in Silicon Valley will issue an “apology” about his treatment of women, getting a round of Twitter applause… never mentioning it’s a New York Times article with a woman on the record accusing him of harassment that spurred such “woke-ness.” (He’ll subsequently say it didn’t actually happen when he doesn’t get the reaction he wanted.)
A bro in Silicon Valley will write a blog post where he calls himself “a creep” while subtly gaslighting that his harassment happened in a “setting [he] thought was social” (Which is strange, because most purely social situations don’t lead to texts like ““I was getting confused figuring out whether to hire you or hit on you.”)
A Silicon Valley bro will apologize (via a Twitter thread that will disappear in everyone’s timelines soon enough) for any “inhuman” suggestion that they might use oppo research to smear critics… before later doing just that to an attorney suing them, a former female employee exposing their toxic culture, and potentially even a rape victim.
A special breed of the Silicon Valley bro (The actor-turned-VC model!) will willingly make three times the amount of money as their female peers, defend the leadership of sexist companies, engaging in smearing female journalists, before declaring themselves the one who should “lead a conversation” about the Valley’s gender problem, with breathtakingly tone-deaf questions.
Parsing the layers of woke -> fuck you -> woke -> fuck you -> woke -> fuck you of the (mostly white) Silicon Valley bro is exhausting. It’s like peeling the world’s stinkiest onion. It keeps getting worse the deeper you go, the tears almost impossible to keep at bay, taking in the enormity of the stench.
This is “truth” in the Valley at this point. This is “dialogue.” This is men making a valiant attempt to be part of “the solution.” Peel the onion. This is nothing more than men with a lot to lose in Silicon Valley locked in a terror they might be next, combined with a need to always be the one “leading” every Goddamned conversation here.
But here’s the thing. Like that rotten onion, it’s hard to hide the stench. If the last three weeks of scandal has taught us anything it’s to internalize the catch phrase of my favorite cable TV faux-psychic Shawn Spencer:
Don’t send that back-slapping “good guy” Tweet until at least a few weeks have passed, because in each and every recent case, the “good guy” couldn’t help but peel off another onion layer and increase his stench.
Beware the walk back. It has come every Goddamn time. With Uber. With Lane Wood and Ashton Kutcher and others who defended Uber’s actions against me….. After Uber’s own Travis Kalanick had already called them “inhuman.”
With Sam Altman who offered to apologize if his original smear against us was false. We proved it was. So he walked back his offer and doubled down with a direct threat.
With Jonathan Teo who was forced to apologize (he finally got it sort of right on the third try) and then just sent an email blaming “corrupted media” for his problems, before issuing this threat...
The story in the public that you are all trying to buy back shares should be revised. Not for my sake. If that's what any of you want, ok, but know this. I strongly urge you not to be considered part of a group of entrepreneurs that would, at the first sign of trouble or opportunity, choose to renege. It is dishonorable. And it is opportunistic grandstanding. It will hurt the perception of your integrity and it will hurt your ability to raise capital down the line. No investor seeks out that risk. It's not an action of integrity. I would urge you to separate yourself from that narrative if it isn't true of your intentions. If it is, I hope you have a very credible reason to do it besides just doing a shakedown, or to stand outside your integrity for the sake of media perception. I also recommend you speak to each reporter who has quoted that erroneous article and have it corrected.
Hell, this was a culture at Binary Capital. Read the legal complaint against Binary by Ann Lai. It’s a constant cycle of apology -> fuck you -> apology -> fuck you.
With Chris Sacca, Dave McClure-- all of them. Even laughable J Brad Carrick. His lingerie and tech event was nowhere near as insidious as some of the harassment stories we’ve seen of late, but even he opened his event by saying it wasn’t about sexism, before calling all the outlets who raised concerns about… a startup event also involving lingerie “fake news.” Here’s a tip for everyone from J. Brad to Sam Altman: If you find yourself using the exact phrases Donald Trump uses, you might be gaslighting. And you’re definitely an asshole.
No one has been quite as egregious with a non-apology/walkback as Marc Cantor whose apology doubled as an attempt to dismiss his own egregious behavior and to gaslight his victim at the same time.
But it’s hard to find a single Valley bro who has yet offered an apology -- a heartfelt apology-- for his bad behavior that didn’t come followed by a walk back.
What to make of that?
Yesterday, my Twitter feed reaction to Jonathan Teo’s astounding letter to his portfolio was about on par with the world’s reaction to Donald Trump Jr. releasing his Russia collusion emails today: Why would he do this?
Astoundingly, the LPs had not yet accepted his resignation. If he had just sat silently and done some behind the scenes damage control, maybe-- maybe!-- he could have held onto his job managing out the portfolio. After all, the story had moved on to others like Chris Sacca and Dave McClure. Most people had assumed Binary Capital got all the justice it could handle and moved onto the next bro. Enter Teo reminding you just how poor his judgement is-- whether it was organizing a fund whose deal flow was predicated on clubbing or partnering with a man he admitted he knew had a history of harassing women.
People on Twitter are asking how a man who could raise hundreds of millions from LPs could be this “stupid.” But that misses the point: The problem isn’t Teo’s IQ, it’s his EQ. There is an obvious (and somewhat horrifying) explanation for why he wrote this letter that has nothing to do with a convoluted strategy to regain face that seems to have backfired: He simply doesn’t think he did anything wrong.
He still does not see the enormity of the abuse of position Justin Caldbeck committed towards at least a dozen women (and that’s just the ones my sources know about), not to mention at least one who worked for them. He still does not think restricting access to his “network” via late night parties put women in a difficult position. He believes he should have given a “bro” who he knew was a sexual predator “another chance” at being in a power position over countless women looking for funding.
Jonathan Teo seems to have sent this sulky email saying he’s a victim, because in his mind, he did nothing morally wrong.
And in one sense, you can understand his thinking. This kind of behavior has been prevalent in Silicon Valley and until the last month, there were no repercussions. Reminder: Caldbeck did this at Lightspeed, and it even cost the firm ownership in a successful company. Lightspeed not only gagged the entrepreneur, it gave Caldbeck favorable references that helped him set up his new fund, according to my reporting. Teo isn’t the only one who knew Caldbeck was a predator and responded by giving him a greater position of power and money to prey on even more women, Lightspeed did the same. And so far, there are no ramifications for Lightspeed.
Indeed, the original Information story got so little pick up, our first piece was asking where the outrage was. For an uncomfortable number of hours, the Information story was not a bombshell. Bear in mind, the Information is daily reading for most major VCs in the Valley. It wasn’t simply that it was behind a paywall and they hadn’t seen it.
Likewise, Dave McClure is out of 500 Startups, but so far there are no repercussions for the fund as a whole, even though we knew McClure’s behavior was known to the rest of the team. Elizabeth Yin quit 500 Startups last week, for this “lack of transparency.” If 500 Startups remains active, another firm that knowingly enabled a predator will be allowed to continue to operate.
Already Australia has paused its plans to partner with 500 Startups, and Mitch and Freada Kapor did not mince words: “This is not just a case of a few bad actors. This is not something that is fixable with a pledge or a new policy. This is a culture that has been allowed to fester and to rot by enablers who refused to intervene when they witnessed inexcusable behavior or went to great lengths to avoid seeing it.”
Indeed, even in the case of poor hapless J. Brad Carrick, his lingerie and startup mingle-fest has been going on for months. It only became emblematic of everything wrong with Silicon Valley, because his July mixer happened to coincide with a week of broader scandals.
Teo created an environment where women had to be “party girls” to get access to his network. He enabled a predator. He lied about that until the media pressure became so great, he had to admit Calbeck was a predator and this was not just normal “social” activity.
To be absolutely clear: In my view, he should lose his fund, his reputation, and be driven out of this industry. But he is right when he looks at the landscape and sees himself as “a victim”: No other enablers of predators seem to be losing their jobs.
The question for Silicon Valley’s eroding moral center is whether Teo will be the outlier or the new standard for decency in venture capital.