Shocker! Shervin Pishevar has suddenly realized he can't be interviewed by me on stage at Harvard after all
"Let us strike tomorrow with the full and fulsome courage of our convictions."
A few weeks ago, I got an invitation from Harvard Business School to interview the keynote speakers on stage at its annual Tech Conference.
It was a flattering invitation: The conference has attracted amazing speakers over the years, and by interviewing them I’d be following in the footsteps of many of my esteemed journalistic colleagues.
And yet, I still have to think carefully before accepting any speaking invitations that require travel. I’m a single mom (of two children who have just started kindergarten/transitional kindergarten) with no extended family living nearby and no regular childcare. Meanwhile, I’m running Pando and building a second company, aimed at making life easier for other working moms like me. Oh, and I have a book coming out in November which is going to involve a lot of travel. Pretty much every moment of my time and every dollar in my bank account is overstretched and over-booked.
I know from planning conferences for years, just how common this refrain is. Certainly the biggest challenge to having gender parity on stage is that so few women get funded, run VC firms, and are CEOs of major tech companies. But frequently the ones who are, are laser-focused on productivity and the things that matter most for their families and their employees. And sitting on stage somewhere-- particularly traveling there at your own cost-- just rarely makes the cut for the benefit your company gets from it.
This frustrates me to no end as an event producer. But as a CEO and a mom, I completely get it, because I do the same thing.
So in any normal universe, I would have quickly replied that I was honored, but no thank you. But then I saw the part of the invitation email which named the only confirmed (at that point) keynote speaker: Shervin Pishevar.
The same Shervin Pishevar who was the subject of a bizarre -- now settled-- Hyperloop lawsuit where his brother put a noose in someone’s chair…
The same Shervin Pishevar who bragged about getting to have dinner with Vladimir Putin around the same time he was also telling the world how “team Hillary” he was…
The same Shervin Pishevar who has thrice now butted his way into the Benchmark v. Travis Kalanick fight, with each letter getting stranger and stranger…
The same Shervin Pishevar who invested in Pando and then suddenly went dark once Uber threatened my family and his former EIR attempted to smear me...
The same Shervin Pishevar who once told me he was worried that “The Social Network” would lead to a flood of bros who didn’t care about anything other than cheating people and making money to flood the Valley…. And then aligned himself with the bro-iest of all bros.
(And just this week, the same Shervin Pishevar who wrote a bizarre Decembrists-style screed about the holy virtue of, uh, Travis Kalanick and those who accuse him of fraud. Or as Pishevar called them: “[An] unholy alliance of perfidious greed devolving rapidly into the audacity of vituperative unparalleled predatory rapacity.”)
Ok, Harvard, ya got me. There are more than a few questions I’d like to ask Pishevar on stage.
Questions like: How does he feel about reports that Elon Musk himself is now entering the Hyperloop fray?
How do his partners, LPs and other portfolio companies feel about him declaring war-- unsolicited-- on Benchmark, one of the most powerful venture firms in the Valley?
Is his contention that there is nothing that would warrant a founder’s ouster? Not the theft of trade secrets? Not allegedly planning to go after a rape victim? Not cratering a company’s valuation in a scant eight months of 2017?
Does he truly think the ousting of a man who did all of this is the “grandest moral” battle in startups right now? Not, say, the summer of disturbing sexual harassment scandals that involve women being groped, grabbed and propositioned by multiple VCs when seeking funding?
Does he now regret his fan-boy excitement about meeting Putin, given the accusations that he had meddled in the election? And on that note, why did he change his avatar from one with Hillary to one without so rapidly after the election? A deep admiration of Hillary and Putin can’t coexist, right?
And, seriously, he believes Kalanick-- who even has himself admitted he needs to “grow up” and he created a toxic culture-- is the good guy here? Had he read the Holder report? Had he read Susan Fowler’s blog post? Does he think they are lying or believe that’s a model of good CEO behavior?
And does he not look around at bro-Valley in 2017 and see something worse than what he described to me that he feared “The Social Network” being widely viewed and emulated?
Honestly, I was stunned that Harvard wanted me to interview Pishevar or anyone from Uber given the company’s previous threats against me or my family. Why on earth would someone like Pishevar, who was too much of a coward to speak out when Emil Michael made his threats, possible suddenly have the guts to sit down with me and answer questions on stage at Harvard.
I asked several women I respect in the tech world what I should do. Not only would the interview be awkward, but it’d likely dredge up a lot of the pain I remember from 2013/4. Everyone I asked told me it was something I had to do. When else would such a prototypical bro-enabler be asked the important questions on stage in front of the upcoming generation of business leaders? I mean, it’s up to everyone in Trump’s America and Travis’s Silicon Valley to speak up whenever and wherever they can, for those who don’t get to sit on stage with someone in power who is helping boost people abusing power, right?
And so, I made a massive exception to my normal rule and accepted the invitation.
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that for the past few weeks - as Pishevar continued to butt his way into Benchmark and Kalanick’s fight - I noted several times that I was interviewing him on stage in September and planned to ask more about exactly what he was thinking here. Anticipation, naturally, was building. Popcorn GIFs everywhere.
So I guess wasn’t a huge shock when, a few days ago, I got an update from the Harvard students group: Pishevar had pulled out. Suddenly -- wouldn’t you know it? -- he’d realized that something else had come up.
The news put me in a really difficult position: I’d agreed to do all the interviews at the event (unpaid, and traveling on my own dime) because I thought it was important that the interviewer be someone who would ask difficult questions of an Uber insider. Now Pishevar had cancelled, the job suddenly sounded a lot more like unpaid labor. But it wasn’t Harvard’s fault that Pishevar had left them in the lurch. Surely if another Uber player was able to attend then they’d be added to my interview roster, right?
Earlier this week, I learned that Uber’s Bozoma Saint John had been added the list of keynotes. Only unlike all of the other speakers, she’d been able to opt out of being interviewed by me or any other journalist. She was to be interviewed by Frances Frei…. another Uber exec.
Harvard’s decision to allow an Uber executive to be interviewed by another Uber executive is beyond insane, although it shows the lengths to which Uber will go to avoid tough questions.
Journalism isn’t something you can opt in or out of, particularly if you are the highest valued company in Silicon Valley history and one that has discriminated against women, compared drivers to hookers for marketing purposes, abused the privacy of your customers, trapped your drivers in predatory leases, and threatened to go after the families of critics and journalists.
Given everything, I just can’t support an event that would allow Uber to perform a live, on-stage ad while every other exec has to answer to a journalist or external moderator. And so with extreme regret, I will no longer be flying to Harvard later this month.
As someone who programs events, I feel terrible about letting down the students who planned this and likely didn’t realize the shark-infested waters they were wading into in proposing that someone like me sit on stage with some of the Valley’s most notorious bro-enablers. I appreciate what they tried to do, and I’m sorry for the position I’ve put them in. I am sorry we were all put in this position, frankly.
I should note that the organizers have been very understanding, and apologetic. Again, I have no reason to think any of this is their fault, rather than yet another example of Uberworld doing what Uberworld does: Abusing its power, and ducking tough questions.
Certainly, I’d love to make it up to Havard and its students. If Shervin or any senior Uber executive would like to sit down to a rescheduled interview at the school, I’ll gladly fly there on my own dime to ask all the questions I was hoping to ask. Just name the time.