Pando

Justin Caldbeck's comeback tour: Turning sexual harassment into lemonade

By Sarah Lacy , written on November 21, 2017

From The Gender Wars Desk

For the last week, I’ve intended to write something about the “comeback” of Justin Caldbeck. Everytime, I feel like I need a hazmat suit in order to even start to get into it.

When Caldbeck’s victims came forward, with three of them bravely going on the record first, and more following, it was a selfless act of wanting to protect other women in the future.

Because clearly, the men surrounding and enabling Caldbeck weren’t going to do anything. Caldbeck’s actions cost Lightspeed ownership in StitchFix, and they gave him a glowing reference to LPs anyway, according to the LPs I’ve spoken with this year. His partner Jonathan Teo has admitted he knew of Caldbeck’s predatory actions, but describes staring into his eyes and just knowing he’d change. Indeed, when faced with the impending press stories, Binary Capital’s response were to pressure his victims, and issue legal threats and denials that he’d done anything wrong, even as Teo later admitted he knew Caldbeck was a predator.

This lawsuit filed by a former Binary employee details the lengths of Caldbeck’s verbal and emotional abuse when a woman wants to break from his abusive orbit. Read it. If you did, but forgot the details once the news cycle moved on from Binary Capital, read it again. It’s chilling.

Spare me the “everyone deserves a second chance.” There are at least two “second chances” he had after victimizing upwards of a dozen women on the record in the case of Caldbeck. Even if someone like that deserves a second chance, he’s long since had it.

These women come forward well before the “me too” wave, well before any precedent had been set that it would matter in the slightest. Their wildest hope was impacting his Google Search results so women could be warned at least, when he reached out to them -- typically via LinkedIn was his creepy MO-- for a meeting… frequently in a bar.

Instead, he got placed on leave. The leave became permanent. And eventually the fund was destroyed.

It’s a win no one could have anticipated, given how prevalent this behavior is in the Valley. And one that set off a shockwave in our industry.

And now, Caldbeck has decided to turn lemons into lemonade; seemingly successfully rebranding himself as an expert on the dangers of “bro-culture”. It’s hard to imagine a more clear example of privilege: Everyone knows me as a serial harasser, what if I cobble together a business around that instead of fighting it? Consider it his attempt to “disrupt” shame.

What’s worse is that at least one professor at Duke is happy to play host to Caldbeck’s comeback tour.  As the Editorial Board of Duke’s “The Chronicle” campus newspaper wrote after Caldbeck was invited to speak:

[A]lthough Edward Tirayakin (the lecturer who hosted Caldbeck) stated that he thought Caldbeck represented a “good learning lesson” for his students as someone “who did some pretty bad things and lost a lot of money,” clearly Caldbeck is benefiting professionally off his wrongdoings as evident by his recent actions. Caldbeck has embarked upon the much-trodden path of past offenders, portraying himself as a “penitent sinner” and in the process professionally benefiting off of speaking events as well as his very public, self-styled campaign of “self-awareness.” Clearly, even for the most egregious sexual offenders, there is definitely a professional afterlife—as evident by the “Head of Self-Reflection, Accountability & Change” himself.

Hopefully, I don’t have to explain to you why this is a horrific precedent for our industry. Hopefully, I don’t have to make the case of why this will only discourage more women from coming forward. Hopefully, I don’t have to explain why a known predator who was allowed to thrive at two firms-- despite his actions costing those firms money-- is everything that is wrong with the cozy-bro-y-ness of venture capital.

Because, I’m at a loss for words, frankly. I’m at a loss with the sheer audacity of his trying to turn his victim’s trauma into a business. I’m at a loss that anyone in a position at an Ivy League school would be cool with it. I don’t understand why the damage this inflicts isn’t obvious. But clearly, it isn’t. The lecturer who invited him was delighted with how it all went.

Maybe you can do better. Niniane Wang, one of the victims who came forward in the original Information story, emailed me this via email as a starting point: “Duke says the professors are allowed to invite anyone they want, and denies any accountability.” She suggests emailing VP of Public Affairs: Michael Schoenfeld, Director for Markets & Management Martha Reeves, and of course the teacher who invited him in Ed Tiryakian. I’d imagine any Duke alums out reading this would have even more sway.

Until our industry-- and the Ivy League schools that feed it-- can agree that serial predators aren’t esteemed role models, things will never change.