The venture capital industry continues its nonstop string of sexual harassment scandals. I was gonna write something sooner, but a New York Times article on gender discrimination made me roll my eyes so hard that they fell out of their sockets. It took several days to recover but I’m all better now thanks.
The Times draws on two dozen stories as evidence that sexual harassment in the startup ecosystem is “pervasive and ingrained”. Good grief. Aside from some brief detours, I’ve lived and worked in Silicon Valley since 1982. I promise it’s not that bad.
A typical early-stage founder will meet with over a hundred investors before closing a seed round with a handful of term sheets. Fundraising is a miserable experience only slightly less humiliating than public begging, and a startup CEO can expect to repeat this process every 18 months if her company doesn’t die before then.
When you have an industry that revolves around glorified panhandling, it’s inevitable that participants end up getting kicked and spat on. The Times describes some founders who put up with unwanted sexual advances because they were desperate to raise money for their startups. There’s an old-fashioned word for what these ladies are doing that I shan’t repeat here.
Male founders have to run this emasculating gauntlet too, except that they can’t blame gender discrimination for how dirty they feel at the end of the day.
Does parading through downtown Palo Alto as a human billboard count as public solicitation?
— Matt Luongo (@mhluongo) August 26, 2016
There’s nothing unusual about the idea that the rich and powerful might abuse those who beg them for money. I imagine it’s one of the most attractive features of being rich. Some VCs are drafting a Code of Conduct that proposes to create a list of “bad actors” known to mistreat women or minorities. That’s a noble idea and all, but most of the bad actors recently harangued by the media were investing their own money. Call them out and paint a scarlet letter on their heads — Do you think the homeless people in Union Square check the Sex Offender Registry before accepting a dollar from a stranger?
The only thing more timeless than the abuse of power is the tolerance of abuse by those who most need the money. A common VC complaint is that there’s too much money chasing a few good companies. The flip side is that there’s a glut of unappreciated startups desperate for any funding at all. Silicon Valley is run by idealists, and I understand the desire to purify the industry — But to think that we can enforce a code of conduct is to completely misunderstand the nature of the supply and demand of capital.