Sexual harassment claims against local VC draw heat from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman

Venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck has changed his tune and issued a groveling apology after being accused of sexually harassing six women.

“The power dynamic that exists in venture capital is despicably unfair,” Caldbeck said in a statement to TechCrunch.

“The gap of influence between male venture capitalists and female entrepreneurs is frightening and I hate that my behavior played a role in perpetrating a gender-hostile environment.

“It is outrageous and unethical for any person to leverage a position of power in exchange for sexual gain, it is clear to me now that that is exactly what I’ve done.”

However, Caldbeck had responded differently when first confronted with the allegations, according to online tech magazine The Information, which interviewed the six women.

“I strongly deny The Information’s attacks on my character. The fact is, I have always enjoyed respectful relationships with female founders, business partners, and investors,” Caldbeck said, according to the online magazine.

Three of the alleged victims spoke openly to The Information.

“The women who made the allegations include Niniane Wang, who co-created Google Desktop and served as CTO of Minted, and Susan Ho and Leiti Hsu, co-founders of Journy, a travel planning and booking service,” The Information reported (paywall).

“Ms. Wang alleges Mr. Caldbeck, while informally trying to recruit her for a tech company job, tried to sleep with her. Ms. Ho said that Mr. Caldbeck, while discussing investing in their startup, sent her text messages in the middle of the night suggesting they meet up.

“Ms. Hsu says that Mr. Caldbeck groped her under a table at a Manhattan hotel bar.”

Caldbeck, co-founder and managing partner at Binary Capital, wasn’t the only one to call his actions outrageous.

“This reported behavior is completely outrageous and unacceptable,” LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, now a partner at the Greylock VC firm, wrote June 23 in a LinkedIn post.

Hoffman highlighted a lack of accountability for VCs, and called for change.

“Venture capitalists unfortunately have no HR department to prevent predatory and inappropriate behavior,” Hoffman wrote.

“The industry should actively work on building a kind of industry-wide HR function, so that venture capitalists who engage in such behavior face the same sort of consequences that they would if their overtures were directed at an employee.”

Caldbeck also caught flak for his apology, which began with, “The past 24 hours have been the darkest of my life.”

Leslie Miley, engineering director for San Francisco collaboration software firm Slack, on June 23 tweeted, “Not good to (start) off with how dark his past 24 hours have been. Women spent years (in) dark places due to this type of behavior.”

TechCrunch made contact with Leiti Hsu after Caldbeck’s apology, and she appeared to speak on behalf of herself and her co-founder Susan Ho.

“While we’re happy that he apologized and we’re happy especially for the support of the amazing women and men, our strong preference would have been to not be in this position to begin with,” Hsu reportedly said.

“We would prefer to be focused on running our company.”


Photo: LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman addresses attendees at a hackathon at LinkedIn offices in Mountain View in 2013. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)



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