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Shedding Light on the “Black Box of Inappropriateness”: Sexual assault by venture capitalists

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Cheryl Yeoh describes her experience of sexual assault by a venture capitalist:

From Creepy Comments to Sexual Assault

I’m shaking as I write this, not quite knowing where to start. As I’m sure Susan Fowler and Niniane, Susan & Leiti probably did, I’ve struggled long and hard over whether to come out with my own account of sexual harassment. After Sarah’s story in the NYT was published, I was quite sure I wouldn’t, because I thought I didn’t have to.

But after reading Dave’s post “I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry.,” I couldn’t help but feel compelled to tell my story. While Dave acknowledged and apologized for his “inappropriate behavior” towards multiple women, I felt it generalized his actions to inappropriate comments made in a “setting he thought was social.” It definitely didn’t address the severity of his sexual advances towards me and potentially others.

I’m now ready to tell my account of what Dave McClure inflicted on me 3 years ago, in my own apartment. It’s not just inappropriate, it’s assault.

When facts and details are not publicly disclosed, the whole matter gets lumped into one big black box of inappropriatenessNon-consensual, sexual advances are not the same as flirtatious comments from a creepy dude. The degree of harassment matters. Here’s why.

Just go onto Dave’s twitter and blog to see the swarm of comments supporting him for his authentic apology and courage in writing it. One guy even tweeted that Dave was just being Dave – he has always been, and will always be inappropriate! He’s famous for that. Big deal!

“Dave you’re not a creep, you’re a solid dude. I sorta wish you didn’t apologize for wanting a sex life like other human beings.”

“Dave, well done; continue. Listen, yr head went on a pike but yr past behaviour is THE NORM, every industry & setting. Keep communicating.”

“ This took guts. Respect to Dave as well here a great example.”

“Jesus F*cking Christ you are a MAN and hit on a woman. That is NORMAL behavior. Don’t let people neuter you publicly for being YOU!”

“you are only human! i wish u the best“

“Read your story of self castration. Sorry you felt it necessary. Theyre still going to call you a monster foreever. Shouldnt have apologized“

“Unpin this immediately and delete that medium post. You have nothing to be ashamed of. No counseling needed. You are a f*cking MAN OWN IT“

This is why I decided to tell my story. If I don’t, it would be far too easy to condone “inappropriateness,” and far too easy to gloss over it. Dave and other men in positions of power, could still react defensively and try to rationalize their behavior, as Dave did initially. If someone has a wife and two kids and still wants to sleep with other women, that’s their choice. But if someone uses their power as a VC to make repeated sexual, physical advances on women in a professional context, that goes way beyond being a creep.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I still believe that 500 Startups stood for and continues to stand as a bastion of inclusiveness in the industry. 500 may have been co-founded by Dave McClureand Christine Tsai in 2010, but today, 500 is made up of 100+ diverse individuals, and thousands of diverse founders. 500 plays a crucial role in early stage funding and has been a strong supporter of many female, minority, international, LGBTQ and otherwise underrepresented founders. I would like us to keep that in mind while reading this, that the misconduct is directed at one individual, not the entire firm. I believe in 500 Startups and want to find constructive ways to deal with this.

Dave has done a lot for many founders, and people (including me) are grateful for his support in many ways. What he’s done for the startup community is commendable. It’s tough for some to accept the truth that Dave abused his power for sexual gain and put women in compromising, powerless positions. But we need to acknowledge the difference between inappropriate behavior and assault. What I experienced with Dave was the latter.

<> I just spoke to Sarah Kunst and learned from her that at least 12 other women including me, have faced sexual harassment or advances from Dave of various degrees. Some of them are portfolio company CEOs like myself. They’re afraid to come out, but some eventually will. I had doubts publishing this, but after talking to Sarah, it is clear to me now that I can’t just sit silently and trust that Dave’s behavior will stop, or that we can just file his misconduct under “Dave being Dave.” This is about protecting other women who might otherwise be subjected to his future unwanted sexual advances.

My Personal Account of Sexual Assault from Dave

3 years ago, I’d just moved from Silicon Valley to Malaysia, to take up a position as the Founding CEO of MaGIC, a government-funded innovation agency in Malaysia that was launched by President Obama and the Prime Minister of Malaysia on April 27, 2014 to spur tech startups in Malaysia and later Southeast Asia via its accelerator programs.

Given that my startup Reclip.It was previously funded by 500 Startups, and I had a good working relationship with Dave, I had already spoken to Dave about setting up an accelerator in Southeast Asia. He said he’d consider doing it if I helped him raise USD$10M for the fund, which would be managed by Khailee Ng, a fund manager of 500 Durians at the time (a microfund for Southeast Asia). I subsequently got the investments they needed secured.

On June 6, 2014, Dave flew into Malaysia to meet some of these investors and other tech players in the industry. I invited him to attend my board meeting that day as well. After the meeting, Khailee, Dave, and a few others (including two other females), decided to come over to my apartment to brainstorm about 500 Startups’ new Growth / Distribution Accelerator, Cerebro (later rebranded as Distro Dojo) and also a hashtag for MaGIC, the organization that I was leading.

What started out to be an innocent night of just jamming and hanging out at my new apartment turned into a nightmare episode that has been haunting me for the past 3 years. Dave kept pouring scotch into my glass before I finished drinking throughout the night, and hours into the night way past midnight, suddenly, everyone except Dave decided to order a cab. They all promptly left, and left Dave there with me. I was quite confused by how that happened so quickly.

I quickly asked if Dave wanted to leave like the rest of them but he said no. Perplexed, I offered him to crash on the couch or the guest room and proceeded to show him the guest room. Then I went into my own bedroom but Dave followed me there, and that’s when he first propositioned to sleep with me. I said no. I reminded Dave that he knew my then-boyfriend and that we’d just talked about him earlier that night.

At this point, I led him to the door and told him he needs to leave. On the way out, he pushed himself onto me to the point where I was backed into a corner, made contact to kiss me, and said something along the lines of “Just one night, please just this one time.” Then he told me how he really likes strong and smart women like me. Disgusted and outraged, I said no firmly again, pushed him away and made sure he was out my door.

Once he was gone, still in shock and in tears, I immediately called my boyfriend at the time and told him what had just happened. I couldn’t shake off thoughts of what might have happened if he had applied more force on me, or if I hadn’t been able to defend myself. The fact that I had to say no multiple times, and that he had push himself onto me and kissed me without my consent was way more than crossing the line of inappropriateness. It’s legally considered a sexual assault.

Unfortunately, I felt like I couldn’t speak up at the time, or even tell Khailee about it, because we had the Distro Dojo deal at stake and we were supposed to sign an LOI that week. I was extremely conflicted about it. On one hand, I was really upset with Dave’s individual misconduct and never wanted to work directly with him ever again, but on the other hand, if I said anything, I would most certainly kill the Distro Dojo deal. The deal wasn’t even for a personal benefit (if I were raising funds for my own startup, I wouldn’t have taken his money), but it has widespread regional impact. It was so important to Southeast Asia that Distro Dojo be established there. In hindsight, the program has indeed made a lot of positive impact to companies such as GrabKFITBukalapak, and others, and many would argue that 500 plays a fundamental role in the region’s startup ecosystem.

I just had to suck it up and put the incident behind me. Even if I spoke up, I wasn’t sure at the time if my story would be taken seriously. In fact, I felt like I had to “play nice” and avoid any sort of awkward confrontation for fear of repercussions on the deal. It’s the worst position to be in when you feel helpless about something you know was outright wrong. The point is, that I shouldn’t have been put in that position in the first place.

Plus, as a new CEO of such a public organization at the time, and with a huge task ahead of me, I just couldn’t spare the emotional or mental energy to report this incident at the time, and if you knew me over those 2 years, I was barely able to come up for air. It’s not easy for women to report incidents like these, and everyone is in a very different personal situation.

It wasn’t until later in 2015 that I was able to reveal this to 3 of my close friends. I knew this was something I wouldn’t be able to keep to myself forever.

When Dave finally got around to apologizing to me, it was a half-hearted message on FB.

I was disappointed that he used words like “If that incident last year made you feel uncomfortable, I’d like to apologize,” and “if I misread things or acted inappropriately.” If? It showed me that he did not think what he did was wrong, was not remorseful, did not own up to it and it was not a sincere apology. He even didn’t apologize on his own accord.

Dave didn’t feel compelled to change his behavior until forced by others. In his recent blog post, he admitted he was defensive even when caught and tried to rationalize his behavior with Sarah. He did not addressed the severity of the advances he made on me, nor the extremely conflicted and difficult position he put me in given that we had a business deal in the works. Like Sarah’s situation, he downplayed the incident as “misreading the situation.”

But This Wasn’t The First Time I’d Been Propositioned by Dave

On June 14, 2011 when I had successfully raised a seed round for my startup CityPockets, I hosted a networking event for entrepreneurs & investors in New York City with my friend Gary. Dave stopped by my event around midnight to congratulate me. After the event ended, I got a text message from Dave, stating his midtown hotel and room #. He asked if I wanted to “drop by his hotel room to chat” because he had a bottle of wine. Confused and unsure how to reply, I said I was tired and on my way home, no thanks. That was that. . .

Continue reading.

And virtual-reality companies seem to be even worse—unable to distinguish virtual and actual?

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 8:04 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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