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Silicon Valley venture capitalist resigns amid sex harassment scandal

by Noah Kulwin
Nov 13 2017, 4:04pm

Another sex harassment scandal just took down one of Silicon Valley’s best-known venture capitalists.

Steve Jurvetson, who made a fortune selling Hotmail to Microsoft in the early days of the consumer web, and went on to invest heavily in Tesla and SpaceX, is leaving legendary VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson in the wake of a sexual harassment investigation.

The investigation into Jurvetson began after an Oct. 23 Facebook post by Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Keri Kukral that said “predatory behavior is rampant” at Draper Fisher Jurvetson but did not name Jurvetson specifically. On Monday, the firm told its investors that Jurvetson was out; Recode first reported the news. Kukral declined to comment.

“As of today and by mutual agreement, Steve Jurvetson will be leaving DFJ,” spokeswoman Carol Wentworth told VICE News in an emailed statement. “DFJ’s culture has been, and will continue to be, built on the values of respect and integrity in all of our interactions. We are focused on the success of our portfolio companies, as well as the long-term vision for the firm and will continue to operate with the highest professional standards.”

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The venture capital industry as a whole is notoriously male and white. A December 2016 survey from the National Venture Capital Association found that the VC sector overall was 78 percent white, and an October 2017 study from the venture funding analysis service Crunchbase said that only 8 percent of partners responsible for investment at VC firms were women.

Jurvetson ranks among the most powerful and public venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, largely because of his early investments in and board seats on Tesla and SpaceX, both of which were founded and are run by Elon Musk. Jurvetson is frequently interviewed on behalf of the companies, and has long been credited with helping Musk turn them into celebrated multibillion-dollar success stories.

A Tesla spokesperson said to VICE News that Jurvetson has been put “on a leave of absence from the SpaceX and Tesla boards pending resolution of these allegations.”

In Jurvetson’s own statement, which he tweeted shortly after the news of his exit from DFJ, he says he left “to focus on personal matters, including taking legal action against those whose false statements have defamed me.”

I am leaving DFJ to focus on personal matters, including taking legal action against those whose false statements have defamed me.

Up until the moment it was announced Jurvetson was leaving DFJ, women associated with the firm publicly defended both the firm and Jurvetson. Two weeks before his exit, DFJ operating partner Heidi Roizen wrote on her personal Tumblr that allegations made by Keri Kukral were “patently wrong,” and two other women who worked at DFJ expressed similar feelings in their own Medium post defending Jurvetson.

The venture capital industry, in general, has come under scrutiny in recent years for a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination.

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Ellen Pao, who famously sued her former employer, the venerated VC firm Kleiner Perkins, in 2014, co-founded an initiative called Project Include aimed at making tech safer for and more inclusive to women and minorities. Her Kleiner Perkins suit, though unsuccessful, has prompted what many have called the “Pao effect” — a rising tide of conversation and confrontation regarding toxic culture in the VC world.

And in the California state legislature, lawmakers are even now considering a bill that would tighten the laws around sexual harassment directed at entrepreneurs by investors. The bill will be looked at early in 2018, after legislators return from their winter recess.