Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
DELETE

Silicon Valley Knew of Sexual Harassment Claims Against VC Mogul Years Before He Was Exposed

Justin Caldbeck allegedly used his venture capital fund to trick female tech founders into dates where he propositioned them for sex.

Kelly Weill6.28.17 1:00 AM ET

The sexual harassment allegations that led to a Silicon Valley venture capitalist’s resignation this week date back to at least 2014, The Daily Beast has learned.

On June 22, technology news site The Information published an exposé in which six women accused Justin Caldbeck of sexual harassment. The women accused Caldbeck of propositioning or groping them while they attempted to pitch their technology companies to his firm, Binary Capital. Caldbeck initially denied the allegations before apologizing and finally stepping down from the company on Sunday.

But public allegations against Caldbeck surfaced in a 2014 comment thread about male venture capitalists who purportedly used their positions to make inappropriate advances toward women.

“Which male VCs tend to hit on female founders and trick them into dates?” a user on the anonymous app Secret.ly asked in August 2014. “I want to know who not to work with.”

The thread, discovered by The Daily Beast on Tuesday, disappeared when the Secret.ly app went out of business in 2015. But while active, the post quickly attracted over 200 comments, attracting the attention of technology publications and start-up message boards, where users repeated the anonymous allegations of sexual harassment by venture capitalists including “Justin Caldbeck.”

Binary Capital did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment Tuesday on Caldbeck’s inclusion in the comment thread.

But his former employer Lightspeed Venture Partners said Tuesday that it had been aware of allegations against Caldbeck.

“We received a complaint regarding Justin from a portfolio company during his time at Lightspeed,” the company tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “In response, we removed him as a board observer at the request of that company. In light of what we have learned since, we regret we did not take stronger action. It is clear now that we should have done more.”

On Monday, Caldbeck’s former colleague, Binary co-founder Jonathan Teo, acknowledged that he had also been aware of allegations against Caldbeck for years.

“I have known Justin in a professional context for many years. I have also heard rumors about him from the past,” Teo wrote in a public Facebook post. “When I chose to work with him to form Binary, I told him in no uncertain terms that no bad behavior was ever going to be tolerated at Binary... In the second year of our partnership, I had learned of some bad behavior from my partner, but it was evidenced to me that it happened prior to his time at Binary. And I kept my word that his past is the past and I would put it behind me. Even if he had kept it from me.”

Caldbeck initially denied the allegations in The Information’s report. “I strongly deny The Information’s attacks on my character,” he said in a statement the day of the article’s publication. “The fact is, I have always enjoyed respectful relationships with female founders, business partners, and investors.”

But he changed his tune the following day. “The past 24 hours have been the darkest of my life,” Caldbeck wrote in a June 23 statement announcing a leave of absence. “I have made many mistakes over the course of my career, some of which were brought to light this week.”

He quit Binary Capital two days later, leaving Teo to steer the company in his absence.

Niniane Wang, one of the three tech founders to go on the record against Caldbeck in the Information exposé, said she had been fighting for nearly a decade to reveal Caldbeck’s alleged misconduct.

“I’ve been trying to expose Justin for 7 years,” Wang wrote on Medium. “He kept threatening reporters, and it was incredibly difficult to get this article out. He fought tooth and nail.”

These efforts may have included an attempt to offer Wang money shortly before The Information article’s publication. On June 8, three days after Wang agreed to go on the record against Caldbeck, he contacted her to offer “more capital” for her company Evertoon, according to an email shared with the tech news site Pando.

“Hey Niniane,” Caldbeck wrote. “It’s been a long time I’m not sure you Evertoon is thinking of raising more capital but would love to catch up and hear more about what you’re building if you’re open to it.”

Wang told Pando that Caldbeck had only contacted her one other time in the previous years, and that she interpreted the email as Caldbeck “trying to use funding to shut me up.”

The other two women who publicly accused Caldbeck of harassment said they worried people wouldn’t believe their account.

Tech co-founders Susan Ho and Leiti Hsu said Caldbeck sent them inappropriate text messages and groped one under a table when they met to discuss funding.

“We said to ourselves, ‘Women in all industries deal with shit like this every day. It’s nothing new — let’s just get back to work so we can build this business and win,’” Ho said in a statement to The Daily Beast.

“But we can’t normalize this behavior anymore. It’s not normal and it should not be standard operating procedure for women in tech to have to deal with this. After hearing from other women about Caldbeck’s behavior towards them, instances that were much more egregious than what we experienced, we decided we had to say something.”

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