Former SlideShare CEO Rashmi Sinha said when all other VCs rejected her funding proposal, it was McClure who stood by her and invested in the firm
When allegations of sexual harassment against a renowned personality surface, it would often open a can of worms and prompt other victims to speak up. In most cases, the person in question will be sacked and his career gets over once and for all.
We have just seen what happened to 500 Startups‘ Co-founder Dave McClure, who allegedly misbehaved with multiple women who had come to him seeking jobs or funding for their startup ventures. He was subsequently demoted from his own company and his role was limited to just fulfilling his obligations to 500 Startups’s investors as a General Partner.
The news on sexual exploitations came to light when his Co-founder Christine Tsai wrote about it on a blog post on Sunday. She said that in recent months, 500 Startups found out that McClure had inappropriate interactions with women in the tech community. She said sorry to the victims and said his behaviour was unacceptable.
Although McClure apologised for his creepy behaviour, the criticism against him sees no signs of abating. e27 spoke to a few women entrepreneurs in Asia who all opined that an apology is not enough and that it cannot condone the trauma that his victims went through.
That said, not all the women who had rendezvous with him in the past have the same creepy story to tell. When the barrage of allegations surfaces, a woman Co-founder has come out to portray a totally different picture of McClure. Rashmi Sinha, Co-founder and former CEO of SlideShare (a professional content sharing platform which was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012) said that when gender discrimination was rampant in the tech industry back in the 200os, it was McClure who came to the rescue of her startup. She added if not for the unwavering support of McClure to her as a woman CEO, the over US$100 million exit with LinkedIn would not have been possible.
“To begin, I am not condoning Dave’s behavior towards the women who have spoken up (or who have not yet spoken up). Hearing about this was a shock to me. His behavior was inappropriate to say the least and took advantage of his power. I am glad they spoke up and that Dave has to face the consequences,” Sinha said in the Medium article. “I simply want to share my own experience with Dave and his role in my getting funding as a woman CEO.”
Sinha met McClure at a cafe in 2007 in the early days of SlideShare. McClure was a passionate user of SlideShare and his presentations were a early hit on the platform. When they met, they often spoke about product and marketing ideas for the startup. He would send her many texts and emails at 4 am or other odd hours of the day.
“I asked him if he wanted to invest and he made a small angel investment and also became good friends with husband Jon (husband Jon Boutelle) and me. Once we moved offices to San Francisco, he would often stop by at short notice. He was full of ideas, some of which we tried to adopt, most we could not. Sometimes it frustrated him enough that he would take matters into his own (e.g., the time he got a SlideShare t-shirt printed since he did not like the ones we had!),” Sinha elaborated.
After getting small investments from a few other angels, SlidesShare turned its focus to a Series A. Although the startup had great metrics, it failed to land funding. McClure recognised early on that many of the rejections were related to Sinha’s being a woman CEO. However, she did believe this and she has never felt that any of her failures were related to being a woman.
“The discrimination was subtle (articles like this show why it can be hard to recognize discrimination in individual cases). As I realized this, we started changing tactics. Whenever I sensed that the VC across the table might not be receptive to a women, we would switch to my cofounder (& husband) Jon Boutelle taking the lead and making the presentation. The change in response was immediate — they were much more convinced by the story when it was told by a white man than myself,”she continued.
She finally realised that the problems with raising a round were not about SlideShare, its metrics or potential. It was related to her as a woman CEO. “The final straw was when a prominent VC firm, gave us an offer, as long as I stepped down as CEO. Needless to say, we said no to that one, and also stopped talking to anyone who seemed uncomfortable with my being a CEO. That was also the point at which I became determined that I was not going to change who I was to raise a round. I was going to be myself.”
Sinha said that McClure supported her through all this. He was outraged on her behalf and went out of his way to help the company. According to her, McClure introduced her to every connection he could, including Yee Lee, who was an EIR at Venrock Capital which later invested.
“Dave asked me many times to talk about my experience. He invited me to panels and ask me to share my experience. I spoke up some, but did not go into it in any depth. As more women started to raise funding and write about it, I recognized my experience in theirs. I still believe that the VC bias against women is much bigger than bias in any other domain I have personally experienced,” she pointed out.
“But I am also here to tell you, in the same breath, that SlideShare, one of the few women led startups to have had a 100-million dollar exit would not even have raised a Series A if not for Dave McClure’s unwavering support of its woman CEO, and determination to help her succeed,” said she while signing off the post.