That party was way worse than it sounds

Last week Vanity Fair published a pretty intense article (an excerpt from Emily Chang’s upcoming “Brotopia”) about Silicon Valley’s sex parties. One particular party mentioned was “a party on the edge of the earth”. I was there, and it’s way way worse than it sounds.

In June 2017, one young woman — let’s call her Jane Doe — received a Paperless Post invite for “a party on the edge of the earth” at the home of a wealthy venture capitalist. The invite requested “glamazon adventurer, safari chic and jungle tribal attire.” Ironically, the gathering was held just a week after sexual-harassment allegations against Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck had been reported, but that didn’t seem to discourage certain guests from indulging in heavy petting in the open.
Doe found herself on the floor with two couples, including a male entrepreneur and his wife. The living room had been blanketed in plush white faux fur and pillows, where, as the evening wore on, several people lay down and started stroking one another, Doe said, in what became a sizable cuddle puddle. One venture capitalist, dressed up as a bunny (it’s unclear how this fit into the edge-of-the-earth theme), offered Jane Doe some powder in a plastic bag. It was Molly. “They said it will just make you feel relaxed and you’re going to like being touched,” Doe recounted to me.

This party she describes, with the cuddle puddle and the molly and the stroking, wasn’t just some random rich dude’s house. This was a top-tier VC firm’s official party.

It was:

  • run by the VC firm
  • organized by firm staff
  • the official afterparty of their big annual summit
  • at a general partner’s house
  • attended by (at least 2) other general partners
  • attended by firm staff
  • serviced by shuttles bringing attendees from the summit to the party
  • attended by portfolio founders, CEOs, and executives

Quick pause

Before I go into my experience at the party: it shouldn’t need to be said, but it is absolutely inexcusable to use your power, or allow that power to be used by others, to exploit people for sex. This is basic being-a-human 101. It’s incredibly fucked up to use your power as an investor, or to allow your power to be used by others, to lure women to sex parties, or for this to be a means of women getting access to Silicon Valley’s power structures.

Give women access by funding them, by mentoring them, by introducing them, by supporting and advising them. Do not create an ecosystem where women are systemically denied access to funding and power, and then exploit that lack of power to coerce women into having sex with you.

Not that sex is bad, nor that sex parties are bad. Using power to deny access to women, then providing access so long as they have sex with you; that’s abuse, and that’s fucked up.

What happened?

I don’t want this to be anti-climactic, but I didn’t see any sex or drugs. I went home at 12:30am, and I guess sex parties don’t really kick off until the boring fuckers go home. I didn’t exactly know whether it was a sex party, and I got bored at some point and went home.

But I can confirm many of the details at the party. The invite, the investor whose house it was, the decor and setup for the cuddle puddle. I’ve since spoken to Emily Chang and nothing she said is at odds with what I saw.

This wasn’t billed as a sex party; it was official party of the VC firm. But we were certainly primed for it — there was a sorta “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” thing going on. We were warned before going not to be freaked out about the stuff there, no photos were allowed(!), and definitely don’t tell anyone what we saw. I actually texted my cofounder “I think I got invited to a sex party”.

A mea culpa is in order here. I’m privileged that when someone invites me to a sex party, I don’t feel unsafe, which is not true for many, especially women. Now while I have no interest in having group sex with rich and powerful people, I was certainly interested in seeing what the fuck this party was. Having not been at one of these, nor being an investor, it had not occurred to me how the VC power dynamic plays out in the situation, nor how exploitative its potential. I regret being so cavalier to what I should have realized was an exploitative situation.

Powerful people

I’m not joking when I say rich and powerful people: the people at that party were really fucking rich and powerful people. Apart from the VCs themselves, Elon Musk was there; I saw him on the dance floor. I don’t know him, so I’m relying on vaguely recognizing the dude, as well as being told by our hosts that he was going to be there, along with all the people going “omg, that’s Elon Musk”.

Jason Calacanis was there. At least, I assume he was. When I was leaving I took the shuttle back to pick up my car — remember we’re in the middle of nowhere — whereupon I saw him getting out of his car. He saw me in face paint and said “It looks like you’re going to the same party I am” and offered me a ride. So I’ll assume he continued his journey.

I’m told an even bigger billionaire founder than Elon Musk was there too, but I didn’t see him so 🤷‍♀.

Now to reiterate, I didn’t personally see Elon or Calacanis or any of the firm partners, or in fact anyone, do anything illegal, or having sex or taking drugs. But I know who was there, what the party was, how it was communicated. I know that anything that Jane Doe described which overlapped with what I saw is accurate. And I know, as we should all know, that that’s unacceptable. Seriously, who has a cuddle puddle at a fucking company party?

We need to fix this

I came to Silicon Valley to make things. And while it’s true that wherever there is money and power there are going to be people who abuse it, we need to step up and stop this shit from going on. It is never OK to abuse your power to exploit women or any underrepresented group, or to allow your power to be used by others to do so.

I have sent a letter to the investors involved asking for clarification on how this happened and how they plan to fix it. Having been on the receiving end of investor/entrepreneur power dynamic, I do not envy what women entrepreneurs are going through. It is important that those in tech with any amount of power at all stand against this sort of behaviour.

Updates:

I didn’t initially say who hosted the party for these reasons, but it has since come out that it was hosted at Steve Jurvetson’s house, and that the firm in question is DFJ. Sometime after the party, but before this stuff came out, “Steve Jurvetson was pushed out” of DFJ. The 3rd billionaire (the one I didn’t personally see) has not yet been named.

I changed the sentence “I didn’t exactly know it was a sex party” to “I didn’t exactly know whether it was a sex party”. The old sentence is more authentic to how I speak, the new sentence is less ambiguous for readers.