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.
I simply want to share my own experience with Dave and his role in my getting funding as a woman CEO.
I met Dave at a cafe in 2007. It was Dana Street Cafe in Downtown Mountain View, which was frequented by YouTube & other startup folks. It was early days of SlideShare and I recognized Dave from his 500 hats tshirt (he had that same logo on his decks on SlideShare!). His presentations were a early hit on SlideShare and he was passionate user of the site. Once he learnt I had founded it, we spoke often about product and marketing ideas for SlideShare. Dave has sent me many texts and emails at 4 am or other odd hours of the day — with sometimes sound and sometimes mad-hat ideas to grow SlideShare.
I asked him if he wanted to invest and he made a small angel investment and also became good friends with Jon 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!)
After getting small investments from a few other angels (Hal Varian, Mark Cuban, Yee Lee, Jonathan Abrams), we turned our focus to a Series A. SlideShare had great metrics — we were growing at a fast pace. Every potential investor recognized this. But we could not land funding.
Dave recognized early on (perhaps even before I did) that many of the rejections were related to my being a woman CEO. I did not want to believe this — I had been in academia and business previously — and never felt that any of my 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.
This finally convinced me that our problems with raising a round were not about SlideShare, its metrics or potential. It was related to me 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.
Dave McClure supported me through all this. He was outraged on my behalf and went out of his way to help. He introduced me to every connection he could. He introduced us to Yee Lee who also invested in SlideShare. Yee was an EIR at Venrock and reconnected us to Venrock who had passed on us before. This time, Venrock ended up investing.
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.
I commend the women who spoke up against Dave and any other VCs who misbehave. No woman should have to deal with advances when they are looking for funding / job. Their startup should be judged on its own merit. This type of behavior is completely unacceptable.
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.