Jury in Pao Case Has Spoken, Now Silicon Valley Weighs In

Ellen Pao
Reuters

A San Francisco Jury said Friday afternoon that venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins didn’t discriminate against Ellen Pao. She had said she was passed over for promotions, and then fired, after complaining she was discriminated against because she is a woman.

The closely watched trial follows other recent allegations of unfair treatment at tech firms and data released last year quantifying the lack of women in leadership roles at the major Silicon Valley companies.

Here’s what industry players and tech insiders had to say about the trial on Twitter:

Chris Sacca, venture capitalist and former Google executive

— Chris Sacca (@sacca) March 27, 2015

Sharon Wienbar, venture capitalist at ScaleVP

Cyd Harrell, product director for Code for America

Dorothy Jean Chang, venture capitalist

Julie Ann Horvath, formerly of Github

Divya Manian, Adobe

Rachel Sklar, founder of #ChangetheRatio

Kyle Cummings, client partner at Facebook

Lauren Cooney, senior director of software strategy at Cisco

Joe Brown, editor of Wired

Stanford Law

Courtroom Drama: Pao-Kleiner Juror Changed His Vote Mid-Verdict

Ellen Pao speaks to the media after losing in her gender-discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers in San Francisco.
Reuters

The sex-discrimination case between Ellen Pao and her former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, took several emotional turns in court but perhaps none more dramatic than during the verdict.

After three days of deliberations, an adrenalized courtroom in San Francisco sat in total silence Friday afternoon as Judge Harold Kahn polled the jury one by one on their verdicts for four claims. Judge Kahn is known for being meticulous, and a jocular stickler for details. A packed court thought it was hearing an elaborate end to a shutout against Pao, as she lost every count of her gender-discrimination and retaliation case.

Many of the 50 press members in attendance quickly tweeted a Kleiner victory and emailed or posted their stories. News headlines circulated touting a clean sweep by the venture-capital firm.

But the judge stumbled across something. There was a problem with the voting of the last charge, that Kleiner Perkins retaliated by firing Pao in 2012 after she spoke out about sexism she says she encountered at the storied venture capital firm.

So Judge Kahn asked the jurors again to read their votes. Eight jurors voted that Pao was not retaliated against, and the decision requires a vote of 9-3.

Confusion filled the courtroom. What does that mean? Journalists whispered to each other. Pao, who had looked defeated, turned to her attorneys. Kleiner Perkins’ lawyers, who were ready to celebrate, looked quizzically at each other.

“I am unable to record the verdict,” the judge said. Then Kahn asked the jury, now looking sheepish, to resume deliberations. Clamor filled the courtroom. The judge ordered everyone out. Pao, her attorneys and her mother disappeared.

The stunned press in attendance — nicknamed the “Paoparazzi” — asked each other for direction. Editors were emailed, told that the jury had clumsily miscounted. Stories had to be corrected. And then Twitter lit up with jokes about the jurors’ incompetence at math.

An hour passed while jurors deliberated. Formidable Kleiner attorney Lynne Hermle made silly faces at the press through the window in the courtroom door.

Later the jury came back and voted 9-3 on the final count, that Kleiner had not retaliated against Pao.

But the true story came out as the court began emptying. One of the jurors, Steve Sammut, said the jury didn’t miscount. He says another juror actually changed his vote from no to yes while the judge was polling the jury.

“We thought we were set,” Mr. Sammut said. “One of the jurors changed their mind. We were all caught off guard.”

The Story Behind My Investment In HourlyNerd

Toward the end of college, and again toward the end of graduate school, there was a predictable recruiting campaign from all sorts of consulting agencies looking to scoop up and hire labor. In exchange for brand, a high salary, and a bit of prestige, graduates would sign up early in the final year, start a plan to payoff their student debt, and sign-up for intellectually challenging work filtered down through various organizational levels.

I know all of this because I almost lived it. Worse, I wanted to live it. As I saw it all go before my eyes, I also jumped into the fray, practiced case questions, riding off the competitive juices of the process of staged interviews. That process exposed me to the partnership model of consulting shops. The hierarchy could be loosely described as “finders, minders, and grinders.” New graduates were “grinders,” grinding out the work with long hours; “finders” were the partners, who found new clients and managed existing ones; and “minders” sat in between the two, minding up and minding up.

Now, what if online networks could put the clients directly in touch with labor? Could that create more efficient flow of information, better working conditions, and better output?

I think so. A few years ago, I used HourlyNerd for a few projects and was surprised by the output. They used a vetted network of current and recent grad MBA students, matched by background and interest, to create slide decks, conduct research, and so forth. So long as I (the client) was able to scope out what I needed, the workers (students here) were more than capable of producing the work with the added benefit that we never had to meet, we were able to email and chat online, and they could keep their hours and location flexible.

Then, out of the blue, the founders pinged me about their latest round. This is a bit later stage from when I invest, but I asked the founders a ton of questions about their plans to scale, about how their marketplace could propel them beyond a services network. Even though my check was small for them at stage, they made a concerted effort to engage with me around all of my nitpicking questions. Through that process, I learned some interesting facts: Over a yearlong period, the company had nearly tripled its average project size, that most customers repeat purchases frequently, that the marketplace had very good liquidity, and an average sale price that would make an investor pretty happy.

So, I am breaking my own model for Haystack and investing “late” into HourlyNerd, partly because they’re empowering the folks who, like me, could’ve also taken that traditional Continue reading "The Story Behind My Investment In HourlyNerd"

The Story Behind My Investment In VSporto

JasperBack in 2014, Pascal, another early-stage SF investor who invests in companies at the intersection of local and mobile, introduced me to a kid from Mississippi who is now in the Bay Area starting his company. I searched my email and it turned out Jacob from Exitround (a portfolio company) also tried to make this connection a long time ago, but for whatever reason, we never synched up. The kid’s name: Keith. His company: podcasting.

Ugh.

I get so many pitches around podcasting. It’s hard because it’s just not an area I want to invest in, so I figured some polite way to not engage further. But, then, something interesting happened — I asked Keith about how he started on this, and his answer begin with something to the effect of: “I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old…”

Oh, really? I rarely hear that, so I listened more (see the pic here, from 1999). Turns out Keith is a huge, huge mega-fan of the Buffalo Bills, so huge that he started building and managing fan sites for the team back when he was 12, living in Mississippi. Since then, Keith went to school, was a producer with Sirius Radio, and during that time, had a novel idea for a product: An app which played fan-oriented podcasts for college sports teams.

To get his idea going, Keith and his team figured out something clever: In many cities where college football was big, VSporto discovered, vetted, and created a monetary incentive for superfans of the local college teams to create a podcast around the team. VSporto aggregates these, pays out CPMs, and builds micro-apps for mobile devices that just focus on a particular school. In this on-demand economy, people are changing jobs and careers quickly. For VSporto, they’ve noticed that people quit their basic day jobs to pursue their interests and talents for podcasting and creating media around the subject they love.

Say you went to Florida State University — VSporto would have ~15 podcasters (or more) who create content, and the app broadcasts those streams through the week leading up to the game. Additionally, one might think the football season lasts a few weeks, but in many of these towns, it’s a full-time job just being a fan.

Check out Vsporto here. To date, they have ten (10) team apps and engagement time for MAUs could be from 47-93 minutes. The average listener goes through two podcasts per day, and nearly 1 out of 5 users will also download the app of the opponent their team is playing; many of their apps have been ranked quite high in the Sports category, which is notable for such a seemingly niche app. Continue reading "The Story Behind My Investment In VSporto"

Meerkasting In A Brave New World

Meerkat has the makings of not only becoming a big, important platform, but you can already start to see how disruptive it may be given all the reactions it generates (“get off my lawn!”) and serious questions it raises about other media networks and platforms. Observing the way folks are using it and how different people are tweeting about its varied potential for over a week now, I believe it has the makings of that rare disruptive platform. Here’s how I think about it:

  1. The best “entry point” into a live experience: So far, we think of Twitter as the real-time network, so it must be that a livestream product would need Twitter as a base. I don’t think this is true. Think of other avenues where real-time information has currency — sports, finance, etc. — and also of online communities and niches that run within these verticals. For instance, breaking news about a football team midweek could affect Vegas odds, fantasy rosters, and more. The best analysts in right now tweet or work for big sports networks (like ESPN); pretty soon, they can just “Meerkast” instead of traditional TV (ESPN) or online (Twitter) broadcast.
  2. Twitter needs Periscope to grow: Twitter has a user growth issue, and offering Periscope “in-line” as a broadcast feature to major celebrities will be a killer feature for the users, but also to help Twitter grow. Media like this can help onboard new users and give them an excuse to follow a few accounts. “OMG, Steph Curry is practicing dunks right now and giving away a few signed balls on Twitter, I need to watch this right now.” Furthermore, these notifications on mobile could have way more currency and make Twitter notices look static. Contrast a notification like “Steph Curry just tweeted: xxx” vs “Steph Curry is practicing dunks….right now. Tune in and win!”
  3. Meerkat can be extensible: While Periscope will live within Twitter, Meerkat can use all of this attention to encourage creators and audience members to create their own accounts and extend the network to other big social media sites. Imagine being able to read a LinkedIn Influencer piece while you’re browsing the site and then see your favorite business authors or self-help coaches give live training via Meerkat. Or a platform like Pinterest, imagine curators showcasing a wedding they’ve planned or a party, or showing off goods they want to sell exclusively on Meerkat.
  4. Speaking of sales, Meerkat’s nativity could lead to money: If Meerkat can figure out the right entry points to grab your attention into their native app or their web browser while you’re logged in as a Meerkat user (regardless of entry point), they can Continue reading "Meerkasting In A Brave New World"