StrictlyVC: March 30, 2015

Hi, everyone, welcome back — hope you had a stellar weekend!

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Top News in the A.M.

According to leaked documents, Apple won’t be selling its Apple Watch to walk-in customers at launch.

Interest in bitcoin is growing on Wall Street.


The Ellen Pao Case: A Postmortem

On Friday, jurors concluded that Ellen Pao, a former junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, was neither discriminated nor retaliated against by the famed venture capital firm when she was passed over for promotions and ultimately fired.

It was a dramatic conclusion to the five-week trial of Pao, who is today the interim CEO of the site Reddit. It’s also the beginning of more discrimination lawsuits in Silicon Valley, say employment attorneys who’ve seen the same patterns across the securities, legal, and medical industries over the years and who believe the smaller, more insular, male-dominated venture industry has just been set on the same path by Pao’s high-profile case.

In fact, they say, both junior employees and their firms can learn a few things from what just happened.

Most importantly, it will never be easy, winning a discrimination claim in court. According to longtime employment attorney Gary Phelan of the East Coast firm Mitchell & Sheahan, cases today tend to feature much more subtle types of discrimination than they did 10 or 20 years ago, meaning there are “no smoking guns” typically but rather “a series of pieces that, put together, may or may not equal discrimination.”

In Pao’s case, the jury concluded that the pieces didn’t add up to a judgment against Kleiner, but that doesn’t mean discrimination based on gender didn’t play any role. “In many trials,” says Phelan, “part of it may be gender, age, race, disability, personality, performance – it’s never clearly one thing or another.” (If it were, it would likely settle before reaching a courtroom.)

Saving up material for a court battle can prove a double-edged sword, too, says Phelan, referring to the 700,000 pages of documents that Kleiner’s defense team accused Pao of having amassed over the years.

While junior partners might be inclined to record even more of their contributions in the wake of the Pao verdict, Phelan warns that clients with “lots of documentation” are “encouraging and scary at the same time. If you have a client who perceives every negative as discrimination and writes down everything, that’s not necessarily a good sign. It’s often someone who may be paranoid or someone who, by documenting everything, is perceived as trying to build a case that otherwise isn’t there.”

That doesn’t mean firms should sit back and relax for now.

Many have probably already taken a harder look at the way their partnership and employee agreements are written and whether, if they are sued, they can send a case to arbitration, where the proceedings are private and legally binding. (The arbitration agreements that Pao had signed related to Kleiner’s agreements with its limited partners, not an employment agreement with the firm. That’s why Pao was able to land the court case she wanted.)

Firms need also think more about their HR practices. “You have people in this industry who say they’re changing the world, and in many ways they are,” says Phelan. But “thinking that you’re dealing with much bigger things than unconscious biases and HR practices — viewing them as a nuisance — tends to work to the disadvantage of females.” (Kleiner’s lack of well-defined HR policies didn’t hurt it in the end; the next firm might not be so lucky.)

Not last, more firms will need to hire more women into their ranks, even if it takes longer than many women might like. “Kleiner won, but it hurt them, and venture firms shouldn’t conclude that they don’t have to worry about this,” says Phelan.

“Change is always incremental” but lawsuits have slowly begun to transform numerous industries over the years, including Phelan’s own. (According to the research organization Catalyst, women accounted for 22 percent of law firm partners in 2013, up from roughly 13 percent in 1995.) He says “there will be more” lawsuits that target venture firms, as well. “Once something like this case gets so much attention, people start to wake up and pursue their rights.”

Longtime employment attorney Cliff Palefsky of McGuinn, Hillsman & Palefsky in San Francisco agrees. The Pao lawsuit “has had unfortunate effect on a lot of people, including on Ellen and on Kleiner’s privacy and dignity,” he says. “But in terms of the debate it has created and its focus on the subtle forms of discriminations that absolutely go a long way in explaining the dearth of women in technology and venture capital, a social purpose has been served by it.”

One public lawsuit “will do more to change the environment than 100 cases that land in arbitration,” Palefsky adds.


New Fundings

Arborlight, a 4.5-year-old, Ann Arbor, Mi.-based company whose skylights emulate outdoor conditions as experienced in real time, has raised $1.7 million in funding led by the Michigan Angel Fund, with participation from Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. MLive has more here.

Auctionata, a three-year-old, Berlin startup that broadcasts online live auctions for fine art and collectibles, has raised $45 million in Series C funding led by MCI Management. Other participants in the round include Hearst Ventures, Kreos Capital, Yuan Capital and previous backers Earlybird Ventures,, Kite Ventures, Raffay Group, TA Ventures, Bright Capital, REN Invest and Holtzbrinck Ventures. The company has now raised $95.7 million altogether, shows Crunchbase. TechCrunch has more here.

CarVue, a year-old, U.K.-based company that has developed service and sales management tools for automative workshops, has raised an undisclosed amount of money from Castrol innoVentures, the venture arm of the motor oil company Castrol.

Handy, the three-year-old, New York-based on-demand house cleaning service, has raised $15 million in funding led by TPG Growth, with participation from Sound Ventures and other, earlier backers. The company has now raised $60 million altogether.

Jama Software, a 7.5-year-old, Portland, Or.-based maker of collaboration software aimed at solving delivery problems, has raised $20 million from Updata Partners, along with earlier investors Trinity Ventures, Madrona Venture Group and the Oregon Angel Fund. The company has now raised $33 million altogether.

LimeRoad, a three-year-old, New Delhi, India-based site that lets users create and share collages of fashion products, has raised $30 million in Series C funding led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Matrix Partners India. The company has now raised $60 million to date. TechCrunch has more here.

MyCheck, a four-year-old, Tel Aviv-Israel startup whose technology allows users to view, split, and pay their bill in real-time from their smartphones, has raised $5 million in Series B funding from the Spanish bank Santander via its recently launched venture arm, Santander Innoventures Fund. According to Crunchbase, MyCheck had previously raised $6.1 million from investors, including France’s Wertheimer family (they have a controlling interest in Chanel). TechCrunch has more here.


New Funds

Redpoint Ventures, the 16-year-old, Sand Hill Road venture firm, is raising its next early-stage fund, reports Venturewire. Its sources expect the fund to be around $400 million, the size of its fifth fund, which closed in 2013. Redpoint also raised a $400 million growth fund in 2011.



LiveLoop, a five-year-old, San Francisco startup whose plugin and hosted service enables real-time cloud-based collaboration for PowerPoint users, has been acquired by Microsoft for undisclosed terms. The company had raised two rounds of undisclosed amounts from Webb Investment Network, shows Crunchbase.



Apple CEO Tim Cook has published an op-ed, denouncing the “religious freedom” law enacted in Indiana last week that allows people to cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to customers. The law and 100 similar bills introduced in more than two dozen states “rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.” More here.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said yesterday that her chances of running for U.S. presidency were “higher than 90 percent” and that she will announce her plans in late April or early May.

More than a year after deciding to replace the traditional management structure at Zappos with a self-organization approach called Holacracy, CEO Tony Hsieh is telling reluctant employees to either opt in or opt out of the company altogether — and soon. Quartz has more here. (StrictlyVC wrote about Holacracy and how it works last year.)

Mina Mutafchieva has joined Palamon Capital Partners, a London-based pan-European growth investor, has an associate principal. She spent the last five years at McKinsey & Co.

Lynn Tilton, the “diva of distressed,” who runs the private equity firm Patriarch Partners, has just been charged with fraud by the SEC. More here.

Entertainer Jay Z is already re-launching Aspiro, that Swedish streaming service he acquired for a reported $56 million just a couple of weeks ago. Its new name: Tidal.



StrictlyVC’s second INSIDER series event is coming up, May 13, a Wednesday night, at the new, contemporary space Galvanize in San Francisco’s South of Market district. Speakers include Zenefits cofounder and CEO Parker Conrad; Lightspeed Venture Partners managing director Jeremy Liew; Thumbtack CEO Marco Zappacosta; Sequoia Capital partner Bryan Shreier; Pantera Capital founder Dan Morehead; and investor and venture advisor Semil Shah of Haystack. Space is limited. Tickets are available here. Thanks to Amazon Web Services and Personal Capital for partnering with us on what we expect will be a fun night for readers.


Essential Reads

More — and more questionable — Wall Street middlemen are helping Silicon Valley employees cash out early. The WSJ has the story here.

For hardware makers, sharing their secrets is now part of the business plan.

Amazon wants to be your home services middleman, too.



One of the most creative photos of the recent eclipse.

Why we buy what we do.

South African comic Trevor Noah is replacing Jon Stewart at “The Daily Show.” Here’s Noah in action.


Retail Therapy

Coup D’Etat. (For after the stock run-up.)

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