Several female startup founders accused Justin Caldbeck, cofounder and partner of the VC firm Binary Capital, of harassing them with text messages, suggesting inappropriate relationships, and groping. His self-centered apology seems sincere only if you’re a VC, not a victim.
Caldbeck initially denied the allegations, published in The Information, saying “I strongly deny The Information’s attacks on my character. The fact is, I have always enjoyed respectful relationships with female founders, business partners, and investors.” Then he admitted the problem and agreed to take a leave of absence. Then another partner quit permanently. Then Caldbeck also quit permanently.
Caldbeck’s apology is too much about him
At first glance, Caldbeck’s apology seems clear, remorseful, and well-written. But it’s just creating more outrage. The main problem is that the apology focuses on the importance and feelings of Caldbeck rather than his victims — using the word “I” four times in the first paragraph, for example — while failing to specify exactly what he did. Once you boil it down to what it is really saying — as I do here in my translations — you see just how weak and self-serving it is.
The past 24 hours have been the darkest of my life. I have made many mistakes over the course of my career, some of which were brought to light this week. To say I’m sorry about my behavior is a categorical understatement. Still, I need to say it: I am so, so sorry.
Translation: I made mistakes. I got caught. I feel really bad. So I now have to apologize.
I direct my apology first to those women who I’ve made feel uncomfortable in any way, at any time – but also to the greater tech ecosystem, a community that I have utterly failed.
Translation: I’m so important that my “mistakes” have destroyed venture capital. Oh, yeah, and made some women feel bad, too.
The power dynamic that exists in venture capital is despicably unfair. The gap of influence between male venture capitalists and female entrepreneurs is frightening and I hate that my behavior played a role in perpetrating a gender-hostile environment. It is outrageous and unethical for any person to leverage a position of power in exchange for sexual gain, it is clear to me now that that is exactly what I’ve done.
Translation: We have money. Entrepreneurs, some of whom are women, need money. That makes it easy to exert power over women when they pitch us. I blame the system for making my outrageous behavior possible.
I am deeply ashamed of my lack of self-awareness. I am grateful to Niniane, Susan, Leiti, and the other women who spoke up for providing me with a sobering look into my own character and behavior that I can no longer ignore. The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me.
Translation: I’m ashamed, not of what I’ve done, but that I was so stupid I didn’t realize it was wrong. That’s so hard for me. It’s so hard that I don’t even realize that referring to startup founders by their first names alone is sexist and condescending.
I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital, the firm I co-founded in 2014. I will be seeking professional counseling as I take steps to reflect on my behavior with and attitude towards women. I will find ways to learn from this difficult experience – and to help drive necessary changes in the broader venture community.
Translation: Let’s talk more about my feelings as I take some time off.
The Binary team will also be taking measures to ensure that the firm is a safe place for founders of all backgrounds to find the support and resources they need to change the world, without abuse of power or mistreatment of any person.
Translation: My company is trying to fix the mess I made.
I owe a heartfelt apology to my family, my investors, my portfolio, and the team at Binary, who have been completely blindsided and in no way deserve the pain I’ve caused. But most of all I apologize again to those who I’ve hurt during the course of my career – and for the damage I’ve done to the industry I care so deeply about.
Translation: I don’t really understand the full set of people who I’ve hurt, so here’s a blanket apology (again, without any specifics).
The statement from the remaining partner is a great contrast
Here’s what Jonathan Teo, the remaining partner, wrote in an email to his limited partners (the ones whose money he is investing) when he announced that Caldbeck is leaving permanently:
I trusted my partner and it is clear that I shouldn’t have. The predatory behavior Justin has been accused of is deplorable, and there will be zero tolerance at our firm of any conduct that is demeaning to women.
Effective immediately, Justin has resigned from Binary Capital. He will have no further role at the firm and I will be the sole managing partner. Matt Mazzeo has also announced his resignation. We have retained Orin Snyder and Michele Maryott of Gibson Dunn to conduct an independent internal investigation of this matter. It is important we understand how these circumstances could have been avoided and how we will prevent this kind of behavior from occurring in the future. We look forward to reviewing and implementing the appropriate recommendations based on their findings.
We recognize that power dynamics in the business world can, and often do, place women in difficult or hostile situations. As I write this today, I regret that I did not insist on Justin’s immediate exit after his behavior was revealed. I would also like to apologize for our initial response to these allegations. It is clear to me now that I was misled by a partner and friend.
In venture capital, we pride ourselves on being astute stewards of talent and resources. We all aim to support the ambitions of the entrepreneurs we support and invest alongside.
Many of our most important investors and entrepreneurs are women. I helped found Binary Capital with the mission of creating a more authentic connection and access for all. Moving forward, we will redouble our efforts to promote and ensure gender equality in all of our endeavors as we remain focused on our fund and investors.
While we are disappointed with this outcome, we are committed to handling this transition smoothly and properly. We couldn’t have achieved our success without you and we are deeply grateful for your support. We have an outstanding team at Binary and we look forward to working together in the future as we continue to pursue our vision to enable people to more authentically connect with one another and the world around them.
Despite the passive voice (“has been accused of,” “could have been avoided,” “was revealed,” “was misled”), this is better. Although it’s clear that no one at the firm will admit that the specific accusations are true, this letter at least describes actions and not just bad feelings. And Teo apologizes for muffing the initial response.
However, while this letter is directed at the limited partners, not entrepreneurs, it should have included an apology to the women who Caldbeck harrassed. They belong at the center of these apologies, and it’s sad that Caldbeck and Teo have failed to see that.