The Days of Our Venture Capital Lives
This is Erin Griffith filling in for Dan while he’s on vacation.
Gather around the rosé bottle for a late summer tale of venture capital drama. Last week I received a copy of an unusually detailed legal settlement between the partners of a venture capital firm called Expansive Ventures. The early stage venture firm, which formed in 2014, has invested in four companies: Honest Dollar (sold to Goldman Sachs), Super Home, Park Jockey, and SixUp.
You may remember this situation from June, when Dan noted that the fund was on a permanent hiatus while it figured out how to end the partnership between co-founders: Adeo Ressi, the head of incubator The Founder Institute and founder of TheFunded.com, a site that hosts reviews of venture capitalists, and Jon Soberg, formerly of Blumberg Capital. They started the firm as 50% partners. In the last year, it completely unraveled.
Now we know what happened.
It starts, like many divorces do, with minor disagreements. According to the settlement, the partners fought over travel expenses (Soberg testified that he was a “frugal traveler;” according to the settlement; Ressi claimed Soberg’s trips were “frivolous,” the arbitrator wrote.) They fought over Soberg’s salary, according to the settlement.
In July 2015, around the time Expansion Ventures’ fund held a second close on $40 million in funding, Ressi “went ballistic and took over the process,” according to testimony quoted in the settlement. He allegedly felt the firm wasn’t being run as an equal partnership and aimed to take more control.
According to the settlement, Soberg accused Ressi of secretly reading Soberg’s email and changing the Expansive Ventures website to show Soberg in a limited role. He also accused Ressi of locking Soberg out of the office.
Ressi went on to tell Expansive’s investors that Soberg was dishonest, according to the settlement. He blocked Soberg’s access to salaries and to the firm’s Silicon Valley Bank accounts, asking the bank to make him the firm’s sole administrator, according to the settlement. He spent money from the fund to develop a trademark for his separate incubator, and he allegedly tried to bring in a third partner so they could outvote Soberg on decisions.
After a disagreement about which partner was leading an investment, Ressi allegedly accused Soberg of lying and asked the firm’s lawyer to add “clauses about honesty” to the fund agreements. Expansive’s limited partners and banker expressed concerns about the firm; its website had apparently been down for months (Ressi then allegedly redirected it to his incubator’s website.) The firm’s law firm, Kranz & Associates, withdrew its business because of “the non-professional language and treatment of our staff by Adeo [Ressi],” according to the settlement.
In October 2015, Ressi “ambushed” Soberg with a meeting at Expansive’s law firm’s offices, where Ressi read Soberg a script that said he would no longer approve capital calls on investments, according to the settlement. He allegedly told Soberg the fund’s LPs supported his vision for the firm, asking “Do you want to be part of the highly visible failure that will impact your career, or take a founding credit in something that may go on to be relevant?” He offered Soberg a payment to leave the fund, according to the settlement.
The next morning, Ressi emailed Soberg, writing that “every hour on the hour until noon PST today starting at 10:00 AM PST, we will revise the Soberg Transition Agreement to you, until it becomes no offer with a wind down scenario at noon PST,” according to the settlement. Two hours later, he wrote, “I assume you want to dissolve the fund based on your lack of responses. In 20 minutes, all deals are off the table.” He later copied Soberg’s wife on another email threatening to sue Soberg, according to the settlement.
Soberg filed for arbitration and, after a judge reviewed eight days of testimony and 500 documents, he won. The terms of the arbitration, decided on July 7, call for Ressi to pay Soberg $2.5 million in compensation to make up for lost management fees and an additional $1 million in damages to his reputation. Ressi was ordered to be removed as a general partner at the firm and repay his $59,103 capital balance and $140,712 in legal fees. Soberg gets the full carried interest of the fund going forward.
Ressi “vehemently denies” any “plot.” In a blog post from last week, he wrote, “My bedside manners were not perfect, but my actions were all in the best interest of the Limited Partners.” He has filed a motion to vacate the award. He also has a separate complaint pending, but says the Santa Clara clerk strike has held it up. In an email to Term Sheet, he noted that he is still a 50% owner in the general partnership, and that the case “is months away from being settled.”
Soberg is now working with the LPs to determine the best path forward – to manage out the existing portfolio or to do more investments. “None of LPs asked for this,” he says. “Obviously, nor did I.”
THE BIG DEAL
• Bill Maris is stepping down as CEO of Google Ventures, the $2.4 billion corporate investment group he founded in 2009. His last day will be Friday, with an all-hands meeting of GV staff scheduled for today. He will be succeeded by managing partner David Krane.
“I feel like it’s ‘mission accomplished’ here,” Maris tells Fortune. “I’ve been at this for eight years and GV now is a preeminent VC fund… it’s time for a new adventure.”
Maris declined to discuss his next step, except to say that he has a plan. Read more.
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• Accolade, an on-demand healthcare concierge for employers, health plans, and health systems, has raised more than $70 million in Series E funding. The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz and included Madrona Venture Group. www.accolade.com
• Refinery29, a New York-based digital media site for women, has raised $45 million in new funding led by Turner with participation from Scripps Networks Interactive. www.refinery29.com/
• Woundtec, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based wound management technology company, has closed a $40 million investment by Aldrich Capital Partners. www.woundtech.net/
• iFood, a Brazilian food delivery startup, has raised $30 million in new funding from Movile and Just Eat, according to TechCrunch. Read more.
• Bynder, a branding automation company based in Amsterdam, has raised $22.2 million in Series A funding from Insight Venture Partners. www.bynder.com
• Zenoti, a Seattle-based provider of a cloud-based management platform, has raised a $15 million Series B funding round led by Norwest Venture Partners with participation from returning investor Accel Partners. www.zenoti.com/
• Innovaccer, a big data application provider based in Silicon Valley, has raised $15.6 million in a Series A round led by Westbridge Capital Partners and including angel investors. www.innovaccer.com
• Varentec, a San Jose, Calif.-based provider of provider of power control solutions, has raised $13 million in Series B funding from Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, and the venture capital arm of conglomerate 3M. Read more.
• Yroo, a Ballsbridge, Ireland-based shopping startup, has secured $11 million in seed funding from private investors. yroo.com/
• Glovo, a Barcelona-based on-demand delivery startup, has raised €5 million ($5.5 million) in Series A funding from Antai Venture Builder, Seaya Ventures, Entreé Capital, Caixa Capital Risk, and Bonsai Venture Capital. glovoapp.com/
• The Flex Company, a Venice Beach, Calif.-based maker of a menstrual product that can be worn during sex, has raised $1 million from investors including Y Combinator and Amplify.LA, according to TechCrunch. Read more.
• AceBot.ai, a chatbot that performs tasks on workplace messaging system Slack, has raised $650,000 in a seed round from Accel Partners. http://acebot.ai
• App Data Room, a mobile sales platform based in Minneapolis, has completed a Series A round of financing led by Sopris Capital. The amount raised was not disclosed. The company is also changing its name to Modus Engagement. appdataroom.com
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• Wellspring Capital Management is selling National Seating & Mobility, a provider of custom mobility, rehab, and adaptive seating systems based in Franklin, Tenn., to Court Square Capital Partners. Terms were not disclosed. www.nsm-seating.com
• First Reserve portfolio company Saddle Barnett Resources has agreed to acquire the interests of Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE: CHK) in the Barnett Shale operating area in North Texas. www.chk.com/
• PAI Partners will acquire Roompot Vakanties, a Netherlands-based provider of recreation parks. www.roompot.nl/
• Platinum Equity has agreed to acquire Electro Rent Corporation (NASDAQ: ELRC), a seller and renter of computing equipment, for about $382 million. www.electrorent.com/
• Clayton, Dubilier & Rice is in talks to acquire Drive DeVilbiss, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based wheelchair manufacturer, for about $750 million, according to Reuters. www.drivemedical.com/b2b/
• Cal Net Technology Group, a Chatsworth, Calif. -based customer support services provider, will acquire inhouseIT, a provider of managed IT services in Orange County. Cal Net is a portfolio company of Boathouse Capital and Olympic Valley Capital. inhouseit.com/
• Medpace Holdings, a Cincinnati-based clinical contract research group backed by Cinven, priced its IPO. The company will offer 7,000,000 shares of common stock at a public offering price of $23.00. The company will begin trading on NASDAQ Global Select Market today under the ticker symbol “MEDP.” Jefferies LLC and Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC are acting as joint lead book-running managers for the offering. UBS Securities LLC and Wells Fargo Securities, LLC are also acting as joint book-running managers for the offering. Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated and William Blair & Company, L.L.C. are acting as co-managers for the offering.
• Aegon, a Dutch insurer, has acquired Cofunds, a British investment platform for financial advisers, from Legal & General for GBP 140 million ($181.5 million). Read more.
• KKR and TPG are selling about 7.4 million shares of Zimmer Biomet Holdings (NYSE and SIX:ZBH), a medical device company based in Warsaw, Ind., in a secondary offering. www.zimmerbiomet.com
• Palantir Technologies is acquiring Silk, a data visualization startup based in Amsterdam and San Francisco. Terms were not disclosed. Silk’s investors include New Enterprise Associates. Read more.
• Samsung Electronics is acquiring Dacor, a luxury home appliance maker based in Industry, Calif. Terms were not disclosed. Read more.
• The Flex Company has acquired Softcup, a flexible menstrual disc maker based in Venice, Calif., for an undisclosed amount, according to TechCrunch. Read more.
• NASA is awarding roughly $65 million to Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems, and NanoRacks to allow them to develop ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats. Read more.
• The University of Michigan has secured a $22 million investment from the Toyota Research Institute to research artificial intelligence, robotics, and autonomous driving. Funding will be provided over four years, according to the university. Read more.