Some investors are choosing not to fund the hot startup HQ, specifically citing reports of one of its founders behavior towards women. It’s one of the most concrete indications yet that this year’s stirring backlash against sexual harassment could have far-reaching impacts in the workplace.
The funder hesitation, reported by Recode, is remarkable because HQ’s live trivia app is having a huge moment. HQ, which debuted in October, streams two trivia competitions per day, and offers cash prizes to winners. It has been effusively described as “the future of TV,” and now attracts hundreds of thousands of players at once.
Recode previously reported that HQ’s founders had hoped to parlay that traction into a valuation as high as $100 million. Those founders, Colin Kroll and Rus Yusupov, come with what appears to be a good pedigree—they were also part of the founding team of Vine, which was acquired by Twitter in 2012.
But both Kroll and Yusupov had left Twitter by 2015. Recode now reports, based on interviews with former Vine and Twitter colleagues, that Kroll was let go from Twitter at least in part over managerial performance issues, including verbally abusing staffers. Recode also interviewed former colleagues who described Kroll’s behavior towards women as “creepy.”
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Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners, who also sits on the board of HQ’s parent company, said in a statement to Recode that “a couple of firms” had chosen not to invest in HQ “because of rumors of what was characterized as womanizing on Colin’s part.” Liew says he conducted an investigation, finding “a good deal of negative sentiment about Colin and the Vine team,” but no “evidence that warrants his removal from the company.”
The possibility that a hot startup could face funding difficulty because of its founders’ behavior, particularly towards women, feels like a signal of serious change in Silicon Valley. Founders seen as visionary have for years been indulged despite a broad spectrum of aberrant behavior, with Uber’s Travis Kalanick perhaps the most representative case.
Uber’s toxic culture led to a disastrous 2017 for Kalanick and the company. That tire fire, along with the Weinstien scandal and subsequent #metoo movement to call out sexual abuse, may finally have made acting like an adult a factor in startup success.