5 Qs WITH A DEALMAKER
Good morning, Term Sheet readers.
If you’re in Silicon Valley, you probably already know Heidi Roizen’s name.
The entrepreneur-turned-investor spent 14 years running a software company called T/Maker that she co-founded with her brother. After it was acquired by Deluxe Corporation, she joined Apple as the VP of Worldwide Developer Relations. A year into her role, Steve Jobs returned to the tech giant. Roizen left the company six weeks later.
“While I believed that Steve would probably have a great impact on Apple, I wasn’t sure it was the right time in my life to throw myself at that,” Roizen told Term Sheet.
She returned to her entrepreneurial roots by “rolling up my sleeves, helping companies in any way I could, and getting paid in equity.” She eventually made her way into venture capital and landed at DFJ, one of the best-known VC firms in the Bay Area.
But it hasn’t exactly been an easy year for DFJ.
The firm had to deal with the aftermath of the sexual harassment allegations against founding partner Steve Jurvetson. In a wide-ranging conversation, Roizen discusses a number of topics including how DFJ dealt with the allegations and what the firm is doing differently today.
Below is an abbreviated version of our discussion. We cover much more in the full Q&A here.
TERM SHEET: You’ve been vocal about sexual harassment, and you’ve written on your blog about a few very disturbing incidents that happened to you early in your career. Are things any different in the tech industry today?
ROIZEN: They are different, and they are moving in a positive direction. In that blog post, I wrote that no actual criminal thing happened in those instances, and someone wrote to me and pointed out that what that guy did was, in fact, an illegal act. I’ve talked to women my own age who have dealt with stuff like that and the idea that one could report it and send to someone to jail over it … I don’t even think it ever entered our minds. The mindset was so different. Today, there is an awareness and an understanding of what’s acceptable and what’s not, and there are avenues in addressing it that I didn’t have in my early days.
There are a number of things that drove that change. One is that there are more women entering the field, and you end up getting some strength. And secondly, one of the positive things of social media is that women are speaking out publicly. Unfortunately, we are in a situation where the vast majority of the power in investing is still in the hands of men. Now, the good news is that the vast majority of those men are good people. I think it is a bold move to call someone out when you’re in the position of raising money. The multitude of stories that came out last year were evidence that women didn’t think they could call it out because they didn’t feel they were in a position of power at the time.
That power dynamic is changing because social media has allowed messages to get amplified. Now, obviously, there are pros and cons to that — there are unintended consequences and there are some bad actors who are out there promoting messages for reasons other than speaking truth. We are in some hazy days, and we are in a place where there are some difficult situations, but I do think in general, we are moving in the right direction.
Your own venture firm was rocked by sexual misconduct allegations against DFJ founding partner Steve Jurvetson last year. (A female entrepreneur alleged in a Facebook post that “women approached by founding partners of Draper Fisher Jurvetson should be careful,” citing “predatory behavior.”) How did you react as a firm when those allegations first came out?
ROIZEN: I can’t really talk about that situation. As you know, we and Steve have parted ways. I can tell you that we all need to take all allegations seriously, and we did. We engaged in a thorough investigation with an independent investigator. That investigation was for our partners to determine what the situation was and how we wanted to act on it. Everyone wants to follow the drama of these situations, and everyone wants to know the details, and the reality is that’s not why we want to engage in an investigation. We want to engage in an investigation to find out as much as we can to help in decision-making.
Did you share the findings of the investigation with the public?
ROIZEN: No, and we won’t. Part of it is out of respect to everyone involved. One of the things I think people should be aware of is, what is the upside for a woman to come forward in an investigation? There is no financial gain in any of these situations, the person will be ostracized by certain groups, and they’ll be taunted on social media. In order for someone to speak up, my belief is that if you can provide a confidential environment and not expose that person to the public ramifications, you enable a situation where more people feel like they can be heard.
[Term Sheet Note: Jurvetson left the firm following the internal investigation.]
You wrote a blog post pushing back on claims that “predatory behavior is rampant” at DFJ. How do you respond to people who criticized you for defending Steve after the allegations came out?
ROIZEN: I stand by that blog post. People wrote to me after I published it, and I wondered whether I should take it down, but I didn’t because I actually stand by what I said. And what I said is that I defended DFJ. The single allegation in a Facebook post was that predatory behavior was rampant among the partners, and it was not. And one of the things that our investigation also evaluated that I’m very proud of is that, in fact, that type of behavior was not rampant among our partners. We have a good culture at DFJ, and we learned some things that are enabling us to improve our culture, but more than 50% of the employees at DFJ are women, and I’m very proud of that. It’s a wake-up call to any firm when you hear these types of allegations to say, “Do we have a bigger issue here?” It would be crazy to not try to figure that out.
Are you doing anything differently as a firm as a result of it?
ROIZEN: Anytime you go through something like we went through, you become more sensitive to understanding subtle messages and you understand that you need a better process for reporting things. On our website, we now have a methodology for reporting a violation of any kind. We are comfortable engaging an external resource who evaluates it independently. The short story is we have a process in place that does the utmost to protect the individual and try to seek the truth in any allegation that comes through now. You have to put energy and effort in making sure that you have systems that work. I am proud to go to work every day at DFJ, and I couldn’t be prouder of my partners.
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