A Trump-tied investor set off an Equinox boycott. What about the tampon startup he backs?

February 21, 2020, 1:47 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ursula von der Leyen pursues technological sovereignty for Europe, Glossier abandons its Glossier Play brand, and Lola examines its ties to a controversial investor. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– The man behind the menstrual products. Remember the kerfuffle that happened in August when Stephen Ross—investor, real estate developer, and billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins—hosted a glitzy Hamptons fundraiser to support President Trump’s re-election campaign? The event kicked up a storm of negative publicity for Ross-backed companies like Equinox Fitness, SoulCycle, and Momofuku, who faced outrage from liberal-leaning customers who felt misled and betrayed by brands they thought shared their values.

Now, another one of Ross’s investments—Lola, a seller of organic tampons and other feminine care products—talks to our Fortune colleague Maria Aspan about its relationship with his RSE Ventures. It’s the first time the company has commented publicly on the matter.

Unlike some Ross-backed companies, which actively attempted to distance themselves from him, Lola has not put out any public statements about the president or their investor. Lola co-founder Jordana Kier says the company did not consider trying to buy out Ross’s stake directly or asking another investor to do so. However, she tells Maria that might change in the coming year, as the company seeks to raise a Series C round of investment. “That is an opportunity, and the moment where a bigger investor will want to come in to clean up the cap table” by buying out smaller investors, she says. (A spokesperson for RSE Ventures declined to comment on the firm’s investment in Lola.)

All sorts of startups are increasingly facing scrutiny over whether their investors share their values, or their politics. This is particularly complex for Lola, which has become involved in policy, especially the effort to repeal various states’ sales taxes on tampons and other menstrual products. “It’s a feminist objective—and one that serves Lola’s business purposes—but also one that has garnered some bipartisan support,” writes Maria. While Lola’s branding as “reproductive care for women, by women” brings to mind the more vocal stances of companies like The Wing or Glossier, it has declined to take a similarly public position on issues like access to abortion, which tend to split along partisan lines.

The questions about the sources of startups’ funding—and the motivations of the people behind it—are not going away any time soon. Nor is the reliance of direct-to-consumer companies and other startups on that private money. So I don’t doubt that we’re going to see more companies wrestling with how to think and talk about these kinds of controversial relationships. And for companies like Lola, which lead with feminist principles and a clear sense of mission, the stakes for getting it right are very, very high.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe


- Hearing from Hill. Rep. Katie Hill gave her first sit-down broadcast interview since resigning from Congress (although she's certainly been vocal on Twitter since then!). The former congresswoman says that her identity as a bisexual woman "sensationalized" the scandal she was part of, and that she has grown to object to the term "revenge porn." "It implies A) that there's something to be taking revenge for," she said. "That the woman maybe did something wrong in the first place. And pornography also could imply that ... it was consensual, and it's not." ABC News

- Seeking sovereignty. Europe is sick of relying on foreign tech companies—from Apple to Huawei—for its phones, cloud infrastructure, and more. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is leading a generations-long effort to develop "technological sovereignty." "We want to find European solutions in the digital age," she says. Margrethe Vestager is also involved in the ambitious proposal that will start with greater scrutiny of today's tech giants. New York Times

- Stone's sentence. Roger Stone was sentenced to three years and four months in prison yesterday for "impeding a congressional investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election." U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued that sentence; she has overseen most of the cases connected to the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference. Before announcing the sentence, Jackson said that Stone "was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president."

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- No labels. A Google artificial intelligence tool, the Google Cloud Vision API, will no longer use "gendered labels" when it automatically identifies faces, landmarks, and other things in photos; that means "person" instead of "man" or "woman." "Given that a person's gender cannot be inferred by appearance, we have decided to remove these labels," Google wrote in an email to developers who use the tool. Business Insider

- Equality issue. Time published a special project devoted to Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington. Along with a virtual reality experience that recreates the march, the issue includes Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade writing about learning from their daughter Zaya's gender identity, what intersectionality means to Kimberlé Crenshaw 30 years after she coined the term, and writer R. Eric Thomas on what Whitney Houston's version of the National Anthem taught him about America. Time

- Doctors' orders. As coronavirus brings parts of Asia to a halt, what does that mean for the professionals fighting the virus? This piece brings us into the home of a doctor couple, Eunice Chan and Pierre Chan, who are both treating patients in Hong Kong. "There’s no more hugging, no more kissing," says Eunice Chan of caring for her three daughters. New York Times


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