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The problem with Basecamp’s apolitical stance

April 28, 2021, 2:40 PM UTC

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Not long after the murder of George Floyd, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong came out with a bombshell blog post declaring that the cryptocurrency exchange would not engage in social activism. Such discussions, the chief executive wrote, would distract from the company mission. 

But such a message has its own way of being political—especially in a time when companies are increasingly being called upon to advocate for social causes (the reaction to voting laws in Georgia being among them). 

I think that tension remains true months later. But let’s step away from the question of whether this was the right move or not, and look at another question as Basecamp follows in Coinbase’s footsteps: What does it actually mean to be apolitical within a company?

For the uninitiated: Earlier this week, the founders of Chicago-based Basecamp released a blog post of their own that the company would no longer engage in “societal and political discussions” while employee discussions around such issues should be taken to personal accounts. 

Basecamp employees took the unusual step of publicly showing their discontent. “I don’t agree with the changes announced today, and I’m sad and upset,” Head of Design Jonas Downey wrote on Twitter Monday. Senior Policy Analyst Jane Yang authored a lengthy blog post Tuesday while on medical leave calling its two founders “dictators.” When asked about Yang’s accusations by Term Sheet, Founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson responded, “We can’t recognize this overall picture as presented by Jane. Being her ‘oppressors’ and what not. These are her impressions and feelings. But we feel for her, and hope she recovers swiftly.” 

Coinbase’s Armstrong and startup investor Jason Calacanis, on the other hand, cheered the move from Basecamp, with the former saying, “It takes courage in these times.”

But shortly after publishing the blog post, Basecamp ran into an issue that muddied its message: Twitter users noted that the company itself has dived into policy discussions before by criticizing Apple’s 30% tax on in-app purchases.  

So what kinds of discussions are considered, well, political no-nos in Basecamp? Does the company specifically consider talks about race political? After all, a discussion over employees mocking non-Eurocentric names on a customer list reportedly helped lead to the Basecamp memo, according to the Verge. Can employees discuss paternity care, an issue that links both company policy and politics? What is the punishment for failing to follow such guidelines? Finally, who gets to decide?

Basecamp revised its original post several times, and then added another post to address these questions, placing topics like antitrust and privacy in the yes bucket. “If you’re in doubt as to whether your choice of forum or topic for a discussion is appropriate, please ask before posting,” Hansson continued. “But if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Someone will gently remind you of the etiquette, and we’ll move on. This isn’t some zero-tolerance, max-consequences new policy.”

In short, there’s really no clear answer as to what can and cannot be discussed within the company. But whatever does get decided will come, it seems, from the top.

GETTING FIRED OVER LSD?: On Tuesday, marketing startup Iterable announced that CEO Justin Zhu had been pushed aside due to violation of company policy. The reason, according Zhu, was primarily because the founder had taken a small amount of LSD before a meeting in 2019, per Bloomberg (the CEO had been experimenting with microdosing, which purportedly boosts creativity or concentration). This is… interesting. While LSD is an illegal drug in the U.S., it has also gained acceptance among Silicon Valley circles. Apple’s Steve Jobs was famous for taking full-blown trips to fire up the neurons. 

Then came this story from the Information, reporting that investor Index Ventures had shown dissatisfaction with Zhu before his ouster, and had sold about $92 million worth of shares—about half its stake—to Silver Lake Partners. In short, seems like there’s more to the story than meets the eye.   

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda
Email: lucinda.shen@fortune.com

VENTURE DEALS

- Vena, a Canadian company spend management software company, raised $242 million in Series C funding. Vista Equity Partners invested.

- Exscientia, a U.K.-based pharmatech company using A.I. to design drugs, raised $225 million in Series D funding. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the round and was joined by investors including Novo Holdings, Blackrock, Mubadala Investment Company, Farallon Capital, Casdin Capital, GT Healthcare Capital, Marshall Wace, Pivotal bioVenture Partners, Laurion Capital, Hongkou, and Bristol Myers Squibb.  

- Greenlight Financial Technology, an Atlanta-based fintech focused on families, raised $260 million in Series D funding, valuing the business at $2.3 billion. Andreessen Horowitz led the round and was joined by investors including TTV Capital, Canapi Ventures, Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, BOND, Fin VC, Goodwater Capital, Wellington Management, Owl Ventures, and LionTree Partners

- Diamond Foundry, a San Francisco-based man made diamond company, raised $200 million in Series C funding valuing it at $1.8 billion. Fidelity invested.

- CAVA, a Washington D.C.-based culinary brand focused on Mediterranean food, raised $190 million in Series F funding. T. Rowe Price led the round and was joined by investors including The Invus Group, Declaration Partners, Equilibra Partners Management, SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, Mousse Partners, Revolution Growth, and Lighthouse Investment Partners. 

- Sysdig, a San Francisco-based security startup, raised $188 million in Series F funding valuing it at $1.2 billion. Third Point Ventures and Premji Invest led the round and were joined by investors including Accel, DFJ Growth, and Goldman Sachs. 

- Boundless Bio, a San Diego-based precision oncology company, raised $105 million in Series B funding. Investors included RA Capital Management and Nextech Invest. 

- Locusview, a Tel Aviv-based platform for managing infrastructure capital projects, raised $64 million in Series A funding. Israel Growth Partners led the round.

- Ergatta, a New York-based at-home fitness brand, raised $30 million in Series A funding. Advanced Venture Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Greycroft, Fifth Wall, Gaingels, and Hans Tung (GGV). 

- Honorlock, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based authentication and academic integrity platform, raised $25 million in Series B funding. Owl Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Defy Partners and Arsenal Growth.

- Sesame, a New York-based direct-pay healthcare marketplace, raised $24 million. Investors included Giant Ventures, Industry Ventures, and Coefficient Capital

- Splitwise, a Providence, R.I.-based cost-splitting app, raised $20 million in Series A funding. Insight Partners led the round.

- Connecteam, an Israel-based employee app, raised $37 million in Series B funding. Investors included Insight Partners and OG tech.

- Glytec, a Waltham, Mass.-based provider of insulin management software, raised $12 million. Savitr Capital led the round.

- Inscribe, a San Francisco-based fraud detection company, raised $10.5 million in Series A funding. Uncork Capital, Foundry Group, and Crosslink Capital led the round and were joined by investors including Y Combinator

- Outcomes4Me, a Cambridge, Mass.-based A.I.-based cancer patient care platform, raised $12 million in Series A funding.  Northpond led the round and was joined by investors including Sierra Ventures and Asset Management Ventures.

- Take Command Health, a Dallas-based health benefits platform, raised $12 million in Series A funding. LiveOak Venture Partners and SJF Ventures invested

- Tellius, a Reston, Va.-based decision intelligence platform, raised $8 million in Series A funding. Sands Capital Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Grotech Ventures.

- Instreamatic, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based voice A.I. platform for managing, measuring conversations between brand and consumer, raised $6.1 million in Series A funding. Progress Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Accomplice and Google Assistant Investments. 

- MD Ally, a New York-based 911-powered telehealth company, raised $3.5 million in seed funding. General Catalyst led the round and was joined by investors including Seae Ventures.

- Votive Health, a San Luis Obispo, Calif.based homecare tech company, raised $2.5 million. Investors included Flare Capital Partners, Chrysalis Ventures, and OCA Ventures.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Platinum Equity is in talks to acquire Urbaser, a Spanish waste management company, per Bloomberg. A deal would value it at 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) including debt.

- Blackstone agreed to acquire Hasbro’s  EOne Music, a music label with artists including the Lumineers and Snoop Dogg, for $385 million.

- ATL Partners, The Baupost Group, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, and Temasek invested $300 million in Arrive Logistics, an Austin-based logistics firm.

- Thoma Bravo is in talks to lead a $250 million investment in Illumio, a cybersecurity startup, per Bloomberg. The deal would value the firm at about $2.9 billion.

- Blackstone Group is in talks to acquire a stake in Hotwire,a Florida-based fiber network company, per Bloomberg.

- Hunter Street Partners and Healy Capital Partners acquired Kirkpatrick Dental Group, a Tennessee and Georgia-based dentistry practice. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Innova Medical Group, a portfolio company of Pasaca Capital, acquired California-based Pacific PPE Corporation, a Pasadena, Calif.-based maker of N95 masks. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Paine Schwartz Partners invested in Sterilex, a Hunt Valley, Md.-based developer of food safety antimicrobial products. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- VSS Capital and Lincolnshire Management invested in Barrier Companies, a provider of fire and life safety compliance and containment services. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

EXITS

- MessageBird agreed to acquire SparkPost, a Columbia, Md.-based predictive email intelligence platform, for about $600 million. Investors including LLR Partners and NewSpring Capital backed SparkPost.

- Tenable acquired Alsid, a Paris-based network security company, for $98 million. Investors in Alsid included 360 Capital Partners.

- Arcline Investment Management acquired Polypeptide Therapeutic Solutions, a Spain-based biotech company, from Columbus Venture Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

OTHER

- DSV Panalpina agreed to acquire Agility Public Warehousing Co.’s Global Integrated Logistics business, which focuses on the air and sea goods transportation industry, for $4.1 billion.

- Entain is now offering A$3.5 billion ($2.7 billion) for U.K.-based Tabcorp Holdings’ betting and media business, per Reuters.

- Stan Kroenke and son Josh Kroenke say they have no plans to sell the Arsenal Football Club, per Bloomberg. The comments come amid controversy of the aborted European Super League.

IPOS

- Freshworks, a San Mateo, Calif.-based maker of customer engagement software, is prepping for an IPO in the country, per Reuters.

F+FS

- New York Life,  a New York-based life insurer, set aside $1 billion for an impact investment initiative aimed at supporting small businesses, affordable housing, and community development in underserved communities.

- Founders Circle Capital, a Campbell, Calif.-based firm, closed its third fund with $355 million.

- AUA Private Equity Partners, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based consumer private equity firm, closed AUA Private Equity Fund II with $310 million. 

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