Almost all venture capitalists are men, which means a woman with a good startup idea will almost certainly need the favor of a man at some point. Sometimes the man exploits this imbalance, but for many reasons, names are rarely named. But here's a woman who isn't afraid.
Pavel Curda is a European angel investor, contributor at TheNextWeb, and advisor to a bevy of companies and Seedcamp, an annual accelerator program for startups. As such, he makes the rounds at industry events, including a July networking event in Berlin. The meetup drew startup founders, tech employees, and of course, men with checkbooks and influence.
Among the attendees was Gesche Haas (below, right), a New York based techie, formerly of WunWun and now working at a startup named Conjure.io. She had come to Berlin to meet industry peers, which included a 20-minute sitdown with Curda (below, left). By the time she got back to her room that night, the above email was waiting for her.
Charming! He made sure to include a link to his About.me profile, a touch that wasn't lost on Haas. Her story was brought to my attention by two other women in the east coast tech community, Amy Vernon and Allyson Kapin, who wished to go on the record and spread Haas' story. Haas, on her end, had shared a couple of posts about the experience with women she's close with, but hadn't gone fully public with the experience until I contacted her—partially because she had worried the whole thing was her fault.
"I was so flustered," she told me via telephone. "I couldn't sleep for an hour or two. What did I indicate to him?" She was less reluctant the next day, when another woman at the conference said she'd received the exact same email: "that eliminated the factor that I'd brought this on myself." When Haas next saw Curda—who did not reply to any request for comment—she told him his email was "inappropriate," and never spoke to him again.
When we spoke, Haas still seemed nervous that she'd brought this on herself, a month later, added that she'd only had one drink during the exchange. She also worries that by sharing this story, "people will think I'm just trying to get attention." But attention is just what technology's sexist streak needs: sunlight, and shame, and attention. "I believe that [when] women see what I posted, next time it happens they'll call them out." We hope so too. Men have a near monopoly on the power and money that keeps the Silicon Valley machine spinning, and this comfortable arrangement makes them act with impunity. For every gutsy woman like Gesche Haas, that monopoly gets a little less comfortable.