For Laura Fitton, going on the record and publicly accusing a powerful venture capitalist of sexual misconduct was the last thing she wanted to do. But in the end, she felt she had to.
Back in December 2011, not long after Fitton sold her startup to HubSpot and became an executive there, Fitton met Shervin Pishevar, a well-known VC in Silicon Valley who also co-founded Hyperloop One, at a charity event in New York, where he allegedly forced her to kiss him and made unwanted advances. A few days later, Fitton had told Pishevar that what he did was inappropriate, a characterization he rejected.
Fitton first told her story to Axios last week, and Pishevar, through his lawyer, has denied there was any inappropriate behavior. On Thursday, Pishevar resigned from Sherpa Capital, the VC firm he co-founded that has backed big-name tech companies like Uber and Airbnb.
“I gave him the benefit of the doubt and watched for years as he went out into the world and, as far as I knew, did all of these wonderful things.”
After that 2011 incident, the two stayed in contact for the ensuing years. For a while, Fitton said, she assumed Pishevar had learned his lesson and wouldn’t act inappropriately again.
“I gave him the benefit of the doubt and watched for years as he went out into the world and, as far as I knew, did all of these wonderful things,” Fitton told BostInno in a recent interview, noting Pishevar’s support of 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, his meeting with the Dalai Lama and President Obama appointing him to the Fulbright Program’s board.
Then, earlier this year, sexual misconduct allegations came out against other venture capitalists, including Justin Caldbeck and Dave McClure, and it made Fitton realize that forced kissing is more than just harassment; it was assault. As more woman spoke out against abuse, Fitton decided to report her incident anonymously and said in a form that she would only agree to use her name if she knew Pishevar had engaged in sexual misconduct multiple times.
What heightened the situation for Fitton was when Pishevar filed a defamation lawsuit against a Republican opposition research firm in November for claiming that Pishevar was “an agent of the Russian government” and that he “paid money to settle a claim for sexual assault in London.” In response, the firm said Pishevar’s lawsuit was meant to “stifle news coverage and intimidate other women from coming forward.”
“That was such weird slap in the face because I’m like wait, you’re claiming someone’s smearing you with sexual misconduct? You know you’re guilty of sexual misconduct because we talked about your sexual misconduct,” she said.
While Pishevar’s lawsuit emboldened Fitton, what ultimately pushed Fitton to speak publicly was a Bloomberg story in late November about five women who told the publication they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Pishevar. The five women declined to be identified for the story for fear of retaliation, including getting sued. Pishevar has denied the allegations.
As Fitton came to terms with her decision to go on the record with her allegations against Pishevar, she realized she was in a better position than many women likely are.
“I’ve got a huge network that knows me well. I got the backing of my company that’s been incredibly supportive even though they had nothing to do with it,” Fitton said.
There was also the fact that Fitton wasn’t looking to raise money from investors for her own startup. The other women who made accusations likely were, so Fitton started realizing she is in “a really privileged position.” Fitton said she knew that speaking out publicly would help give more credence to the allegations.
Ever since she spoke out, Fitton said she has received a lot of support from her network. She was surprised to see that even Menlo Ventures, the VC firm where Pishevar rose to prominence when he was there from 2011 to 2013, spoke up against the allegations.
I asked Fitton if she thinks Pishevar, who has a reputation for being litigious, may file a lawsuit in response to the recent allegations lodged against him.
“Rather than answer that, I will say that someone who I was thanking for public support said they talked to their lawyer before even tweeting the article,” Fitton said.
“It’s pretty messed up honestly that someone has to sacrifice their privacy in order for these stories to come out.”
Despite the allegations, Fitton said Pishevar still has a chance to make things right. “My goal here is, ‘this is a person who has so much to offer the world if the behavior can be changed and overcome,'” she said. “I still believe he can redeem himself.”
However, Pishevar still denies the allegations. When he announced in a statement on Thursday that he was stepping down from Sherpa Capital, Pishevar painted those speaking out against him as his “enemies.” “I plan to focus now on the appropriate ongoing legal actions against those who are unjustly orchestrating the smear campaign against me,” he said.
For other women who are considering going public with their own stories, Fitton advised that “it’s a very personal decision.” “It’s pretty messed up honestly that someone has to sacrifice their privacy in order for these stories to come out,” she said.
Most of all, however, Fitton said she realizes she is in a more privileged position than most women when it comes to speaking up against abuse.
“Every woman has a story like this and most of them are never going to get heard publicly, even if they speak up, and that’s deeply hard and unfair,” she said.