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科技界男女失衡,盖茨夫人要出手了

Michal Lev-Ram 2018年02月25日

科技界丑闻不断,投资者对硅谷里的坏小子推动失去了信心,他们希望加强科技界的多元化。

这场月度合伙人会议跟以往没什么区别,很可能又是典型硅谷风投公司在“填补空白”资本。基金高层坐在白色会议室桌前,每人面前摆着苹果电脑和彩色灌装乐活气泡水。几位创业公司的企业家向合伙人们介绍,一边展示满是向上箭头的图表,一边吹嘘最近招到什么大牛。开阔的窗户外,是帕洛阿尔托闹市中心,但不太喧闹。帕洛阿尔托跟附近的门洛帕克和旧金山市都是那帮喜欢穿始祖鸟户外装的风投大佬云集之地。

但如果对风投资本中心帕洛阿尔托有所了解,就会立刻发现这场会议有点异样:桌前八位投资人里有四位都是女性。两家作介绍的被投公司负责人里,有一位也是女性。硅谷的独角兽遍地,但一次会上女性占比如此之高真是罕见,堪称神奇。

“公司多元化程度越高,业绩就越好,”新派风投公司Aspect Ventures创始二人组之一特蕾西亚·格武表示(另一位创始人是珍妮佛·冯斯塔)。“行业里女性从业者只占7%,在我们公司接近50%。从投资对象也能体现出公司理念。”

格武和冯斯塔都长期从事风投行业,之前在Accel和德丰杰等公司工作。2014年创立Aspect时,她们并没打算成立“女性主义”风投基金。但二人都认为不管是内部还是投资对象公司里,多元化都可以提升业绩,而她们的关系网也很适合测试多元化理论。“跟硅谷沙丘路上传统公司相比,我们的关系网不太一样,”冯斯塔表示,沙丘路是公司附近一条聚集了多家著名风投总部的路。

结果是,格武与冯斯塔合作投资的公司里,已经有七家成功上市,并购26起,还有500多起跟投交易。Aspect现在宣布新成立一只更大规模的基金,有不少著名有限合伙人加入(详见后文),初始融资规模1.5亿美元,已有29起A轮投资。证券创业公司ForeScout是被投公司之一,去年秋天成功上市,估值约8亿美元。Aspect第一轮投出的出色案例还包括Cato Networks和Exabeam,两家都是很有前景的网络安全领域创业公司;还有医疗领域的Vida Health;提供在线求职资源的 The Muse。

总体来说,女性创始人获得的风投资金不到总投资额3%(其中有色人种女性仅能获得0.2%),但Aspect的投资案例完全不一样:约40%被投公司创始人为女性,30%创始人为少数人种女性。以前这些数字还只能引起人们好奇,如今却成了竞争优势。虽然业内不少人一直在推动投资多元化,但现在硅谷风投背后的富裕个人和机构终于开始接受了。为什么?因为不接受可能代价很大。

去年夏天,六位女性创始人指控风投资本家贾斯汀·卡德贝克实施性骚扰,他的公司Binary Capital也急转直下。卡德贝克迅速从这家全为男性的公司辞职。Binary正在融资过程中的新基金也只得叫停。

硅谷的独角兽遍地都是,但实现性别平衡的公司非常罕见而且神奇。

受到影响的不只是风投公司。也许最能体现性别歧视可能摧毁价值的例子就是Uber了,去年初共享车辆平台Uber因被指存在性骚扰和性别歧视而大受打击。之后又出现几起丑闻,包括Uber曾使用软件工具“隐瞒”某些派单从而规避监管,最终导致估值缩水超过20%,从之前高达700亿美元降至估计540亿美元。

要避免风投公司或创业公司出现此类问题,并没有一劳永逸的办法,但如果强调多元化领袖,投资者可能会放心一些。很多研究表明,性别平衡的团队业绩会更好,而且更让人吃惊的是,研究显示男性主导的公司比起性别分别均衡的公司更容易出现性骚扰。

想跟着硅谷一同发展的人们显然注意到这点,出资维持整个生态的有限合伙人们只会更加关注,他们是投资人背后的投资人。

“从很多方面来看,风投圈和创业圈都还是男性主导,想投身行业的优秀女性经常遭排挤、歧视甚至受欺负,”梅琳达·盖茨表示。她担任比尔及梅琳达盖茨基金会联合主席,也是一位投资人。“数据显示现状于社会无益,也会影响业务。”

Aspect新募集的基金,也是第二只基金获得1.81亿美元融资,盖茨是其中之一。另一家有限合伙人是思科系统,总部位于湾区的网络巨头,其融资部门向创业公司和其他基金直接投资。“本财年我们做(投资)计划时第一次专门考虑多元化,”思科投资公司副总裁詹妮·霍表示。“我们会为安全、合作和数据中心投资制定专门计划,与之类似,现在也有针对(投资)多元化的计划。”

虽然风投圈里一直有小公司挑战现状吸引到有限合伙人的资金,但以往多是从事行业边缘投资,没什么机会接触大基金和风头正劲的公司。现在硅谷终于意识到,行为不端导致的麻烦可能不只是暂时困扰,所以有限合伙人也关注起来。Aspect之类基金也就有了机会,毕竟其一开始就将多元化纳入投资策略。现在问题是:新生的风投基金有没有机会挑战长期主导沙丘路的老牌前辈们?这股多元化的风潮会不会只是科技行业刮过的一阵风?

虽然背后有盖茨和思科支持,Aspect这只1.81亿美元的基金看来还是无法撼动硅谷老牌风投,很多公司一只基金就能融资超过10亿美元。但如果资本背后的势力开始调整,小基金还是有一些逆袭机会。其实风投见惯了这种事,即名不见经传的小公司颠覆大公司。

此前有限合伙人通常在幕后,科技行业从业者很少得见其人。虽然有限合伙人表现得比较神秘,但这些富裕个人、家族私人基金或机构势力强大。风投资本家表示,现在有限合伙人开始提出问题。

“他们可能认为(关于性骚扰的指控)很重要,”帕洛阿尔托风投公司Floodgate联合创始人麦克·梅普斯二世表示,Floodgate的投资团队里40%是女性。“当前情况下,如果合伙人行为不端,整个团队都可能遭殃。”

多年来,有限合伙人做了不少重要的背景渠道调查。内部人士透露,现在有限合伙人不仅调查更深入,接触到的人士也都发现有必要清除不良行为。“越来越多人开始想,‘嘿,哪怕只是谣言,也得认真对待,’” Floodgate联合创始人安·三浦-高(Ann Miura-Ko)表示。

“今年和2017年,这对(有限合伙人)都是头等大事,”一家新成立专注投资人工智能的风投Basis Set Ventures创始合伙人兰雪棹(音)表示。她曾担任Dropbox高管,第一只基金融到1.4亿美元,她表示虽然更大规模的基金做起大型交易来具有优势,但现在的基金也很方便两个主要投资领域——人工智能和多元化。

有些大基金看起来也有多元化的压力。去年5月Benchmark公司终于有第一位女性合伙人,2016年秋,红杉资本聘请了第一位女性投资合伙人。此后两家公司里女性合伙人比例分别增加到17%和11%。

恩颐投资是规模最大的之一,管理资金达200亿美元,到现在也没聘请或提升女性普通合伙人,不过团队里有六位女性投资合伙人。六人之一戴娜·格雷森表示,公司比起小基金还是有优势,而且不只是金钱方面。

“公司发展到一定规模就会有人力部门,首席法律代表,政策和培训负责人,还有其他确保每人都能明确知道”公司里哪些事可以做,哪些不可接受,格雷森表示。所以恩颐之类大公司里,女性可能无法参与重要决策,但也有人认为这样的公司更有能力阻止不良行为,不管是被投公司里还是风投内部。

恩颐投资市场合伙人凯特·巴瑞特补充说,单纯比较大基金和小基金里的性别比例可能存在误导:小公司一共四个人,有两名女性比例就达到50%,而恩颐投资一共有36人,算起比例来要吃亏一些。

恩颐投资认为多元化问题并未影响融资。但有可能出现变化。恩颐投资去年5月完成最新一只基金融资,规模33亿美元,当时硅谷有关性骚扰的丑闻正在发酵,但科技业还没人关注到恩颐。“融资期间我们跟有限合伙人接触(更频繁),”巴瑞特表示。

去年9月,美国规模最大的一些家族基金约200位代表在旧金山里兹卡尔顿开会。用投资经理克里斯汀·戈德斯坦的话说,这群人都是“极有钱而且不需要上什么榜单的人”。虽然与会者可能不希望财富见诸报端,但私下里还在积极运作。出席者每个人都是有限合伙人,将大笔家族私人资金拆成小规模投资,投资对象就包括硅谷的风投公司。

戈德斯坦参与管理家族投资公司AthenaPartners的业务,会议主办方让她负责探讨在场有限合伙人越发关心的话题:科技业日渐严重的歧视和性骚扰问题。“他们意识到这是个问题,但不知道实际上有多严重,也不知道身为有限合伙人能做什么,”戈德斯坦表示。

湾区投资人找来创始人王沂,去年她卖掉创业公司,如今在出品精灵宝可梦Go的任天堂担任工程主管。2017年初,她曾参与公开指责Binary Capital前合伙人卡德贝克性骚扰。

“我(向有限合伙人)提过一些可行建议,例如投资时不要签署保密协定,问(风投)如何看待多元化以及有没有女性合伙人等等,”王沂表示。

戈德斯坦表示,王沂讲完后,观众起立鼓掌,观众向二人抛出很多问题和评论。这场论坛在会议里评价最高,组织者已经请戈德斯坦为以后的峰会策划类似环节。

“现在风险很大,但很多家族基金甚至一无所知,”戈德斯坦表示。“我们的目标是告诉这些富人,他们可能无意中会投资厌恶女性的人,也让他们知道如何切实保护自己的利益。”

会议结束后,戈德斯坦收到好几通家族基金的电话,咨询某些潜在投资对象是否可能有行为不端等风险。她称之为“打听投资对象老底”的电话。

有些有限合伙人明显没有跟风投公司签署保密协定,所以今后不仅会勇敢提出问题。他们还打算不再当风投背后沉默的合作方,第一次公开表达自己的担心。

去年夏天性骚扰丑闻甚嚣尘上之时,500家创业公司联合创始人大卫·麦克鲁尔被指性骚扰。这位古怪的孵化器和风投公司合伙人表示道歉并辞去职务。作为回应,他背后知名有限合伙人——包括米奇·卡普尔和弗利达·卡普尔·克莱因都公开表示谴责其行为,也谴责了整个科技行业。

“如果背后的人看到不可接受的行为拒绝介入,甚至竭力避免去看,就会演变为溃烂和腐坏的文化,”他们在一份声明中称。

很多有限合伙人签署了保密协定,以后可能还会继续签。还有很多人即便有机会也选择沉默。但对此类事件的关注和担心逐渐聚集,越来越多的有限合伙人可能出面发声,即便不声讨也会用钱投票。如果风投公司不与时俱进满足外界需求,可能也会受到影响。

“我希望帮助关注未来突破性创意的人们做投资,”梅琳达·盖茨表示。“将来成功的投资人跟过去的投资人可不一定相同。”(财富中文网)

本文为2018年2月1日出版的《财富》文章更新版,原标题为《这些风投公司能解决科技行业大男子主义问题么?》

译者:冯丰

审稿:夏林

It could be just another monthly partner meeting at just another “Fill in the Blank” Capital, typical Silicon Valley–based venture firm. The fund’s top players sit around a white conference table, armed with Apple laptops and pastel-colored cans of La Croix. A couple of startup entrepreneurs stop by to present to the partners, enthusing over upward-trending charts and touting the merits of recent hires. Outside the expansive windows lies the not-quite-bustling heart of downtown Palo Alto—a town that, along with nearby Menlo Park and the city of San Francisco, is a mecca for Arc’teryx vest–wearing VCs.

But anyone who knows this hub of venture capital would immediately spot something unusual about this particular gathering: Four of the eight investors seated around the table are female. And one of the two presenting portfolio company heads is also a woman. In Silicon Valley, where unicorns are a dime a dozen, this kind of gender ratio is the real rare and magical discovery.

“If you have more diversity you have better financial performance,” says Theresia Gouw, one-half of the founding team of Aspect Ventures, the norm-breaking VC firm at hand (the other founder is Jennifer Fonstad). “Our company is nearly 50/50 in an industry in which just 7% of investors are female. And our portfolio is a reflection of our pipeline.”

Gouw and Fonstad, both longtime VCs who worked at firms like Accel and DFJ, didn’t set out to create a “female-focused” fund when they launched Aspect in 2014. But they believed that diversity, both internally and throughout their portfolio companies, would lead to better outcomes—and they had the right Rolodex to test out their thesis. “We have different networks than the traditional firms on Sand Hill Road,” says Fonstad, referring to the nearby street where the bulk of the most established VCs are headquartered.

The results: Over the course of their careers, Gouw and Fonstad’s investments have resulted in a collective seven public offerings, 26 acquisitions, and more than 500 financing rounds in follow-on capital. Aspect, which is now announcing a second, larger fund with some big-name limited partners (more on that later), began with $150 million in financing and has already made 29 Series A investments. One of its portfolio companies, security startup ForeScout, went public last fall at a valuation of about $800 million. Other standout investments under Aspect’s first fund include Cato Networksand Exabeam, both promising cybersecurity startups; health-tech player Vida Health; and online career source The Muse.

Overall, women founders receive less than 3% of total VC dollars (women of color, meanwhile, get a meager 0.2%), but Aspect’s portfolio looks strikingly different from the norm: About 40% of the firm’s companies were founded by women, and 30% were started by minorities. Once, those numbers might have been a mere curiosity—today they are becoming a competitive advantage. While investing for diversity is something certain industry players have been pushing for a long time, the message is finally beginning to be received by the deep-pocketed individuals and institutions that fund the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Why? Ignoring it can be expensive.

Last summer, after six female founders accused venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck of making unwanted sexual advances, his firm, Binary Capital, spiraled downward fast. Caldbeck quickly resigned from the all-male firm. A new fund, then in the process of being raised by Binary, was abruptly halted.

In Silicon Valley, where unicorns are everywhere, gender balance is the real rare and magical entity.

It’s not just venture capital firms that can be impacted. Perhaps the most high-profile example of how such misconduct can destroy value is Uber, the ride-sharing company rocked by allegations of harassment and sexism early last year. A number of other embarrassing debacles followed—including reports that Uber had used a software tool to try to deceive authorities by “hiding” rides—and ultimately resulted in a more than 20% decrease to the once high-flying company’s valuation, from around $70 billion to an estimated $54 billion.”

There’s no foolproof method to guarantee that a VC shop or startup will be immune to these kinds of problems, but betting on diverse leaders can give investors some peace of mind. Numerous studies have suggested that gender-balanced teams drive better business results—and, perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows that male-dominated organizations have higher levels of sexual harassment than those with more equitable gender dynamics.

None of this is lost on anyone who has a stake in Silicon Valley’s success, let alone the limited partners who fund the entire ecosystem, a.k.a. the investors in the investors.

“In many ways, the venture and startup ecosystem is still a boys’ club—one that all too often excludes, disadvantages, and mistreats talented women who want to contribute to it,” says Melinda Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor. “The data tells us that’s harmful to society and bad for business.”

Gates is one of a handful of limited partners who have put a collective $181 million into Aspect’s just-announced fund, the firm’s second. Another LP is Cisco Systems , the Bay Area–based networking giant, whose financing arm invests directly in startups and in other funds. “This fiscal year was the first time that we have specifically put diversity into our [investment] planning,” says Janey Hoe, a vice president with Cisco Investments. “Just like I have a plan for security and collaboration and data center, we have now put forward a plan for [investing in] diversity.”

While there have long been small players in the venture capital community who defied the stats and were able to attract some LP money, they tended to be relegated to the fringes of the industry, with less access to sizable funds and the buzziest companies. Now, as Silicon Valley is finally coming to terms with the fact that bad behavior can do more than cause a temporary headache, concerned LPs are taking notice. That opens the door for funds like Aspect, which have made diversity part of their investment strategy from the get-go. The question now: Is this newish breed of VCs truly in a position to challenge the established firms that have long ruled Sand Hill Road? Or is this trend just another one of tech’s passing fads?

Even with the brawn of Gates and Cisco behind it, Aspect’s $181 million fund isn’t all that menacing to the status quo when compared with the Valley’s biggest names, many of whom raise single funds worth more than $1 billion. But if the powers behind the money start to reprioritize, we could see the balance begin to tip in the underdog’s direction. If there’s one thing VCs know all too well, it’s that little guys sometimes put the big guys out of business.

Until recently, LPs have largely stayed in the background, invisible to most who operate day to day in the tech world. But despite their often secretive nature, these wealthy individuals, offices of private family funds, or institutions hold immense power. And venture capitalists say they are starting to ask questions.

“They likely believe [claims of sexual harassment] are material information,” says Mike Maples Jr., cofounder of Floodgate, a Palo Alto–based VC firm with an investing team that’s 40% female. “In today’s world, if partners engage in unacceptable behavior the entire firm can blow up.”

Limited partners have done significant back-channel reference checking for years. But according to insiders, not only are LPs doing even more intensive vetting these days, but also the people they are talking to are now much more likely to feel a responsibility to out bad behavior. “Now there is more of a culture of people thinking, ‘Hey, you should talk about these things even if they are rumors,’ ” says Floodgate’s other cofounder, Ann Miura-Ko.

“This year and in 2017 it has definitely been a lot more top of mind for [LPs],” says Lan Xuezhao, the founding partner at Basis Set Ventures, a new, artificial intelligence–focused VC firm. The former Dropbox executive raised $140 million for her first fund and says that while bigger funds have a clear advantage when it comes to leading the largest deals, her dual focus—A.I. and diversity—gives her a leg up.

Even some of those larger funds appear to be feeling the pressure to diversify. Benchmark added its first-ever female partner last May, while Sequoia Capital hired its first female investing partner in the U.S. in fall of 2016. The moves brought the VC heavyweights to 17% and 11% women investors, respectively.

NEA, one of the largest firms with $20 billion in assets under management, has yet to hire or promote a female general partner, though it does have six female investing partners on staff. But Dayna Grayson, one of those investing partners, says her firm does have some advantages—besides just sheer dollars—over smaller players.

“When you get to a certain scale you can have an HR body, a chief legal officer, policies and training, and a number of other levers to ensure that everybody is informed” on what is and is not acceptable in the workplace, says Grayson. So while a firm like NEA may not have a woman at the table when the big decisions are being made, there is an argument that it can afford the infrastructure needed to stem bad behavior, both at its portfolio companies and within its own ranks.

Kate Barrett, NEA’s marketing partner, adds that comparing the gender ratios of large firms like hers with smaller players can be misleading: It’s one thing for a four-person firm to be 50% female, but quite another for a 36-person operation like NEA.

NEA maintains that questions about diversity have not impacted its fundraising. But that may well change. The firm closed its latest fund, a massive $3.3 billion, last May, just as the Valley’s harassment scandals were starting to mount—but before they gained real attention from the bulk of the tech world. “We hear from our LPs [more regularly] during fundraising times,” says Barrett.

Last September, about 200 representatives from some of the largest family funds in the country gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco. The group comprised, as portfolio manager Kristen Koh Goldstein put it, the kind of people who are “wealthy enough they don’t need to be in a listicle.” But while the attendees might opt to keep their fortunes out of the press, they are putting those funds to work; everyone at the gathering was a limited partner, tasked with allocating large amounts of private, family-owned capital into various investments, including many of Silicon Valley’s venture capital firms.

Goldstein, who comanages the investments of her family office, AthenaPartners, had been asked by the gathering’s organizers to put together content on a topic of increasing concern to the LPs in attendance: the mounting discrimination and harassment problems in the tech world. “They realized this was an issue, but they didn’t know the extent of it or what you could do about it as a limited partner,” says Goldstein.

The Bay Area–based investor brought in founder Niniane Wang, who sold her startup last year and is now an engineering leader at Pokémon Go creator Niantic. Earlier in 2017 she was among the women who publicly accused Caldbeck, the former partner at Binary Capital, of sexual harassment.

“I gave them [the LPs] some actionable advice, like, don’t sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of your investment, and ask questions about how they [the VCs] treat diversity or whether or not they have a female partner,” says Wang.

According to Goldstein, Wang received a standing ovation, and both women were mobbed with questions and comments from the audience. The session was the highest rated at the event, and the organization has already asked Goldstein to come up with similar programming for future summits.

“There is an enormous risk here that some of these families weren’t even aware of,” says Goldstein. “Our goal was to reach these wealthy people, who sometimes have no idea they are funding misogynists, and give them practical things they can do to protect themselves.”

Following the event, Goldstein has fielded several calls from high-profile family offices, asking for her take on whether there might be a misconduct or other risk with some of their potential investments; she calls these “what’s the real deal here” calls.

Some LPs—ones who obviously haven’t signed NDAs with the venture capital firms they’ve funded—aren’t just using back channels to ask questions. Instead they are throwing off their usual role as silent partner and for the first time taking their concerns public.

Last summer, amidst the wave of harassment scandals, 500 Startups cofounder Dave McClure was accused of sexual misconduct. The eccentric general partner of the incubator and venture capital firm apologized and resigned from his role. In response to the revelations, some of his most high-profile LPs, including Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, publicly expressed their outrage at his behavior—and the larger tech community’s role in enabling it.

“This is a culture that has been allowed to fester and to rot by enablers who refused to intervene when they witnessed inexcusable behavior or went to great lengths to avoid seeing it,” they said in a statement.

Many limited partners have signed NDAs and will probably continue to do so. And many more won’t speak out even if given the opportunity. But as awareness and concern reaches critical mass, it’s likely that a growing number of LPs will make their voices heard—if not with words, then with dollars. Down the road, that could have tangible impact on venture capital firms that are not evolving to meet current demands.

“I want to back the people best positioned to successfully invest in tomorrow’s groundbreaking ideas,” says Melinda Gates. “And they’re not always the people who successfully invested in yesterday’s.”

This is an updated version of an article that appears in the Feb. 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “Can These VCs Fix Tech’s Bro Problem?”

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