Pavel Curda, a European angel investor, (now ex) contributor at The Next Web and mentor to several startups, has admitted to sending a sexually explicit, inappropriate email to a woman entrepreneur following a meeting during a conference, implying a “Deal” could be struck. While he has apologised, it’s since emerged that he sent the same email to another woman at the event. The incident serves to remind us of the often all-too-obvious imbalance between men in tech who are in positions of power, and the many women who are simply trying to be an equal part of this industry.
A story on Valleywag yesterday detailed how, just after a business meeting over drinks with New York entrepreneur Gesche Haas (formerly of WunWun and now working at a startup named Conjure.io), Curda emailed her at 12.09a.m. saying, “I like you a lot. Hey G. I am not leave [sic.] Berlin without having sex with you. Deal?”
Following that story, Curda – who is single – yesterday tweeted that his email had been “hacked.”
However, today he told me by phone that his email had not in fact been hacked and that he did indeed send the offending emails to Haas.
He claims he was drunk the night before, and apologised profusely to Haas the next day, but that she had not accepted his apology.
He told me: “I fucked up. The night before we had a long discussion on business and we were drinking together. She’s a nice lady and I was fucking drunk. The day afterwards I really regretted it [sending the email] and I apologised to her. She didn’t take the apology. I said we can still be friends, she said ‘no way, there’s no way we can be friends’. I know it was wrong. What I did was stupid. I sent her an email saying ‘Shame on me!!! Sorry!’ after that stupid email. A few days after the conference she sent me a LinkedIn invite and when I replied she said it had been a mistake and she had sent it out to all the emails she’d got at the event. I stupidly did not do anything after that to emphasise that I was totally wrong and had been inappropriate.”
Curda also added: “For the record I don’t have a drinking problem, this was a one-off mistake. I understand this is unacceptable. I apologised immediately after and offered to help as a mentor. I admire women entrepreneurs and know many. I am not sexist. I just want to calm this down. She seems to be very angry. I made a big mistake and I regret it. I’m just a small angel investor in Central Europe. I will change my behaviour. I regret it fully and apologise fully.”
Haas shared with us the emails Curda sent to her. TechCrunch has independently verified the emails as genuine, including the one in the screenshot above.
In one he says: “Will we be friends on facebook though? :)”
She says she replied finally on email: “An email like this is abrasive and very disrespectful. There is NEVER a time and place for it. I have no further reason to stay in contact w you (or become your Facebook friend).”
I asked Curda if the “Deal” he referred to in the email was in effect a request for sex prior to him making an investment in her business activity. He said: “We talked about business in general only… She spoke about her projects the night before (I might have been critical… but I always am). There was no request for investment offer from her side.”
Curda lists his activities in various places, such as his About Me page.
He’s listed as a mentor with the now defunct Springboard accelerator and Seedcamp. We checked with Seedcamp and they say he has not mentored there for two years. He is an investor at Apiary, a former Springboard company.
He also claims to be a mentor at Deutsche Telekom’s Berlin accelerator hub:raum, StartupBootcamp, Startup Wise Guys (Estonia), Starcube (Czech Rep), iHUB (Ukraine), StarterRocket (Poland).
In the past he’s been a regular contributor to The Next Web tech news site. Editor Martin Bryant told us Curda had now been banned from writing for the site, and the site has made a statement.
However, it’s also come to light that Curda sent almost the exact same offending email to another woman attending the conference, Lucie Montel, who runs events and marketing at Rainmaking Loft in Berlin.
Curda tweeted a lazy and dismissive apology for sending the message, and even said he’d see her ‘later’.
When we asked him about this, Curda said: “I don’t remember sending that one but I was really drunk that night. Stupid me. I regret it. It was not related to business and I regret anything I sent. I never want to do this again… for this to happen again, ever.”
Montel emailed us: “I felt somehow ashamed & guilty after it happened and didn’t have the courage to try to do anything about it. But now it is out, I cannot let people doubt or minimize it. This is only 2 (of how many?) inappropriate email/text from this (of how many?) guy(s) in the industry.”
Was Curda A/B testing his approach to women? We will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide.
In a public Facebook post Haas posted: “Will admit that I am nervous…this is the first time for me to be covered in the media and it’s not pretty. BUT opting to be too scared to associate my name to something like this just did not seem to be the right answer OR the type of example I’d like to set. So here it is, plus my favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt below, and lots of hugs and kisses to those this resonates with. And now back to a long and busy work day – no time to let these things distract from working on what actually matters to us/defines us. “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” ”
She told Valleywag: “I was so flustered. I couldn’t sleep for an hour or two. What did I indicate to him?”
But clearly what this incident serves to remind us is that male investors – and they are mostly male – should never take advantage of their power relationship to female entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, it also highlights the issue of ‘mentorship’ in Europe.
Almost anyone can become a ‘mentor’ in the European tech scene these days. As the number of people involved in the industry grows, the industry needs to be careful who it assigns power.
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
While times have been changing to some extent, and it’s been amazing to see many women entrepreneurs flood into the industry, tech is still very much a male-dominated place. Whether it’s because men often seem to err on the side of hubris, or just the nature of tech entrepreneurship needing to be full of ‘self belief’, this can sometimes tip over into arrogance and the abuse of power.
There can be a lot of hagiography. Harmless when taken with a pinch of salt and a joke at the bar about your ‘bio’. But harmful when men – and it’s usually men – in power get too full of themselves and think they are untouchable.
There are many superstars and out-performers.
At the top of the tree are many well-schooled, well-heeled, elite investors who wield social status and economic power. Luckily, most of the time they wield it in a positive way for entrepreneurs.
But the way tech investing works is that people tend to invest in people like themselves.
The horrible laws of homophily, the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others, mean that they inevitably prefer to invest in people like them, and the cycle continues.
Men tend to invest in men.
Yet tech is forming the world as we know it today. It pervades every part of our world and will do for rest of human history. And this is a world that women occupy.
Women who have their own capacities and ambitions to succeed and to make their impact in their own way.
Tech isn’t some out-of-the-way industry, whose poor excuses for a lack of self-reflexivity we can ignore (like a racist, cantankerous grandfather). Tech is building the future we will all live in and will live in. It must be inclusive. The men who live and work in tech need to recognise that they live and work in an industry that needs to be gender-neutral, but is far from it.
We have to work out what it means for men and women to work equally in this industry — since we have so few examples of women rising to the top.
It is hardly helped by the incident above. Or by Gurbaksh Chahal or a minority of bad-actor investors leveraging their limited power on the most impressionable group (the entrepreneur). Those people have no place in this industry or among us.
Time for a wake-up call.