Several high-level employees at the early-stage venture firm Rothenberg Ventures have recently left, TechCrunch has learned. Among them is Tommy Leep, a partner and the head of Rothenberg’s San Francisco office, who left last month after spending two-and-a-half years with the firm. (A former product manager at Intuit, Leep spent the previous two years as “chief connector” at the venture firm Floodgate.)
Other recent departures include Tom Leep, father to Tommy, who’d spent more than three years as Rothenberg’s director of finance before leaving in June; Sophie Liao, who was recently hired with the title of Managing Director, Asia-Pacific Region and appears to have left this month; and Catherine Johnson, a former SVP of HR at BrightSource Energy who joined Rothenberg Ventures this spring, only to leave three months later, in June.
Neither Liao or Johnson has returned a request for comment. Leep referred all questions about the firm to a company spokesperson. Asked if his father’s departure and his own were connected or unrelated, Leep said he had “no comment at this time.”
A separate source suggests Leep left of his own accord, while a wide number of other employees were laid off. We don’t know if Michael Dempsey was among them, but the former CB Insights analyst, who joined Rothenberg Ventures in January as an investor, also left last week. Dempsey didn’t respond to a request for more information.
Rothenberg Ventures was founded just four years ago by Mike Rothenberg, an Austin native who nabbed a master’s in management science and engineering from Stanford before getting his MBA from Harvard.
Despite its age, the firm has made something of an outsize impact on the local venture industry, including by organizing popular events, such as an annual Founders Field Day at AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play, and by barreling into virtual reality investments before many investors were paying much attention to them.
Indeed, in late 2014, Rothenberg Ventures announced it would be launching a startup accelerator, River, which planned to provide $100,000 in seed funding to virtual reality companies expressly. Among those early bets was FOVE, which makes an eye-tracking head-mounted display. FOVE passed through Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London before being selected for River’s inaugural class, but, notably, it went on to raise an $11 million Series A round in March.
By May of last year, Rothenberg Ventures had also created River Studios, a “creative house for VR production” that, according to the firm’s site, currently “consists of 30 passionate creators, artists and developers, committed to creating inspiring stories, and pushing the boundaries of this awesome medium.”
For more information, we reached out to a founding member of River Studios yesterday: Alex Sink, who describes himself on LinkedIn as responsible for building the production house. Sink, whose title was technical director, left the firm in March; he didn’t return our request for comment.
Given Rothenberg Ventures’s numerous initiatives — and the money required to run them — questions have long swirled around how the firm supports it all.
One apparent former employee complained last month on the jobs site GlassDoor that the firm features “excessive, over-the-top spending on things that make no sense and don’t align with the supposed mission of the firm. Examples include a full-season suite to the Warriors, a race car ?!” and renting out AT&T Park, writes this person.
Another former employee writes of “low salaries and long hours.” (It’s worth noting that only three people have contributed information about Rothenberg Ventures to the platform, giving it a collective 1.5 out of 5 stars.)
A Bloomberg profile of the firm published last year also asked questions about Rothenberg’s spending, reporting, “Rothenberg says the firm has four sources of noninvestment revenue, including renting office space to startups. He wouldn’t detail the other three.”
The same Bloomberg piece suggested that Rothenberg Ventures, which set out to raise a $50 million fund in 2013, had fallen well short of that goal. However, SEC filings show that across four funds filed since 2013, the firm has raised $47.3 million.
Whether recent departures from the firm will impact how that capital is being deployed remains a question mark.
Reached for comment, a company spokesperson cited medical leave and referred all questions to Rothenberg himself.
Asked about the departures, Rothenberg has not replied.