Entrepreneurs

Stitch Fix’s CEO complained about the behavior of embattled investor Justin Caldbeck years ago

Katrina Lake
Bloomberg | Getty Images
Katrina Lake

Years before the venture investor Justin Caldbeck made unwanted advances toward the female founders who just came forward about the behavior, he made the CEO of Stitch Fix feel uncomfortable enough that she requested his removal as his firm's observer to her board of directors, according to multiple sources.

The CEO, Katrina Lake — who is now one of the most prominent female entrepreneurs in the tech industry as head of the popular e-commerce platform Stitch Fix — complained to Caldbeck's then-employer, Lightspeed Venture Partners. The venture firm then removed Caldbeck from his role, said sources.

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Caldbeck had led an investment in Stitch Fix on behalf of Lightspeed in early 2013, according to reports. He left Lightspeed in 2014 to co-found Binary Capital.

He has since resigned from that firm after the news broke of the allegations of sexual harassment. Caldbeck said, "to say I am sorry about my behavior is a categorical understatement," and apologized to the women he made feel uncomfortable. That was a turnabout, since he initially denied that he had behaved unprofessionally.

On Tuesday, Lightspeed issued a statement referencing the controversy involving Stitch Fix, and said the firm "should have done more." But it did not identify Lake or the company by name. The Information and Axios previously reported that a woman leading a Lightspeed portfolio company had also complained about Caldbeck.

While multiple sources confirmed that Lake made that complaint to Lightspeed about Caldbeck, Recode does not have more details. Stitch Fix and Lake, as well as Lightspeed, declined to comment.

Update: Stitch Fix's Lake released the following statement after publication:

"Female entrepreneurs are a critical part of the fabric of Silicon Valley. It's important to expose the type of behavior that's been reported in the last few weeks, so the community can recognize and address these problems. I'm encouraged by the discussions that have been taking place and I intend to play a part in making positive changes in our industry."

After he left Lightspeed and the board of Stitch Fix, according to reports, Caldbeck continued his inappropriate behavior toward women entrepreneurs.

Source: YouTube

That includes an incident in 2015, reported by The Information, in which Caldbeck sent unwelcome text messages to another female entrepreneur to meet up late at night. He later allegedly physically grabbed yet another woman seeking an investment during a meeting.

Unfortunately, the alleged treatment of these women and also Lake by Caldbeck is not uncommon, as evidenced by the recent investigations at Uber over similar issues.

Lake has certainly proven her mettle as an entrepreneur, regardless of gender. She has built Stitch Fix into a giant online retailer with sales of $730 million, as of last year. The startup is a candidate to go public as soon as this year, according to many familiar with its business.

It's certainly one of the more exciting startups out there in retail. Stitch Fix is a personalized styling service that sends its customers — it sells to both men and women — a regular box of clothing and accessories that can be returned. It uses an algorithm, along with stylists, to determine what to provide shoppers.

What is clear is that Lake is one of the highest-profile women in the tech industry to date to have made a complaint about Caldbeck's behavior.

In the original Information story, six women told their stories of unwanted advances and, in one instance, of groping involving Caldbeck. Three of them — Niniane Wang, who has served as CTO of Minted and is the founder of Evertoon, as well as Susan Ho and Leiti Hsu, co-founders of the startup Journy — went on the record with their stories.

We also reached out to Caldbeck for comment, but have not heard back.

This article originally appeared on Recode.

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