At Upload, the parties never seemed to stop.
The start-up began by hosting impromptu gatherings to promote virtual reality as the next big thing. It quickly became an entertainment and news hub for the VR industry, hosting hundreds of events. The crowds were young and eager to network. Models did demos, and the liquor flowed.
The freewheeling atmosphere was not restricted to the evening hours. There was a "rampant sexual behavior and focus" in the Upload office that created "an unbearable environment," a former employee, Elizabeth Scott, said in a lawsuit filed in May.
Ms. Scott said in her suit that the Upload office had a room with a bed "to encourage sexual intercourse at the workplace." It was referred to as the kink room. Men who worked for the company were described in the suit as frequently talking about being so sexually aroused by female colleagues that it was impossible to concentrate. When Ms. Scott, Upload's digital media manager, complained about the hostile atmosphere and other issues in March with her supervisor, she was fired, the suit said.
In a statement after the suit was filed, Upload said that "our employees are our greatest asset" and that "these allegations are entirely without merit." The company said Upload's chief executive, Taylor Freeman, and president, Will Mason, could not discuss the lawsuit and its specifics. On Friday, as this article neared publication, the men issued another statement that said, "We let you down and we are sorry."
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At a time when Silicon Valley is filled with tales of harassment and discrimination against women — just this week, the chief executive of the lending start-up Social Finance resigned amid accusations of sexual misbehavior — the purported behavior at Upload stands out. Ms. Scott said in the suit that while she was at a conference in San Jose, Calif., Mr. Freeman kicked her out of her room in Upload's rented house so he could use it for sex.
If the claims were striking, so was the response.
In contrast to the venture capitalists who were knocked off their perches this summer by harassment complaints, Upload was scarcely dented by the publicity surrounding Ms. Scott's suit. Mr. Freeman and Mr. Mason were not forced to resign. Investors did not pull their money. The company's events continued, if in terms that were a bit more muted.
A few weeks ago, the suit was crossed off Upload's to-do list when it was quietly settled for a modest sum, said two people with knowledge of the case who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Both sides had an incentive to come to terms: Upload could say the problem was now in its past, and Ms. Scott, 27, got a victory of sorts without the risk of going to trial.
Shortly after Ms. Scott filed her suit, at least a half-dozen members of Upload's team quit in solidarity, but they did not go public with their complaints. (At its peak, the company had about 20 to 25 employees.) In interviews, two of those who left described what happened but said that even though they were now working elsewhere, they did not want their names used.
"A lot of people were afraid to be in the media," said another former employee, Danny Bittman, who broke his silence with a piece in Medium this week in support of Ms. Scott. "We were scared of everything that was happening."
Behind the scenes, in members-only Facebook groups and other forums, the virtual reality industry is still roiled. People have opinions, they just do not want to be caught uttering them.
"People privately assumed the worst — that the Upload allegations are all true," said Kent Bye, who does a popular industry podcast, Voices of VR."Or they assumed the opposite — that the allegations are salacious, crazy and can be ignored. Regardless, they don't want to risk their career by publicly talking about a connecting node for the entire industry."
In more than two dozen interviews for this story, even those inclined to see Upload in the most favorable light said it was the story of a company run by young, immature men who were flush with cash and did not know how to handle their power.
That is true of many Silicon Valley start-ups. Some grow out of it. Others, like Uber — which fired 20 employees this year in a harassment scandal that ultimately pushed out much of its top management team — do not until they are forced to.
The situation at Upload was particularly fraught because its principal product was parties. In the great tradition of Silicon Valley start-ups, the company was less interested in making a profit than in getting attention, said former employees. So the line between work and play, often fuzzy, was entirely erased.
The existence of the kink room became the enduring symbol of Upload as soon as Ms. Scott filed her suit. Employees of the porn site Kink.com came to an early Upload party and left behind a sign, said two people with knowledge of the events. It became the name of a room toward the front of the office, a narrow chamber equipped with a bed.
"There was a lack of leadership to cultivate a healthy work environment, and investors who failed to take a more active role in oversight," Mr. Bye said. "The only way to resolve these sorts of problems is to confront them head on, and that is precisely what no one seemed prepared to do."