500 Startups’ Elizabeth Yin resigns as harassment drama unfolds

4 Jul 2017

Former 500 Startups partner Elizabeth Yin. Image: 500 Startups

Yin resigns amid sexual harassment controversy at one of Silicon Valley’s top accelerators.

500 Startups partner Elizabeth Yin has resigned from the accelerator.

Explaining her leaving, Yin cited a lack of transparency at the organisation over sexual harassment claims and her dismay at how the situation was handled by management.

This follows the resignation of Dave McClure, former CEO and general partner at the company.

500 Startups is a $250m VC fund and start-up accelerator that employs 125 people in 20 countries. It has so far invested in more than 1,500 start-ups.

Yesterday (3 July), we reported that McClure was removed from day-to-day operations at the accelerator he co-founded, following an internal investigation into alleged sexual harassment at the firm. Christine Tsai has been appointed as the new CEO.

According to Yin, most employees of 500 Startups were unaware of the situation regarding McClure until an article in The New York Times appeared on Friday (30 June) detailing the nature of sexual harassment allegations against some of Silicon Valley’s elite investors.

Outcry in Silicon Valley

The revelations prompted apologies from Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital and McClure.

This has triggered an outcry in the tech industry, encouraging more women to come forward and speak out. Several of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capitalists, including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, have called for investors to sign a “decency pledge”.

According to a report in TechCrunch, Yin was made aware of allegations against McClure by a colleague at 500 Startups, separate to those made in the aforementioned article, and was perplexed at how he was still involved in operations, given the severity of the claims.

In her resignation letter, Yin hit out at how 500 Startups’ leadership structure failed to mention the issue, and outlined her dismay that staff found out about the allegations through the The New York Times.

Yin wrote: “He continued to be vocal and active in all 500 Startups’ Slack channels, influencing key business decisions. Despite having no official management power, it was obvious that 500 staff weren’t completely aware of the gravity of the situation and continued to be deferential and even supportive of him.”

Yin said she was resigning out of frustration with the “lack of transparency” demonstrated by the organisation’s management.

“I believe in the mission of 500 Startups, and I’m hopeful that everything is now moving in the right direction. But I cannot support the lack of transparency and propagation of misinformation at the management level at this company. And I’m gravely disappointed that these now seemingly positive outcomes are only coming about because of pressure from the press and public rather than out of doing the right thing. For these reasons, on Saturday, 1 July 2017, I submitted my resignation from 500 Startups, effective this Friday.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years