In the past week several news outlets reported that I had committed numerous sexual indiscretions against numerous women. I am sorry that so many women feel wronged by me, but I hope to set at least some of the record straight. I apologize for the delay in the response, the allegations are quite serious, and many are from a number of years ago, and before responding I needed to consult with a lawyer, witnesses, my wife and others.
I have rejected my lawyer’s advice to not make a statement and in a spirit of healing I would like to address the issue head on with open and honest dialogue.
Any response creates potential liability, and lawyers optimize for reducing exposure so they advise against responding. But, for the past 20 years I have made my living shining light on people, products, and issues. I am unwilling to not be that person just because people have made allegations against me. This advice from attorneys is one reason why as a community we can’t properly discuss the issues hitting our industry. When companies and individuals can’t speak out for risk that it opens them to a lawsuit it limits the responsible dialogue we can have.
TechCrunch and Business Insider “broke” the news, but in a move inconceivable to me, they didn’t do any diligence to verify the accusations made against me. I recognize that these two organizations are basically just Gossip Blogs at this point, and that “If it bleeds it leads” is a way to generate click bait, but I expected more of them.
Even the most rudimentary fact check by news outlets would have caught a few obvious things. If I were guilty of all the things said about me I would still not be in a position to have sexually harassed anyone. I don’t have employees, I don’t cut checks for investment. None of the women who came forward were ever in a position where I could make or break their careers. Sexual Harassment requires that I have such power. That is not to say that the allegations aren’t serious. I take them very seriously, but it is to say that, TechCrunch, Business Insider and others, in their rush to publish ClickBait were so obviously flawed that it is clear they no longer care about the truth or doing actual journalism.
Then there is the actual truth of the allegations. Each of the women who have come forward used grains of truth to sell false narrative. Perhaps because they felt peer pressure to join the #MeToo bandwagon, perhaps because they felt slighted for other reasons. I won’t speculate on their motives.
Sarah Seitz and I had an online affair. I am a married man. She knew this, and didn’t care. During the more than a year that we exchanged very sexual conversation, when things never advanced beyond mere conversation, and when it became apparent that I didn’t have the power to advance her career any more than the introductions I had already made she felt scorned and attempted to blackmail me by threatening to tell my wife, Maryam, which she did shortly thereafter. I deeply wronged my wife by engaging in this behavior. I hurt my family. And to some extent my online affair did take advantage of Seitz; I hate to be the person who outs Seitz for her own abuse, but that was what we connected over primarily. We talked a great deal about how each of us dealt with abuse and how it impacted our sex lives.
In talking with friends I am not the only person Seitz has felt the need to shame online when she felt jilted. Others have experienced being called out when they didn’t meet up when Seitz was traveling or when they didn’t want to convert online flirtations to a real world interaction. There are a great many things in Seitz’s conversations I would prefer never be public, not because I did wrong by Seitz, but because where I have said I don’t really care about privacy online, I don’t feel that exposing my sexual fantasies or desires online as a text based “sex tape” is something anyone needs to see.
Another of the women who accused me, Sarah Kunst, is an African-American female entrepreneur. Kunst categorized a comment I made as racist at a conference we both attended. She took my asking “Why are you here” to be a question of “why are you deserving of being here.” That was not my intention at all. I tried to talk her down from this, but failed. More than an hour later, still mad, and drunk, she mistook another attendee for me and told him off loudly in front of others, then went on to tell off my wife Maryam. Anyone who knows Maryam, knows that the idea that she would verbally harass anyone is ludicrous, but Business Insider reports that.
I appreciate that being an African-American female entrepreneur is hard. I also understand that many in the industry are skeptical or dismissive when they interact with someone who breaks two stereotypes of entrepreneurs [not being white or male]. Perhaps my innocent question should have been phrased as “What is your goal for this conference,” but it wasn’t. At the conference I apologized for that, and I apologize again, that I could have either had more build up to the question, or phrased it better. But to categorize the action as “Verbal Assault” or to extend such allegations to my wife is unfair.
Michelle Greer, who I worked with at Rackspace, was never in a reporting structure beneath me, and while we engaged in flirtations, the limits of the impropriety was that I was flirting with someone when I was married. As part of the terms of my layoff from Rackspace I am required to not say anything disparaging against Rackspace, and I am seeking answers from them about what I can and cannot publicly say about this alleged incident. But I can say I was not ever fired from Rackspace, I was laid off at a time when many other employees were also laid off, and received severance for several months afterwards. Others have come forward and said Michelle Greer was let go from Rackspace for reasons unrelated to any interactions she and I had. We never had any interactions in a private situation and while that doesn’t mean that it is impossible for inappropriate behavior to occur, it demonstrates that at the time neither of us was ashamed of our behavior. If Rackspace did end Greer’s employment because of these interactions it was not at my request.
Quinn Norton, by her own account, physically accosted me. She didn’t call for conference security, she didn’t know the name of the woman I was making out with to know if we were engaged in a consensual activity. In her account of the night, she took it upon herself to decide in advance that she was going to warn me she was dangerous, and then physically attack me without knowing the story of my earlier makeout. If two drunk married people want to make out on the beach it may be a bad decision, (It was a bad decision on my part) but it was our bad decision to make. While it is admirable that Quinn wanted to defend the honor of another woman and the sanctity of marriage, perhaps she should have done so using the resources of the conference, or at a minimum in a manner that didn’t lead to her assaulting me. Quinn, who is a reporter, didn’t report this story for years, and she didn’t run the story in her capacity as a reporter, she chose social media with no bar for truth, and requirement that her story pass a fact check. Quinn who purports to be a champion against sexism was strangely silent. She sat on her allegations for more than 5 years. Her recall of the night seems unlikely due to her great detail including quotes, but without the names of any of the participants but myself. Most telling however is that she makes it clear that her assault of me was premeditated. She planned to separate me from the woman I was making out with, she planned to scare me, and she planned to use her martial arts training to injure me.
I am deeply apologetic that I have wronged my wife. I apologize to women in general that I could have been a better man and husband. Every act of infidelity, every time I have watched an adult video online, every time I have made an inappropriate joke, or laughed at one, I have wronged women.
I have tried to be a champion for all entrepreneurs equally. I believe I have given as much opportunity to women, and minorities as to other groups. I tend to gravitate towards cool tech and who has made that tech doesn’t really matter to me. I haven’t always had editorial control, many times others chose who I interviewed, or it was dictated by who was at a given conference, but I can’t recall a time when I turned anyone down who had a worthy product, or made for an interesting conversation. If anything I have been criticized for often lending my audience to products that weren’t innovative enough, or that because I didn’t edit down the video the subject was not meaty enough. But whenever possible I shared my platform with anyone who wanted it with no regard for their background, skin color, orientation, or gender.
I have been trying to internalize that as someone who has been abused that I have behaviors that are part of my survival tactics and I work to change those behaviors. I am attempting to recover from my addictions, but with regard to the immediate allegations from the article the inaccuracies make it hard to be apologetic. Every one of these women have had hardships, and I don’t envy any of their positions in life, but that doesn’t justify their malice towards me, my wife, and family and friends who have supported me.
Others have sought to distance themselves from me, and I understand that. Shel Israel and I have worked on a great many projects together, and when he approached me to ask that we go our separate ways I decided I didn’t want to work with anyone who wouldn’t stand by me. I did not express that the allegations against me were “Mostly True” and I did not express that I would be taking off the rest of the year. As I said at the start of this post, there are grains of truth, and I told Shel that the statements were true enough that I would need to address them. I also said that I would need to take time to address the allegations and that I didn’t know if that meant a month or a year, I did not specify a time.
I did express to several people that until I knew how time consuming answering allegations might be, and if there were going to be any legal actions I might have to defend against that I would be occupied until at least the end of the month.
Many have been asking how I, and my family, are doing personally. My answer has been “better than yesterday” and while that is true, at least since these allegations came forth, truth is I am in a rebuilding process that will lead to much better relationships with everyone. I need time to deal with myself and the harm I’ve caused others, starting with the harm I’ve caused to my marriage, my sons, and to Maryam, in particular. After a period of time we’ll have more conversations about that, but Maryam and I are working through a bunch of very tough things and I’m working hard on becoming a better human being.
As part of working on myself and repairing the relationships with my family, and unrelated to the recent events, I have been working to launch a new business, and a new career. Social Media has been my life for nearly 20 years, but it encourages a lifestyle that is not healthy for me or my family. I am transitioning into a job where I can work from home much more, and travel much less. This will give me more time to spend with my wife and kids. You can learn a bit about this here: http://lightpitch.launchrock.com/
I have avoided naming people who weren’t named in the press so far, but there is an acknowledgment of appreciation I want to make. In the early stages of this hitting, Jessica Guynn of USAToday called for comment, and when I mentioned that I appreciated her doing a call to fact check things, unlike many other journalists who had already run stories, she said, “Well, these days there’s a low bar [for fact checking].”
Part of my fascination with social media over the years has been in how it gives a voice to anyone who wants or needs it. The problem is that while it extends great power to those who use it responsibly, it also extends great power to those who want to use it to harm others.
As a tech journalist I’ve given the others a chance to speak and provided them a forum for their message. I have helped amplify the message of others when I felt it appropriate to do so, but I have been careful about promoting damning posts without checking their validity. TechCrunch and Business Insider failed in this regard. They set out to profit from the harm to me without regard for the truthiness of the story.
Another part of my love of social media has been that it creates dialog. I welcome dialog about the state of the industry, how we can make things better for people of all backgrounds, and how we can have responsible conversations in a world where a single tweet could result in nuclear war.
I have said many times in the past I have been working to be a better person, and overcome my addictions, and repair the relationship with my family. I am blessed to have a wife who has continued to love me through adversity, and kids who care so much about me. Many friends have supported me in this both before and after these most recent allegations. I thank them for their support. It means a great deal that so many have stood by me when it would be easier to distance themselves.