Power and sex are inexorably linked. In fiercely competitive environments, where young rising stars desperately need a good word — or capital — from seasoned veterans, you will find at least a few generous mentors straying across boundaries and manipulating the situation for sexual gratification.
Harvey Weinstein, the now disgraced film producer imprisoned for sex crimes, was a prime example of this sort of behavior (although undoubtedly not the only person to indulge in it in Hollywood). Dozens of actresses and other women in the industry have come forward alleging he offered to open doors for them — if they also opened their legs.
Yeah, gross. Anyway…
The startup world is also rife with these types of imbalances, although you’re probably less likely to see scores of entrepreneurs launch a #MeToo campaign against their financial backers. Part of the reason is that both startup founders and venture capitalists are mostly all straight men, and thus probably not trying to literally f*ck each other.
That said, the homoerotic vibe can still be palpable. One young corporate founder told me that trying to woo investors is essentially no different than going on dates with the intent of finding a “sugar daddy.”
When the startup founder is a woman, and the investor is a straight man, the situation can easily stray into Weinstein territory. “The Dropout,” on Hulu, dramatizing the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, makes the dynamic clear in portraying the romantic relationship between Holmes and Theranos investor and former Chief Operating Officer Sunny Balwani. Balwani, almost 20 years older than now-38-year-old Holmes, apparently first came across her when she was just a college student — and he had just made tens of millions in a software business.
And when the rich, older male investor is homosexual, and the brash, young entrepreneur that catches his fancy is a man, lines between benefactor and romantic suitor can also get blurred. With that framing in mind, let us turn to an interesting topic in Martin Shkreli’s case: his relationship with investor Steve Richardson.