How ‘Sex at Dawn’ Saved my Startup

You might think you’ve seen it all in Silicon Valley, but unless you’ve come back from lunch to find a 45 year old legendary VC performing the “rights of Venus” on a 23 year old intern in the meeting room of your startup you haven’t. Let me explain. I was hired as the fourth employee of a small messaging/dating app company. The aforementioned VC was an angel investor in the company and he got me the job. The company was started by a young couple out of Stanford and a former Googler. Things were going well relatively speaking, we were burning through our initial investment but we had a few solid backers. That’s when the VC, lets call him Jason, called me up and told me that he wasn’t going to be investing further in the company. I begged him to tell me why but he wouldn’t. Later I would find out from the male co-founder let’s call him Ken. His girlfriend had slept with the third co-founder. He told me that he couldn’t even look at them and that he couldn’t help but be jealous, its human nature, so the startup was finished. That last part stuck out in my mind. I had just finished reading a book called “Sex at Dawn” that called the concept of male jealousy as a consequence of evolution into question.

I tracked down Jason at a bar I know he frequents and told him that all I asked is that he go on the weekend retreat we had planned. I thought if I could just get everyone together there was a chance I might be able to save the startup. I put together a deck and made the best presentation I’ve ever done. For 45 minutes I went on and on about anthropological examples, biological examples, cross-cultural experience, the mosuo, partible paternity, social experiments, risk taking and Plato’s Republic. I was fighting not just for the startup but for a whole new way of looking at social relationships. Here is the beautiful part. I had everyone together and because everyone assumed that the startup was done we spent the next 8 hours discussing my presentation.

Six months later the startup is stronger than ever. I don’t think I can fully explain what we’ve created if you haven’t read Sex at Dawn, lets just say what Google did with not wanting people to leave work to get food we’ve expanded upon. You’ve heard of work spouses? We have become an extremely tightly knit group. Jason, who used to come by rarely, now stops by at least twice a week. His mentorship is invaluable. We have just hired our 9th 10th and 11th employees lets call them, Gretchen, Melissa and Iyelllen. We still aren’t profitable but I’m more confident then ever we will be. At the very least we are no longer hemorrhaging users. I don’t think this could work for everyone, we had a young open minded group of people and it was like the perfect storm. I have deliberately hidden the name of the company and its members so I hope you all will respect the anonymity the internet provides but I do plan to right a book about the experience some day if the startup fails and there is interest.

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