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Launch House Harassment Claims Show the Need for Startup House HR –

Launch House Harassment Claims Show the Need for Startup House HR –

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In 2021, dot.LA reports on an attack on a startup live-in incubator. “Founded by two 27-year-old entrepreneurs in the Hollywood Hills, the collective helps seed-stage companies raise funds and build their products,” Katherin Abando wrote. “The launch house, which rotates in different parts of the city, focuses on building biotechnology entrepreneurs. The other is trying to promote breakthrough products in augmented reality.”

Fast forward a year. The co-working house model — which often promotes itself as a training program for tech entrepreneurs to live together and grow their businesses — is facing an existential crisis, with at least one of the examples lauded in the article facing multiple allegations of fostering a culture that led to sexual assault, harassment and, in one case, retaliation against a house member.

The difference between Launch House and other live incubators is well described. In 2021, dot.LA reported that unlike veteran accelerators like Y Combinator, Launch House founders Jacob Peters, Michael Houck, and Brett Goldstein did not promise entrepreneurs any investment. Instead, the raffle was “running, advice and exposure on social media.” And their thinking was based on Peters’ belief that “Universities are no longer aggregators of great talent. They are becoming small, idiosyncratic communities that start in houses.”

However, if this happens, there is a serious need to rethink how the co-op model works when the heat is on. Earlier this month, Vox published an investigation into Launch House, a “professional social club” for tech founders that, among other things, hosts members at a luxury property in Beverly Hills. Since this report, some current investors in the startup and its venture fund have issued public statements supporting the alleged victims and condemning Launch House’s alleged actions. Others have taken the position that the reporting of the story itself was exploitation and blame the media for it. The “handling” of the news was insensitive in itself.

Launch House, meanwhile, confirmed to TechCrunch through a spokesperson that it is launching its own independent, third-party investigation. The company’s CEO, Brett Goldstein, issued a public memo in response to the allegations, stating that the allegations in the Vox story refer to “a period over a year ago when we were a very different company.”

This is not the first time Launch House has faced complaints of workplace abuse. Late last year, Business Insider reported on a “wild party” at the Launch House mansion in May 2021, as well as the COVID outbreak a year earlier.

Should anyone be surprised that a tech incubator full of young people living and working under the same roof and dreaming of tech entrepreneurship is prone to fostering a dangerous work environment?

In 2017, Y Combinator was in the news for similar indiscretions. At the time, the incubator known for launching Airbnb, Coinbase, DoorDash, Dropbox, Reddit and Twitch faced its own allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. The startup seemingly resolved the situation by apologizing and having two high-profile venture capitalists resign. Nevertheless, a year later, according to a study by Y combinator, one in five female founders who passed through the influential Silicon Valley startup incubator still reported being sexually harassed or assaulted by investors.

Nearly half a decade later, the tech incubator model still suffers from the same problems that might be apparent to anyone who looked beyond the promise of community. Despite the various cautionary tales of toxic tech startups whose founders end up being played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Leto or Amanda Seyfried, many of these incubators have yet to take the very basic steps to become a legitimate business. Residential incubators do not hire live-in Human Resource departments… or at all. And that’s a big problem.

Chien-Chi Tseng is a collegiate assistant professor of technology entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech who previously developed incubation centers for university campuses in Taiwan. According to Tseng, the incubator model should adopt an HR approach that is no different from regular companies.

“Like the customers it serves, an incubator must be based on a solid customer need and offer a strong value proposition,” Tseng told dot.LA. “The common thread of all successful incubators is that they are run as companies and the customers are the companies they serve.” In the case of Launch House, it’s young individuals who are trying to create a successful startup and who also live under their roof. Tseng believes that living in an incubator warrants a paradigm shift in mindset (or more often than not). ‘t) from HR. department.

“To better approach the ways community incubators work, HR teams cannot decide their success based on a single parameter,” Tseng told dot.LA, which considers “narrow but diverse metrics.” These metrics can vary from the incubator’s financial status to the number of acquisitions and listings. support offered to members, both in the form of funding from investors and for more short-term benchmarks such as mentoring. It also needs to be able to quickly solve a myriad of new problems that arise precisely from co-workers living together: screening applicants based not just on their introductions, but on their background checks. Due diligence is a basic requirement in this process, yet it seems to be a low priority for young incubators… until they find themselves in hot water.

To that end, Launch House promised during a private town hall to build an industry-leading security program for shared experiences. However, the details of the program are not yet revealed.

However, Launch House is hardly the only incubator that takes into account the problems caused by living together. A recently leaked contract from Hype House — one of Los Angeles’ best-known and longest-running content houses — revealed a set of highly restrictive rules that participating influencers must adhere to. “You’re giving up all rights to all claims,” ​​said one Los Angeles-based attorney who has represented influencers and others in the entertainment industry. “All of them. All known and unknown future claims, which is too much.” Hype House did not invest in human resources, but on the contrary: in lawyers and publicists. This sends a message to the community that optics are more important than fixing systemic problems.

A request for comment sent to four different LA-based live incubators asking how they are experimenting with their approach to HR did not receive responses.

Currently, the live incubator environment makes up a small part of Los Angeles’ tech entrepreneurship. As Vox noted, “Programs like Launch House, which often require members to pack up and move to a new city with only a few weeks’ notice, are only feasible for a very specific group of people: young, hungry digital nomads with the freedom to figure it out as they go.”

But that number is growing, fueled by the ambition of a new generation: more than 30% of the generation living in Los Angeles want to be influencers. With the rise of the “Creator House” and an ever-expanding network of live-in startup options, the co-working house model has every reason to consider a more robust approach to mitigating the dark side of “community” building in tech. Otherwise, the problems plaguing Launch House today will continue to be industry standards.

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