Venture capital firm EDF Ventures last week subpoenaed the Web site TheFunded, demanding information about a person who left negative comments about EDF.
This evening, VentureBeat has exclusively obtained documents requested by the subpoena. TheFunded’s owner, Adeo Ressi, will likely hand over these documents to the court (which actually issued the subpoena) in ten days or so. For now, this post is the only place you’ll see the documents.
First, a quick disclosure: VentureBeat has a business relationship with TheFunded, which includes links to each other’s sites.
I’ve posted the documents below. Most significantly, they show just how little information is available about the actual person leaving the negative review. TheFunded said previously that it doesn’t store any information about individuals posting on its site, so this is not a big surprise.
However, the documents do reveal more details about the negative review. We learn additionally that the commenter said EDF Ventures has “very harsh deal terms,” and that the firm is led by one Mary Campbell, who has no operating or start-up experience. These additional comments were left in a “private” section of the site, accessible only to members. Last week, only the public portion of the negative review was revealed, i.e, the part where commenter said he had done business with the firm, and warned people that they should avoid it.
Also interestingly, we learn that the commenter is a “premium” member (see the second red arrow above). That means the commenter is paying TheFunded a monthly fee to remain a member. This gives us a few more clues: The commenter may not be a CEO, because CEOs are able to access the site for free (under the terms of TheFunded, CEOs don’t have to pay the monthly membership fee). Thus, the commenter may very well be a senior level executive, or have an indirect relationship with the firm. A final possibility is that the commenter is simply a CEO who didn’t “claim” their membership after a 14 day trial period, after which an otherwise free account is switched to premium status.
In comments made last week after the initial news broke, EDF managing director Mike DeVries told some publications that one reason they’re interested in obtaining the information is that the firm has never done multiple deals with the same entrepreneur. However, as stated above, we’re now learning there’s a strong chance the individual may not have been an “entrepreneur” at all. There’s a chance the negative commenter could be a former advisor to the firm, perhaps even an ally of one of the partners who was allegedly pushed out. (Under TheFunded’s rules, venture capitalists themselves are not allowed to be members at the site, and so the reviewer is unlikely to be any of the partners who allegedly were pushed out).
Regardless, EDF’s hopes to unearth the identity of the individual are likely to be dashed, given the paucity of information here. The firm appears to have only succeeded in creating negative publicity for itself.
Here’s TheFunded’s explanation of how it keeps information about users anonymous. Basically, applications to become a member at the site are sent through Gmail, at which time a six-digit code is assigned to the prospective member. This becomes part of the invitation to join the site. The member claims the invitation, and then the system deletes the invitation code. So there’s no way to link or correlate between TheFunded’s subsequent internal id for the member and his/her original email address. EDF would have to subpoena Google for the information as well, and even then it would be stuck with the names of the 2,000-plus members of TheFunded, with no way to home in on the single individual.
And, as mentioned, past similar cases, such as lawyers suing lawyer review site Avvo, and teachers suing a teacher review site, haven’t turned out too well for those doing the suing. I tried reaching EDF for comment today, to no avail. I’ll update if I hear back.
The remainder of the subpoenaed documents are below. While the document posted above shows a spreadsheet of the fields, the documents below show the database of the fields, and then the data contained within them. Not much info at all.
Update: I just heard back from EDF’s Mike DeVries. He reiterated that he knows of no CEO the firm has had multiple dealings with who could have said this. He said it was possible that the person could be an advisor to the firm. He said the firm is taking the action in order to set the record straight and to respond to the criticism. “We’d like to know who it is, I’ll leave it at that,” he said. Responding to the allegation about EDF having harsh deal terms, DeVries said if anything “we’re more entrepreneur friendly than some of the the bigger firms out there.”
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