Tech’s Fresh Start
Upload was founded in 2014 as entrepreneurs — many of them women — flocked to virtual reality. There was a feeling of vast potential in the young industry, a sense of being able to make a mark by moving quickly and meeting the right people.
Upload was the place to do it. Two of the founders — a third had dropped out — were in their mid-20s, with energy and ideas but not many credentials. Mr. Freeman, the chief executive, listed “backpacking in Europe” and “freelance user experience designer” on his résumé.
Before becoming Upload’s president, Mr. Mason was an intern at a Florida design studio. A 2014 graduate of Stetson University in Florida, he began an online petition at Change.org in 2015 to remove the school’s first female president, Wendy Libby, labeling her “cancer.” The petition got little support.
“I tend to be fairly passionate about things and wear my heart on my sleeve,” Mr. Mason explained in an email about his petition. “Looking back, there are definitely ways I would handle this differently.”
Although Upload’s ambitions were ill-defined, the company was popular from the start. It quickly raised $ 1.25 million. One of its most prominent early investors was Joe Kraus, a Silicon Valley veteran who is now at GV, Alphabet’s venture capital arm. Mr. Kraus, who invested $ 25,000 of his own money in Upload, was described by the company as an adviser. He declined to be interviewed.
Larger sums came from Shanda Group in China and, in a second funding round of $ 4.5 million, Colopl, a Japanese mobile gaming company. Colopl’s Shintaro Yamakami is the only non-Upload employee on the company’s board. A spokeswoman for Mr. Yamakami said he was currently “refraining from public relations activity.” A spokeswoman for Shanda, an investment firm, said, “We do not have comments to offer.”
Ms. Scott joined Upload in April 2016. She had graduated in 2012 from Emory University, where she was president of a group called the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention.
She declined to be interviewed. Her mother, Jenny Scott of Gainesville, Fla., said, “Elizabeth had several incidents growing up that targeted her physical safety and developed her sense of right and wrong.”
Ms. Scott, whose Facebook page describes her as “short, sassy & blonde. Take it or leave it,” managed the stories generated by Upload’s writing team on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube, produced videos and handled relationships with software developers.
She said in the suit that she had other work, too: The women at Upload were required to do what were called “womanly tasks,” including cleaning up. They were also told to act like “mommies” to the men and help them with whatever they needed.
The suit presented a portrait of a deeply entitled male culture, one that clashed with the fresh start VR seemed to offer the tech industry. But Ms. Scott’s suit was the second in the virtual reality industry in just a few months to present such an unwelcoming picture.
Magic Leap, a VR start-up backed by Google and other high-profile investors, had been sued in February by a woman who said in her complaint that she had been hired to make the company more diverse and friendly to women.
The woman, Tannen Campbell, said in court papers that she had challenged Magic Leap “to acknowledge the depths of misogyny” in its culture that “renders it so dysfunctional” it threatened the company. The suit accused the company of gender discrimination and retaliation, which Magic Leap denied. It was settled in May.
Across the tech industry, sexual harassment appears to be ingrained. While the research is largely anecdotal and fragmentary, Chloe Hart, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Stanford University, said the subject came up often in 27 in-depth interviews she had with female engineers about their social interactions at work.
Two-thirds of the women, Ms. Hart said, had experienced unwanted sexual interactions, such as being groped or kissed, or hearing comments about the physical attractiveness of women colleagues and sexual jokes or references that made them uncomfortable. One-third talked about men they worked with expressing romantic interest that was not reciprocated.
This and other surveys suggest that in some ways, Silicon Valley has not evolved much over 50 years, even as more and younger women arrived.
Some young women said they did not expect much from Silicon Valley. Amanda Joan, a VR developer, said the “misogynistic and lewd culture” described in Ms. Scott’s suit was as common to Silicon Valley as heavy traffic and expensive housing.
“If I were to boycott every organization that exhibited such culture and behavior (publicly or behind closed doors), I would be severely limited in my options,” Ms. Joan wrote on LinkedIn last month. “Honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath that there would be any left unless I moved to Wonder Woman’s home island.”