Earlier this month, a Vanity Fair report revealed sordid tales of Silicon Valley sex parties. But the tales, while full of unsavory and salacious details, did not include any names, raising questions in some minds about their truthfulness.
Two people familiar with one of the parties—including one who attended—tell WIRED it was hosted by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, co-founder of the firm DFJ. The attendees say the party was thrown in connection with an annual DFJ conference called the Big Think.
The people familiar with the party say there was no explicit mention of sex or drugs in the invitation or other messaging about the party. But those people say those elements were clear from the setup of the party, which included a “cuddle puddle” area covered in large fur pillows with special lighting behind the bar. Some attendees took an enhanced version of MDMA called “Tesla,” which supposedly has positive performance characteristics comparable to the electric car. According to Vanity Fair, the event had a “party on the edge of the earth” theme and encouraged “glamazon adventurer, safari chic and jungle tribal attire.”
In a statement, DFJ said, “We were dismayed to learn of behavior at the party that was completely at odds with DFJ’s culture, which has been, and will continue to be, built on the values of respect and integrity. We would never want anyone to feel uncomfortable and we are sorry if that happened. The decisive action we’ve taken in recent months reflects our steadfast commitment to our values.”
In November, Jurvetson was pushed out of DFJ after an internal investigation found a pattern of dishonesty with women that affected his professional life, according to Recode.
The party occurred in June, shortly after explosive accusations of sexual harassment led to the collapse of venture firm Binary Capital. That news shook the venture community, and prompted some internal discussion at DFJ over whether the party was a good idea. DFJ partner Emily Melton expressed discomfort about the nature of the party and the firm debated whether it should pay for the shuttles to the party, according to one person familiar with the firm. “It was so obviously not a good move,” the person says. Inside the firm, there was a spectrum of people who were uncomfortable with the party and people who were “neutral to slightly positive on it,” the person says. “Steve was obviously on one end of that spectrum.” The red flags were ultimately overruled.
Jurvetson’s public relations representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Axios earlier reported that a party described in a forthcoming book by journalist Emily Chang was hosted at Jurvetson’s home. The Vanity Fair article was adapted from Chang’s book.
All of the approximately 100 attendees at the Big Think conference were invited to the party, in addition to a number of prominent outsiders. Elon Musk, whose companies Jurvetson has invested in, confirmed to WIRED that he attended the party but disputed the Vanity Fair article’s “sex party” characterization. He wrote, “Emily Chang’s article was salacious nonsense. She conflated what happens in SF sex clubs in the Tenderloin, which have been around long before Silicon Valley was anything, with boring VC particles on the Peninsula. That is misleading to the public and she should be ashamed. If there are ‘sex parties’ in Silicon Valley, I haven’t seen or heard of one. If you want wild parties, you’re in the wrong place. Obviously. That DFJ party was boring and corporate, with zero sex or nudity anywhere. Nerds on a couch are not a ‘cuddle puddle.’ I was hounded all night by DFJ-funded entrepreneurs, so went to sleep around 1am. Nothing remotely worth writing about happened. The most fun thing was Steve lighting a model rocket around midnight.”
Angel investor Jason Calacanis also disputed the “sex party” characterization of the event. “My wife and I attended the party, along with around 200 people from industry, but we didn’t witness anything described in the [Vanity Fair] article. We were there for about an hour or two,” he said.
Likewise entrepreneur Mary Lou Jepson. “I saw no sex, I saw no drugs, it was a fun party with lots of great people, but it wasn’t a sex party,” she said.
On Wednesday, Paul Biggar, an entrepreneur who attended the party, described his experience without naming Jurvetson or DFJ in a blog post titled, “That party was way worse than it sounds.” “We were warned before going not to be freaked out about the stuff there, no photos were allowed(!), and definitely don’t tell anyone what we saw,” he wrote. He noted that he left at 12:30 am and did not witness any sex or drugs firsthand.
Biggar says he felt compelled to speak up because so many Silicon Valley insiders dismissed the Vanity Fair story. A number of investors and entrepreneurs thought the tales were “not real Silicon Valley parties, they were some burners that just happened to be in San Francisco and these outsiders are calling it a tech party,” he says, adding, “I was there and I can lend some of my credibility.”