Exclusive: Uber shareholder group wants Benchmark off board - Axios
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Exclusive: Uber shareholder group wants Benchmark off board

Sam Jayne / Axios

A group of Uber investors has asked that venture capital firm Benchmark step down from the company's board of directors, Axios has learned. It also wants Benchmark to divest enough shares so as to no longer have board appointment rights, claiming to have enough investor interest to handle more than a $6 billion sale. The move comes one day after Benchmark sued former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for fraud, in an attempt to have him removed from the board.

Benchmark has not yet responded to a request for comment.

  • Details: The shareholder group communicated its request via a petition-style email sent earlier this morning to other Uber investors and its board of directors, which has a meeting scheduled for today. Its basic argument is that Benchmark's action only complicates the company's already-troubled search for a new CEO, and effectively violates Benchmark's fiduciary duty to the company.
  • Who signed the request? Shervin Pishevar (Sherpa Capital, although signed as an individual), Ron Burkle (Yucaipa Cos) and Adam Leber (Maverick).
  • Why it matters: It was shocking enough for a major venture capital firm to sue the CEO of a highly-valuable portfolio company. For other VC firms to then make this sort of counter-move against a peer is similarly unprecedented. It's a brave new world in Silicon Valley.

Below is full text of the email, which was obtained by Axios:

As a group of shareholders of Uber Technologies, Inc. (the "Company") we were surprised and distressed to learn through the media of the lawsuit brought by your firm against the Company, and its founder and former Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick.

Naturally, we share your concerns about the problems that the Company has
confronted in recent months, but we are greatly concerned about the tactics employed by
Benchmark to address them, which strike us as ethically dubious and, critically, value-destructive
rather than value enhancing.
Specifically, we do not feel it was either prudent or necessary from the standpoint
of shareholder value, to hold the company hostage to a public relations disaster by demanding
Mr. Kalanick's resignation, along with other concessions, on a few hours' notice and within
weeks of a personal tragedy, under threat of public scandal. Even less so your escalation of this
fratricidal course – notwithstanding Mr. Kalanick's resignation – through your recent lawsuit,
which we fear will cost the company public goodwill, interfere with fundraising and impede the
critical search for a new, world-class Chief Executive Officer. Benchmark has used false
allegations from lawsuits like Waymo as a matter of fact and this and many actions has crossed
the fiduciary line.
Benchmark's investment of $27M is worth $8.4 billion today and you are suing
the founder, the company and the employees who worked so hard to create such unprecedented
value. We ask you to please consider the lives of these employees and allow them to continue to
grow this company in peace and make it thrive. These actions do the opposite.
Accordingly, we would request that Benchmark help the Company realize its
full potential by allowing the necessary work to be done in the Board Room rather than the
Courtroom. To this end, at this point, in light of your suit against the Company, we believe it
would be best, and hereby request, that Benchmark remove its representative from the
Company's Board and move promptly to divest itself of enough shares in the Company so as to
cease to have Board appointment rights. We have investors ready to acquire these shares as soon
as we receive communication from Benchmark that they are willing to withdraw their lawsuit
and sell a minimum of 75% of their holdings.
We are also asking for a symbolic Board of Directors vote on this matter at
today's Board meeting to show how the Board of Directors stands on this lawsuit brought against
the company, its founder and the 15,000 employees of Uber who have all worked so hard in
concert to create the fastest growing company in history.
Many other shareholders share our views and will be adding their names in the days ahead. Any shareholders who want to join this letter and petition may email one of our signatories of this letter so that we can submit a final list of shareholders who support this request. Emails can be addressed to Shervin Pishevar at UberShareholderAlliance@gmail.com.

Sincerely,
Shervin Pishevar
Personal Investor, Advisor and Former Uber Board Observer (2011-2015) Coordinator, Uber Shareholder Alliance
Ron Burkle
Chairman
Yucaipa Companies
Adam Leber
Partner, Maverick
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Battery exec leaves Dyson two years after $90 million buyout

Michigan entrepreneur Ann Marie Sastry has left vacuum-maker Dyson, two years after it acquired her controverial lithium-ion battery company, Axios has learned. The $90 million all-cash buyout remains one of the richest lithium-ion deals ever.

Quick take: Sources with knowledge of the situation were not certain of the circumstances of Sastry's departure. But it comes eight months after Dyson relinquished Sakti3's core battery patents, and doubts remain in the field regarding her main claim, asserted repeatedly — that she was on the verge of commercializing much-sought-after solid state battery technology.

Why it matters: For the last two years, Dyson founder James Dyson has spoken of ambitious plans to spend $1 billion to $3 billion to revolutionize batteries and electric cars. He has said said his electric car will ready for the road by 2020. At the time, Dyson's October 2015 purchase of Sakti3 was the spearpoint of the mission, and Sastry's departure suggests more internal turmoil than he has let on.

  • Sastry's Linkedin page says she left Dyson last month. She identifies herself as the founder and CEO of a company called Amesite, which a source said is involved with artificial intelligence and education.

In September, Dyson told Bloomberg that he had created two competing battery teams—Sakti3, plus another that was attempting a different approach to solid state. One explanation for Sastry's departure was that the other team won. In an interview with the Guardian, Dyson said the company's batteries were already more efficient than those in commercial electric vehicles.

At the time of the October 2015 deal and since, numerous leading U.S. battery researchers told me they wondered why Dyson had bought Sakti3. Despite Sastry's robust claims of the company's progress with solid state, she had revealed very little publicly and, since no one else had made much progress, the deep suspicion was that she was exaggerating. Indeed, in reporting for a story at the time of the buyout, former Sakti3 executives told me that the doubters were correct—the company's technology was rudimentary and nowhere near commercial.

Dyson did not offer a comment. Sastry could not be reached.

Dan Primack contributed to this story.

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Bob Corker flips to "yes" on tax reform

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the only holdout on the Senate's initial tax bill, announced Friday that he will vote "yes" on the GOP's tax cuts bill, less than an hour after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he will also vote yes.

Why it matters: Corker's vote essentially cements the tax bill's passage before the Christmas deadline.

His statement:

"After many conversations over the past several days with individuals from both sides of the aisle across Tennessee and around the country — including business owners, farmers, chambers of commerce and economic development leaders — I have decided to support the tax reform package we will vote on next week.

"This bill is far from perfect, and left to my own accord, we would have reached bipartisan consensus on legislation that avoided any chance of adding to the deficit and far less would have been done on the individual side with items that do not generate economic growth.

"But after great though and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss. While many project that it is very possible over the next ten years we could be at least $500 billion short on a $43 trillion policy baseline, I believe this bill accompanied with the significant regulatory changes that are underway, and hopefully, future pro-growth oriented policies relative to trade and immigration , could have significant positive impact on the well-being of Americans and help drive additional foreign direct investment in Tennessee.

"In the end, after 11 years in the Senate, I know every bill we consider is imperfect and the questions becomes is our country better off with or without this piece of legislation. I think we are better off with it. I realize this is a bet on our country's enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make."

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Release of texts between FBI officials to media was unauthorized

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The Department of Justice said that some members of the media received early copies of the texts between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and that the release was not authorized by the department, Business Insider reports.

Why it matters: The texts are part of an ongoing investigation; they were shared with lawmakers on Tuesday night, prior to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, and were shared with reporters afterwards. But DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said some reporters had already recieved them.

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Rubio officially yes on tax bill

Sen. Marco Rubio Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Sen. Marco Rubio's office has confirmed to reporters that the senator will be voting for the GOP tax cuts bill now that the child tax credit has been enhanced to meet his standards.

Why it matters: This thing looks ready to pass.

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AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File

The FCC plans to fine Sinclair Broadcasting Corporation milions of dollars over undisclosed cancer ads that aired during newscasts over a six-month period in 2016, Reuters reports.

The news comes one day after reports surfaced that the DOJ wants Sinclair to divest roughly 12 local broadcast stations in order for its $3.9 million merger with Tribune Media Company to be approved. It also comes as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is being attacked for what is seen as a close relationship with Sinclair.

The fine addresses roughly 1,700 commercials that aired for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. According to the report, Sinclair has previously told reporters that the violations were unintentional.

Reuters reports that the fine was approved by the five-member FCC but has not yet been made public. Sinclair's management has always been right-leaning and conservative-leaning Pai has been accused by progressives as being favorable to the broadcaster.

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White House says Western Wall will stay in Israel

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A senior White House official told reporters today that the Trump administration believes the Western Wall in East Jerusalem will remain part of Israel in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The issue came up during a briefing to reporters on Vice President Mike Pence's upcoming visit to Israel.

Why it matters: The statement risks further infuriating the Palestinians at a time when the administration is trying to cool down the crisis created by President Trump's Jerusalem speech. The Western wall was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967 and was never recognized as part of Israel by any country around the world.

Context: During previous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the U.S. supported the Israeli position that the Western Wall should stay part of Israel, but it was never articulated publicly.

What to watch: The official said Pence will visit the Western Wall during his trip to Israel, and he will do it as the vice president and not as a private citizen. "We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not [be] part of Israel," the official said. "But as the president said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement."

The bottom line: After the briefing ended, the White House official noted that the U.S. "cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall."

What's next: In the meantime, White House special envoy Jason Greenblatt will arrive in Israel early next week. It is unclear whether Greenblatt is going to meet any Palestinian officials. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas announced he does not see the U.S. as an honest broker and said the Palestinians will not meet with Pence during his visit.

While in Israel, Greenblatt will meet Fernando Gentilini, European Union envoy for Middle East peace. The 28 leaders of EU member states announced yesterday they see Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine — pushing back against Trump's announcement that the U.S. recognizes it as the capital of Israel.

The White House official added that given the timing, Greenblatt will stay on for Pence’s visit to provide any relevant support.

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Facebook admits that some social media use can be harmful

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In a new installment of its "Hard Questions" series, Facebook acknowledges that social media can have negative (or positive) effects on people, depending on how they use it.

Why it matters: This might be the first public acknowledgment from the company that its product — and category in general — can have detrimental effects on people.

Facebook is also addressing the topic shortly after two former executives publicly criticized the company for what they described as exploiting human psychology.

Good and bad use, according to research cited by Facebook:

  • Bad: Passive use of social media — reading information without interacting with others — makes people feel worse. Clicking on more links or "liking" more posts than the average user also leads to worse mental health, according to one study.
  • Good: Active use — interacting with people, sharing messages, posts, comments, and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improved well-being.
  • It takes two: Interacting with other users is key, according to research. Simply posting on Facebook without interacting with other people isn't enough.

But: This isn't a capitulation from Facebook, admitting that it may be doing some harm. Instead, the company is simply telling us that we just need to use its social network in more positive ways.

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The number of people planning to attend law schools next fall has increased by 12%, there have been 14% more law school applications and 23 law schools reported 40% increases in applications, according to data from the Law School Admission Council.

Why it matters: Interest in law school has been declining since before the recession, Wall Street Journal reports. Law school deans and advisors told WSJ that the upturn is at least in part due to the legal issues arising from Trump's administration, better discounts at law schools and a revived economy.

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Tillerson breaks with Trump on North Korea for the second time this week

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged, for the second time this week, that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons and enter into negotiations with the U.S. and others, leaving room for a diplomatic solution.

Why it matters: Tillerson's rhetoric doesn't line up with the official position of the White House. President Trump has made clear that he doesn't think negotiations are a viable option in dealing with Pyongyang, and has instead focused on drawing attention to the strength of the U.S. military.

Tillerson's message to North Korea, made during a speech at a UN Security Council meeting Friday:

  • “We have been clear that all options remain on the table in the defense of our nation, but we do not seek, nor do we want, war with North Korea,” he said. “The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution.”
  • "Our communication channels remain open. North Korea knows they're open. They know where the door is. They know where to walk through that door when they want to talk."
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Go deeper: Trump's gamble on North Korea

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Inside Shervin Pishevar's departure from Sherpa Capital

Shervin Pishevar. Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Shervin Pishevar yesterday resigned from Sherpa Capital, the San Francisco venture capital firm he co-founded in 2013, following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct (all of which he continues to deny).

A source familiar with the situation says that Pishevar's resignation was voluntary (i.e., he wasn't pushed out). But there has been tension inside the firm over the past several weeks, particularly as Sherpa has kept finding itself playing last-minute defense.

For example, Sherpa was unaware of Pishevar's May arrest in London until just last month, when U.S. news outlets (including Axios) were about to publish stories about it. It also was late to learn that Bloomberg was preparing to publish its initial report on allegations against Pishevar.

Not surpringly, the statements issued yesterday by Sherpa and Pishevar had some major differences. Sherpa thanked Pishevar, but added that it is "deeply committed to our culture of integrity, inclusion, and respect." Pishevar, meanwhile, thanked Sherpa, but also references "truculent opponents out to settle scores."

More details:

  • Sherpa was in the midst of pre-marketing its third flagship fund, as it is more than 70% committed on a pair of funds that officially closed in mid-2016 (but which began soliciting commitments in early 2015, per an SEC filing). Fundraising is now on hold, as the firm tries to figure out its strategy going forward.
  • The fact that Sherpa's current funds are mostly called is a big reason why LPs are unlikely to kill the remaining investment period, as they've done with Binary Capital (which had just raised a new fund). Pishevar's co-founder, Scott Stanford, continues to run the show alongsidea 13-person team, and it's possible that Sherpa could hire a senior investment professional to fill Pishevar's spot.
  • We're unclear on exactly how key-man provisions on the existing funds are structured, but it doesn't sound like they'll be triggered. Pishevar is expected to retain vested carry — as he should, since he did the work — but will no longer have a say in investment decisions (including for existing portfolio companies). He also will no longer represent Sherpa on any boards.