The relationship between the NYTimes CEO and Sequoia Capital
Apr 13, 2022 | Important PSAs
This originally was posted on Twitter @theryanking
So just to be clear: two reporters at the NYTimes are writing about me.
This is not my response to those pieces.
Accountability, transparency, and the role the media plays is critical,
and I expect to be fully accountable as a leader of an important company.
This post is purely to provide context into what I’ve found while trying to understand why they are doing this.
~ Context ~
– I made a post calling out payments company Stripe on 1/24/22
– The NYTimes began calling friends and colleagues of mine 3 days after
– Sequoia Capital is Stripe’s largest outside shareholder.
– Stripe is Sequoia Capital’s largest current position.
– Bolt is one of Stripe’s largest competitors.
– Silicon Valley veterans advised me that Sequoia Capital is known for protecting its portfolio.
– Sequoia Capital has both financial and reputational reasons for wanting me damaged in the press.
– Sequoia Capital prides themselves on their power and an invisible hand (google search “sequoia capital invisible hand”).
– The calls to my colleagues and friends from the Times continue non-stop to this day.
– So in parallel, I did my own research.
~ The NYTimes ~
To start, I’m a big fan of the NYTimes.
There is arguably no institution on the planet more respected, credible, and important than the Times.
They have exceptionally high journalistic standards.
Their review and editorial board is notorious for ensuring only factual and credible information makes it into publishing, and that the highest journalistic standards are adhered to.
They are as rigorous as they come.
But, I wondered why they’d target me.
My question: Can a relationship with the Times CEO sway their takes, or even simply the subjects they choose to cover?
Here are my findings:
~ discovery #1 ~
October 2021: NYTimes CEO & President joins the Instacart Board
A Board position is a paid position.
ie there is compensation attached to it.
The NYTimes CEO is receiving compensation from Instacart.
Sequoia Capital is the largest outside shareholder in Instacart.
They are likely calling the shots.
The appointment happened just three months after Instacart’s CEO swap.
This CEO changeover was a controversial event.
To the public, it appeared like the CEO resigned.
But there is discussion about it being a CEO ousting.
Furthermore, it typically takes a long time to convince someone to join a board.
This happening just a few months after the CEO swap is interesting timing.
How did this come about?
And why did it happen so soon after?
Someone must have had a pre-existing relationship.
Meanwhile, the Times is writing important pieces on tech companies.
These pieces can materially help or hurt the companies they write about, depending on the perspective of the piece.
I then ran some analysis docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d…
and excluded 3 major lightning rod companies (WeWork, Uber, and Robinhood).
There were 89 private company pieces in the Times over the last 3 years.
23 are Sequoia Capital portfolio companies (25.84%).
> Doordash, 4 times
> Stripe, 3 times
> Clover Health
The NYTimes has an exceptionally high bar for newsworthy events.
While certainly important milestones for those companies,
many of the pieces are not particularly eventful, i.e. normal funding announcements.
~ discovery #3 ~
Outside of Airbnb and Robinhood (discussed below), the press is almost exclusively positive.
Overall, 46.58% of NYTimes tech press pieces are negative while 53.42% are positive.
Getting exclusively positive press is very unlikely.
But not for Sequoia Capital.
They have 15 private company pieces on the NYTimes if you exclude the lightning rods and Airbnb (discussed below).
100% of these are positive pieces.
Take a look at some of the headlines:
~ discovery #4 ~
Airbnb is the exception with mixed pieces.
However, Sequoia Capital has an interesting relationship with Airbnb.
It became rocky as they grew.
Sequoia Capital prefers to be dominant on the cap table, while Airbnb wanted to diversify its investor base.
Sequoia Capital saw other investors coming into Airbnb as “boxing them out”.
~ discovery #5 ~
In 2019 the Oyo founder bought back $1.5b in shares from Sequoia Capital and other investors.
This increased the founder’s stake from 10% to 30%, and Sequoia Capital liquidated a large portion of their holdings.
In 2020 Oyo got two very negative articles in the NYTimes.
It doesn’t make much sense why the NYT would choose to double down on this Indian startup out of the infinite other stories they could be writing.
~ discovery #6 ~
Instacart had a story in the NYTimes in March of this year.
Even though it’s regarding a 38% cut in valuation, the story is short, positive, and optimistic.
The valuation cut was a Board-driven decision decided on while the NYTimes CEO was on the Board.
It comes across as a well thought-out decision that’s part of a “broader trend”.
This is a very positive way to frame a valuation setback.
~ closing ~
I fundamentally believe that the more light we shine, the more the world progresses.
This post serves purely to shine light into arrangements between the NYTimes CEO and Sequoia Capital.
And to share the data behind it.
I still believe deeply in the NYTimes as an institution.
And am an unrelenting fan.
But all it takes is one person with relationships to produce a bias.
I trust that they will take this information, vet it thoroughly, and do the right thing with their findings.
~ discovery #7 ~
Today, the NYTimes runs a major takedown piece of GoPuff.
ZERO mention that the NYTimes CEO sits on the Board of their largest competitor, Instacart.
They even promote Instacart in the headline.
~ discovery #8 ~
Yesterday, the NYTimes wrote a takedown article on Substack, a platform that empowers independent journalists. Certainly no bias there!
Substack’s VP of Comms Lulu Cheng had an amazing and fearless response: twitter.com/lulumeservey/s…
~ discovery #9 ~
October 27, 2021 NYTimes CEO joins the Board of Instacart, a paid position.
Soon before and then soon after, three takedown articles on competitive food delivery apps.
No disclosures made about the conflict.