Dennis Crowley's Marathon Shame
I’m not yet sure whether Foursquare chief executive Dennis Crowley has set a new standard for arrogance or for stupidity— or perhaps it’s both. What I do know is that if I were one of the brand-name venture capital firms backing his New York-based social media company, I would be second-guessing the soundness of my investment right now. After pictures surfaced online, Crowley has admitted that he helped his wife Chelsa run the Boston Marathon with him this past week with a fake bib. As a lifelong resident of Boston, who has run the Marathon before and was in the stands at the finish line last year, I find the actions of Crowley and his wife deplorable.
According to Crowley, he ran the Marathon with his wife last year but got separated toward the end of the race, and they were unable to finish together. He stated that they felt they “needed to run again and finish together to get closure.” Crowley had received a number for this year’s race, but he couldn’t get one for his wife. Undeterred, they just created a fake bib with a number that ensured that Chelsea would be in the same corral as her husband. An emissary of Boston Strong indeed.
Let’s pause for a second and put this in perspective. The CEO of a company with more than 45 million members worldwide, $162 million in venture funding, and on the path to an IPO that will likely make the 37-year-old entrepreneur a billionaire, decides that his story from last year’s tragic Marathon is special and entitles him to circumvent the processes that are in place to ensure fairness and safety for everyone participating in this event. Again, not sure if this is arrogance, stupidity, or a good measure of both.
In case you were wondering, Crowley and his wife were not among the hundreds physically injured or maimed in the Marathon bombings. However, even to raise that point would somehow suggest that being a victim of last year’s bombings would justify cheating in order to participate in this year’s race. Such logic is insulting to all of last year’s victims and the absolute antitheses of what Boston Strong is about.
Kathy Brown is the runner whose bib number was duplicated by Crowley and his wife. She is one of the thousands of Marathon participants who earn bib numbers each year by raising money for charities. Brown’s uncle passed away from multiple sclerosis, and she attained her bib number by raising funds to help others fight the horrible disease. Her kind of selflessness, however, is lost on Crowley and his wife. As he explained in his statement this week, “I don’t expect everyone to understand our strong need to run and finish together. . . . We did what we could to make sure we could run together in the hopes of finishing together.” No, we understand perfectly. You cheated together.
So what’s next for Crowley? That’s is the question now confronting Foursquare’s investors, which includes such heavy-hitters as Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, and Union Square Ventures. Crowley could certainly step down as CEO, but don’t count on it. Arrogance and stubbornness are often soulmates.
In a private venture such as Foursquare the governance structure is not what you would find in a public company. The ease with which Crowley can be removed from his position depends largely on the terms he negotiated with the venture capital firms when they invested in his idea. Those terms are memorialized in the company’s bylaws. Of course, even discussing such a process assumes that those venture capital firms would want his removal. However, with a growing chorus of disgust regarding Cowley’s actions, it is certainly something they must be considering. At the very least his actions have given them cause for concern regarding his overall judgment.
The implications of what happens to Crowley extend far beyond Boston Strong. However, the spirit behind those two words, involving such essential virtues as resilience, honor, respect, and courage, should guide the actions of Cowley and Foursquare’s investors in the days ahead.