To keep his culture of “awesome” — a favorite adjective — he hired scores of millennials for sometimes below-market paychecks, once doling out VR headsets instead of bonuses, and relied on his instincts, aided by his team’s diligence, to get equity in companies with auspicious projections. The firm’s 100-company investment portfolio includes stakes in promising companies Robinhood, Space X, and Revel Systems.But by this summer, Rothenberg Ventures’ culture of awesome evaporated as it apparently ran out of operating money and came under federal scrutiny.
Many investors say they did not know — nor was it disclosed in annual reports — that he was founding and funding his own business with their dollars, despite the fact that the investment was roughly 50 times the size of the seed investments the firm normally makes.
Rothenberg insists that his accounting is in order, and he has hired an outside auditing firm to help him back up this claim.
The future of the firm — and the $50 million it has under management — is now up in the air as his investors wonder if he has lost control of his business. In late August, her replacement filed a lawsuit alleging that Rothenberg had asked him to charge business expenses on his personal Am Ex — and then refused to reimburse him for charges totaling $109,000.
The SEC is investigating the firm, triggering an exodus of employees.
In mid-August, Rothenberg put every remaining employee except his lawyer on unpaid leave.
On September 12 the firm dropped Rothenberg’s name from its title, replacing it with Frontier Tech Venture Capital.
A sandy-haired smiler with a firm handshake, he’d rocketed to prominence on a pedigree that touched all the bases in tech.
He paired an Ivy League-endorsed intelligence with a star-studded network of college friends, many of whom had already started companies worth millions.
And the very gifts that enabled Rothenberg to start his fund and carve out a name for himself in the crowded valley venture scene — his youth, his Stanford and Harvard degrees, and his dense social network and splashy events — may have set the course for his fiasco.