8Fit Founder Loses Board Seat After Sexual Harassment, Financial Misconduct Claims

(Bloomberg) -- Having given up his CEO role last month, the co-founder of German fitness startup 8fit has left the board after an internal investigation uncovered allegations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct, people familiar with the matter said.

Pablo Villalba, who was replaced as chief executive officer in September, has been ejected from the board, the company said in a statement in response to queries. Villalba was asked to resign as CEO because of performance issues, according to people who attended a company meeting this week where his departure was discussed, and asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to discuss it publicly.

At the meeting, the board members said the company has zero tolerance for misconduct and is looking to improve company culture, the people said.

“We can confirm that Pablo Villalba is no longer on the 8fit board of directors,” the board said in an emailed statement. “We have full confidence in the newly appointed CEO, Aina Abiodun, who is working closely with the board to navigate 8fit’s next phase of growth.”

8fit has created a mobile-phone app with more than 20 million registered users that offers workouts and meal planning for fitness and weight loss. The app also connects to the Apple Watch in order to track workouts.

Villalba co-founded the Berlin-based company in 2014 with Pedro Sola, a colleague from a previous position at tech firm Redbooth, after undergoing his own “personal-health transformation,” according to the company’s website.

As of a year ago, the company had raised $10 million from backers including European venture-capital firm Creandum and Eight Roads Ventures, an investment arm of Fidelity International Ltd., according to a statement at the time.

“I left the company after disagreements with the board, and am bound by confidentiality agreements,” Villalba said in response to a request for comment.

New Hires

8fit named Abiodun CEO in September. Before joining 8fit in April, she was a director of strategy and innovation at marketing agency Matter Unlimited, the company said in a statement last month. The company also named Lene-Louise Steenfat, a former human resources executive at Shopify Inc. and Scada International A/S, as vice president. She’s in charge of refining the company’s internal culture, 8fit said.

The investigation into Villalba’s conduct was started as a protective measure after his departure from the CEO role, and the board hired an independent law firm to assist it, the people said.

The company called an all-hands meeting this week led by board members Staffan Helgesson, a general partner at investor Creandum, and Michael Treskow, a partner at Eight Roads, people familiar with the event said. The results of the probe were discussed, and the board members fielded questions about sexual misconduct allegations against Villalba, though details weren’t discussed, they said.

Me Too

Europe’s startup industry is beginning to grapple with the effects of the #MeToo movement, as sexual misconduct allegations and convictions start to catch up with powerful founders and investors.

Last year, a Bloomberg report revealed that London-based dating app maker Badoo Trading Ltd. was throwing weekly parties where half-naked women were dressed as mermaids and sushi was served off of models. A series of employees complained to human resources and quit because they disliked the company’s sexualized office culture, according to six current and former employees interviewed at the time.

Badoo said at the time it hadn’t received any serious or “official” complaints about its work environment or the parties. Andrey Andreev, the company’s CEO, said the parties were meant to reward staffers, and that the entertainment and themes were selected by both male and female employees.

In April, Stefan Glaenzer, a partner and co-founder at London-based Passion Capital, stepped down after a Bloomberg report highlighted a conviction from 2012 where he was arrested for rubbing his groin against a woman in London’s subway system. The story questioned whether a British taxpayer-funded investor would continue putting money into the firm.

The British Business Bank declined to say whether it would contribute to Passion’s new fund at the time, but said in a statement that it “does not take the matter of sexual assault lightly, and the issue in question was considered extremely carefully.” Glaenzer and his firm declined to comment for that story at the time.

He told TechCrunch in an interview after his resignation, “You have to accept that you made a mistake, and you have to take the consequences.” He also told the tech news site that it was a private mistake that he’d apologized for and that everybody legally involved in Passion’s first fund voted that he should remain partner.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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