CEO out at Salsa Labs

Salsa Labs co-founder and CEO Chris Lundberg has been terminated by the software company's board of directors, according to an email Salsa co-founder April Pedersen sent to staff earlier this week.

While Lundberg and Pedersen remain the majority owners of Salsa, neither one currently has any formal leadership role in the company.      Pedersen penned an email memo to her staff on Wednesday with the subject line "a sad ending to an amazing journey." In the email, Pedersen offers a lengthy explanation of Lundberg's termination as CEO and laments the decision the company made in 2011 to accept venture capital money.      Last year, Salsa received a $5 million injection of venture capital dollars from Edison Ventures -- a decision Pedersen now says she and Lundberg "deeply regret." In the email, Pedersen also expresses concern that Salsa is shifting away from its original mission to serve only Democratic clients. "You've probably already noticed some signs of the changing times with the sudden disappearance of the terrible "P" word (Progressive) from our website, etc, etc," Pedersen writes. From Pedersen's email:"When we took venture capital last year, we outlined a grand vision -- one that we continue to believe strongly in: that Salsa is capable of perpetuating the notion of Organizing very broadly -- beyond the sectors that we currently operate in and especially internationally. We can continue to lower the barriers to entry, continue to build a profitable business and be a force for good. The infusion of cash was supposed to help us realize our vision faster than we could before. Unfortunately, as it turns out, taking those funds which we did not need was the $5M nail in our coffin. We deeply regret this decision and our naivete in making it. While Chris and I are still majority owners of Salsa, we've been effectively hamstrung. With no leadership (and no formal role offered to me), there's little we can do. The questions we are left pondering are: How long before Salsa takes on its first right-wing candidate or group? How long before the litmus test we've used to evaluate potential clients disappears? Will Libre, our vision and goal to make Salsa free, see the light of day? What happens when Salsa loses its soul and all the technical and institutional knowledge that has come with 9 years of pouring ourselves into the success of this business?" As for what happens next, others have already begun to express concern as to whether Salsa will retain its partisan status. Check out Colin Delany's take

Lundberg declined to comment on the decision when reached. We've also reached out to Pedersen and Edison Ventures. We'll update if we hear back. And Pedersen's full email is posted below:

Update One: FitzGibbon Media has terminated its contract with Salsa Labs in light of the company's decision to alter its senior leadership. The firm was doing public relations work for Salsa. In an interview with C&E, Trevor Fitzgibbon called the staff shake-up at Salsa "shocking" and says his firm is no longer comfortable working with the company. 

"I wish Salsa the best and there are no hard feelings on our part. I just don't feel comfortable," Fitzgibbon says. "We're in the business of promoting progressive clients and organizations. That's who we want to work with."

Update Two: In an email to C&E, Pedersen offered the following on the future of the company: "Chris and I built a company founded on progressive principals that now supports 2500 organizations and campaigns with 40K campaign managers who depend on Salsa day in and day out to do support their missions and galvanize over 70M people. It is my sincere desire that our vision in building a strong, progressive network to make change is carried out by the new leadership." 

From: April Pedersen Date: October 17, 2012, 5:15:18 PM EDT To: staff@salsalabs.com Subject: a sad ending to an amazing journey

Dear Salsa Staff, By now you have heard the news. Chris Lundberg's role as CEO was terminated by the Board of Directors that includes Scott Stouffer, Sever Totia, and Nathan Richardson. Scott was appointed to the Board by Sever (representing Edison Ventures) and Nathan (who has attended 2 in-person Board meetings and has been outgoing since founding his own company 6 months ago) was a mutually agreed upon member.

While we are unsure of the message you've received, we wanted to make sure that you know the whole truth. Some of you have been with me and Chris going on 7 years. You know that we have built this company based on very strong principals and have run it for all these years while maintaining those principals. We have always had your back. Our goal as always been to ensure that Salsa (and DIA before it) grew to be a sustainable company that provided its employees with great, meaningful jobs where people were treated fairly, we helped organizations whose missions we believed in, and had a lot of fun while doing it.

Since 2003 when it was just the two of us who decided to forgo salaries to build DIA because of our belief in using technology to change the world, we have done just that. We've employed about 100 people along the way and are extremely proud of what we've built alongside our talented and dedicated staff. What that is is a strong business that grew over 30% year over year every year that we led it that supports thousands of organizations dedicated to making the world a better place. You've saw the numbers at our community conference. It's an impressive force. In fact, we just closed out our best quarter ever!

Chris was terminated from his leadership role in the company that he built for reasons stated as "management style" and because he likes to code prior to releases. He expected too much from certain members of the senior management team and failed to prioritize the hiring of the VP of Engineering. Although these were the stated reasons, it's my strong opinion that this was a carefully orchestrated maneuver by a few who would prefer to see Salsa look more like ConBaud and less like the company we built from the ground up. You've probably already noticed some signs of the changing times with the sudden disappearance of the terrible "P" word (Progressive) from our website, etc, etc.

When we took venture capital last year, we outlined a grand vision -- one that we continue to believe strongly in: that Salsa is capable of perpetuating the notion of Organizing very broadly -- beyond the sectors that we currently operate in and especially internationally. We can continue to lower the barriers to entry, continue to build a profitable business and be a force for good. The infusion of cash was supposed to help us realize our vision faster than we could before. Unfortunately, as it turns out, taking those funds which we did not need was the $5M nail in our coffin. We deeply regret this decision and our naivete in making it.

While Chris and I are still majority owners of Salsa, we've been effectively hamstrung. With no leadership (and no formal role offered to me), there's little we can do. The questions we are left pondering are: How long before Salsa takes on its first right-wing candidate or group? How long before the litmus test we've used to evaluate potential clients disappears? Will Libre, our vision and goal to make Salsa free, see the light of day? What happens when Salsa loses its soul and all the technical and institutional knowledge that has come with 9 years of pouring ourselves into the success of this business?

The Board of Directors said that candidates for Chris' role were interviewed and Edison-appointed Scott Stouffer was the best person for the job as a more "seasoned" executive with the right skills to match the job. We respect Scott for his experience building a company, Visual Networks, that he started in the 90s and selling it to make Edison a great return on their investment. He also worked with Bob Blair back in the day (small world!). The Board on which I sat until now did not afford me the opportunity to discuss my own qualifications for the position or an opportunity to vet other candidates, citing a conflict of interest.

Today, your CEO is sitting on the sidelines of a company that he built working 12-hour days, countless nights and weekends for over 9 years with a passion and dedicated unmatched by anyone, for innocuous reasons cited by a Board in place for about 1 year and with no warning or discussion.

That is the truth and you deserve to know it.

As for me, I've been writing a book on organizing and looking forward to reviving our nonprofit, DemocracyInAction, with a renewed mission and focus. Chris is contemplating his next move, which will undoubtedly lead to extraordinary things. Just look at Salsa today under his leadership.With a heavy heart, I wish you all the very best.

April


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4e04d3774bfd8609cef4d7478a676ac6?d=mm
Glen Hellman


Investors don't invest in intentional non-profits. Business has no place in promoting a political agenda. Investors invest for profit. So if founders are surprised that their investors want to turn the founders hobby into a business they probably didn't deserve to be running a " for-profit" business in the first place.


4e04d3774bfd8609cef4d7478a676ac6?d=mm
Leanne Pittsford


Really sad news, especially as a founder of a communications company that works with progressive clients who use Salsa. I was in the process of recommending it to more of my clients and will have to reconsider. I wonder about the quality of their product with their new leadership and more importantly their mission. It's sad watching companies who are built on progressive values leave their mission behind for more profit. You win the hearts and therefore pockets of people who want to use their dollar for progressive change, only to dismiss it once you don't need it as your differentiator any longer.


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