Justin Zhu is the co-founder of Iterable, a marketing automation platform company, who was ousted as CEO amongst some controversy in 2021. Zhu has announced he is suing Iterable and some of the board members on the basis the decision to push him out as CEO of Iterable was based more on his race than it was about his micro-dosing at work.
In only eight years, Zhu had led the company to great success and it grew in funding and visibility. The company was valued at $2 billion in 2021. However, as alleged in a recent lawsuit, Zhu encountered discrimination based on his Asian background which he says contributed to his being replaced.
The termination came as a shock to many in the tech industry and sparked a discussion about Asian representation in senior roles in the tech industry.
“Asian Americans aren’t just workers, we’re also leaders,” said Zhu, who co-founded the national advocacy group Stand with Asian Americans, which tackles workplace justice issues for Asian Americans.
Zhu claims that after he brought the company to increased levels of success and a bigger public profile, he was repeatedly told for almost two years that he did not look enough like a CEO, while being told that his Caucasian COO did. He received feedback that fell along the lines of common stereotypes about Asian Americans: He was “not passionate enough,” “not forceful enough,” “conflict averse” and needed “more presence.” In a press release Zhu has stated that a leading investor went as far as suggesting that Zhu instead be the company’s chief technology officer, a leadership role that is responsible for the company’s product but is not the face of the company.
At the time of the dismissal the startup stated it had dismissed its chief executive officer over violations of company policy.
Micro-dosing is said to be widespread in Silicon Valley, with some claiming that small doses of psychedelics (like magic mushrooms or LSD) can improve lateral and creative thinking. Indeed, Steve Jobs and Francis Crick both credited LSD for broadening their minds.
The court will now have to determine whether Zhu’s drug use or his ethnicity were the reasons behind his dismissal from Iterable.