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Go Ahead, Pitch Your Worst Startup Idea In This Satirical VC Board Game

Just don’t be “outed” as a woman.

Coconut water plus bitcoin: The best new startup idea ever?

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Well, perhaps if you’re playing the Maybe Capital Board Game, where players act like venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, pitching each other on absurd company ideas and networking with influencers. The better your pitch, the more money your fellow players/VCs will give you, from $0 (“please get out of my office”) to $10 million (“fucking savage”).

As you move around the board, networking with executives at Twitter, smoking weed with celebrities in Marin County, and going to Burning Man, you try to slowly move each of your companies through all the investment stages to an IPO. The game is a biting satire of Silicon Valley’s cultural idiosyncrasies, from the absurd to the discriminatory.

Some of the best one-liners from the game are on the “networking cards,” which players pick up every turn:

  • Apple names its new operating system after the nickname you have for your penis (+ 2 million)
  • You open a restaurant based on tasting sauces at $25 each (+ 2 million)
  • Yves Behar confuses your app with “Yo” but still joins your team. (Move up one investment level.)
  • Congratulations! You have just joined the pretentious elite. You can no longer see poor people. (+ 4 millions)
  • You write a successful Medium post on millennials and social media, and they all join your side. (+ 3 millions)

Maybe Capital is the brainchild of Andrea Koval, who helped start a social media visualization startup, Buzz Radar, and has worked at a series of tech companies in San Francisco over the last six years. The game is based on the experiences of Koval and her friends in Silicon Valley as they’ve navigated the tech scene and worked with venture capitalists. Humor became their strongest defense against the community’s brotastic culture, and Koval and her friends would sit at happy hour making fun of ridiculous companies and the people who run them. These developed into impromptu faux pitch sessions and eventually into Maybe Capital, a fake VC firm.

Maybe Capital has a logo and a website and a fake founder/CEO/principal investor named Rick Powers. He’s got profile pages on AngelList and Crunchbase, with 600 connections on LinkedIn. Koval says she gets emails all the time with company pitches. She and Maybe Capital “partner” Anya Kandel sometimes pretend to be employees of the fake firm during parties, and the two will be emceeing a VR gaming conference this coming weekend as representatives from the company.

Koval has some real VCs supporting the game, including former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. VCs interested in having a sense of humor about themselves can dish out $499 on the game’s Kickstarter page and get their very own VC Superhero Card. (Already included in the game are Jack Dorsey, Chris Sacca, and Elon Musk.)

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But Maybe Capital isn’t just a humorous outlet for Koval and her friends to poke fun at the absurd kinds of companies that get funded. The game is deeply influenced by Koval’s experiences with sexual harassment and discrimination, which she has experienced firsthand while working in San Francisco’s tech scene. She says she’s been on teams where misogynistic jokes and inappropriate hugs were commonplace. When she was pitching to VCs, Koval says she was routinely mistaken for the secretary because she was wearing a dress, consistently interrupted, and sometimes even hit on after the meeting was over. “I was gathering research from all my jobs for Maybe Capital,” Koval says.

The game is peppered with references to this kind of daily sexism. One card gives the player access to “white man privilege,” which functions like a get-out-of-jail-free card, and another to “mansplaining,” which gives the card holder the incredible ability to explain complex information in their pitches. Another says, “You’ve been outed as a female. For every pitch round, your investment points are automatically worth $2 millions less.” The game, which is currently on Kickstarter, is priced at 30% less for women due to the wage gap, and comes with a tiny hammer to shatter your glass ceiling.

“The more guys that move out here and the younger they are and the younger they learn the misogynistic culture, the more they think it’s normal,” Koval says. “When they grow up and start companies, it becomes a rule.”

After Uber “whistleblower” Susan Fowler described her experiences with discrimination at the tech company in detail, other leaders in tech were quick to condemn the company. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has opened an investigation into the claims and called them “abhorrent.” Will the increased conversation around sexual discrimination in Silicon Valley change things? It’s hard to say, given the young boys club that stretches the length of the 101 freeway. But Koval’s humorous approach to handling the discrimination she’s faced has been therapeutic for her, and publishers have already shown interest in purchasing rights to the game.

“To be honest I have regretted not making more noise about this stuff,” Koval says. “This game is my revenge.”

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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