Like a golfball winding its way through the torso of a snake, the epic struggle of Caliber Management vs. Dick Hardt has created a spectacle for observers of the Vancouver tech startup scene for nearly two years. Yesterday the Supreme Court of British Columbia ended the fight and passed its summary of judgement. And it makes for some great reading.
The story pits the co-founder of PEER 1 and the Sutton Group (Lance Tracey) against the celebrated entrepreneur and Web 2.0 wunderkind, while dragging the founder of a startup incubator (Danny Robinson of Bootup Labs and Strutta), a serial entrepreneur and investor (Ron Stevens of Mingleverse), and a successful financier (Vern Paulus, a Special Limited Partner at Yaletown Venture Partners) into the fracas. All of this, it appears, over $360,000.
While not exactly the stuff of Tom Wolfe it is the personalities involved, rather than the petty details of their claims against one another, that sell the story.
Tech entrepreneur Dick Hardt needs little introduction to the Vancouver tech community and to much of the Web 2.0 crowd. His 2005 presentation on Identity 2.0 framed the conversation for the establishment of new standards and open initiatives for single-sign-on technology. His exploits with a certain exotic Porsche and bizarrely public nude wedding photos lend intrigue.
In short, after toiling in obscurity as a controversial figure in the Vancouver tech scene in the 1990s Hardt's company, ActiveState, was acquired by Sophos in 2003 - allowing him to take the controversy global. Hardt poured much of this money into his next venture, Sxip Networks, which struggled to find a point of leverage in the industry but had evolved some interesting technology along the way.
The saga begins in the summer of 2007 with Hardt seeking Angel investors to provide financing to carry Sxip Identity until an anticipated acquisition could be completed. The first investor/plaintiff to enter the mix is Danny Robinson who is is promised two times his money and a reciprocal investment being made in his startup Strutta.
The story ends with the Honourable Madam Justice Kloegman granting all the plaintiffs the full amount of their loan plus interest at the contractual rate of 12 percent less their recovery from the Trustee in Bankruptcy of Sxip Identity.
That is, except for Vern Paulus who Justice Kloegman acknowledges as a "refreshingly honest witness" who admitted that he was not aware of any of the details of the investment. And proving that nice guys do indeed finish last.