Written by Stephen Hays in an original post on Medium, November 28, 2020:
I’m just going to be really honest with you here. Getting sober, and overcoming a mental illness has been hard. But, what’s harder, is when some MBA student from Duke harasses you, stalks, you, threatens you and disparages you on a regular basis to your business associates and you can’t do anything about it.
I’m not saying I’m perfect, and in the past, I’ve engaged in some of the same behavior. I can promise you there are people I’ve come across in the past who would love to tell you how I’ve been aggressive toward them or made mistakes very similar to the ones I’m outlining below. I know this behavior all too well. It is how I used to live when I was sick, living in addiction with untreated bipolar disorder.
As many of you know, I suffered for years with addiction, and untreated bipolar disorder. During those years I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. From excessive gambling (to the point of bankruptcy), and getting kicked out of places. I’ve been accused of far worse. I have admitted to the things I’m responsible for, and denied the lies. Many of the accusations are false, or grossly taken out of context. But I’m not here to litigate things that happened years ago.
I will say emphatically that I never harmed my wife, (which has been proven and she has testified to under oath and we are happily married).
But that’s not the point here. Those things happened in 2017 and 2018 (not super recent, but not super long ago either). Since then I’ve been sober for over 2 years, I’ve received help and treatment for bipolar disorder and I’ve dedicated my life to building a business that can help entrepreneurs bring solutions to life that can help people like me.
I have attracted a handful of trolls who claim to be members of the mental health startup community. These individuals claim that I’m a monster and should never be allowed to do anything positive with my life.
In the spring of 2020, just as COVID was beginning its ravaging toll on America, another path of destruction was beginning. Shivan (Shiv) Bhavnani, an MBA student at Duke University, joined our Mental Health Startup Slack channel.
Shiv is the author of a mental health newsletter that aggregates and shares news stories in the mental health space. Shiv was attempting to build a database of startup funding rounds in the mental health space and reached out to me for help since he knew I had been building a similar database and he knew he only had about half the information he needed (see screen shots below).
At first, his requests were friendly and benign, so I helped him. Eventually, he started getting restless and rude with me as well as other members of the community, so I had to kick him out of the slack. He asked me to let him back in, and I felt bad because he’s a student, so I did. Then his harassing behavior continued. So I kicked him out again.
Here is what those early requests looked like at first:
In this message he states that his database had about 40–50 deals listed in it. Then, just weeks later he published a newsletter stating 80 deals (see image below). This was just after I had published some content in my slack channel and via other mediums such as my podcast.
What really made me scratch my head was that his total number of dollars invested in the space was barely off from mine, and it was off by simply double counting a transaction in 1H that occurred in Q1 (which I had previously written about) but the press mentioned the deal in Q2, so double counting it by taking my Q1 number and adding this press to it makes a bit of sense.
Here is another instance where Shiv took information from me that I mentioned to him in confidence, and published it (albeit, wrong information). This was the first instance I noticed of Shiv publishing funding round valuation data from private transactions in his newsletter.
Here is another screen shot where he admits publishing valuation on a private funding round incorrectly. I can’t think of any founder out there that wants their valuation information published in a student’s newsletter:
Just after all of this, Shiv was fired by Stanford from his upcoming summer internship. I heard an opinion from a friend close to that program that it was over ethical concerns, but I can’t say for sure. I’m not surprised though.
At this point, Shiv started an all-out offensive against me. Here is a post he put on LinkedIn shortly after I removed him from the slack channel:
I became aware of this post because someone else in the community DM’d it to me in the slack channel:
Shiv then went on to post a blog about me, and write about me in his newsletter while commenting incessantly about me in other blog posts. At this point, I just ignored the kid.
Shiv has sent countless emails and messages to my investors, founders, and people I’ve worked with pushing them to not work with me. I tried to ignore him, but then he threatened a lawsuit against me (when I’m not even the aggressor). I was forced to hire an attorney and send a cease and desist letter.
On June 5th, I asked him to stop harassing me, and mentioned I would need to report him to the police for harassment if he didn’t stop. Just a few hours after that email, this email (see below) showed up in the inbox of a portfolio company of mine. The email was sent “anonymously.” This is a technique Shiv has used consistently (always with the same typos, conflated facts, and misleading half truths / lies).
Then just a few weeks later, after Shiv’s lawyer failed to threaten me into retracting my comments about Shiv’s behavior (why would I retract provable truth?), Shiv moved away from using his lawyer, and moved back to threatening my investors. Just days after we told Shiv’s lawyer we were done engaging and that if he believed I’d done anything wrong he needs to sue me, Shiv started reaching out to my investors. It was clear that Shiv realized he had no legal recourse against me, so he pursued disparaging me.
I was informed by an investor that Shiv tracked down the investor’s cell phone and went on a text tirade at the investor about me. That doesn’t seem like the action of someone who is seeking peace or a victim. It seems to me like the action of an aggressor who needs help curbing his incessant need to attack others.
Here is a text from one of my investors, asking me why this kid from the Duke MBA school was pinging him about me (the entire thread is quite salacious and includes Shiv asking if they could speak, not text, because he didn’t want to get caught). You can tell how intimidated my investor was by his comment about not wanting the sender to know he passed this along:
I’ve asked him to stop. I’ve asked the University of Duke to help make it stop. Duke simply provoked Bhavnani by letting him know about my complaint and firing him up to continue poking at my investors (even though he violated numerous clauses in the Duke MBA Honor Code). I’ve tried to reason with these trolls and answer their claims on twitter in an effort of transparency. At this point, all I can do is speak the truth and move on.
These are just a few examples of the incessant trolling I’ve been subjected to. This went on all summer during the summer of 2020. I kept getting messages from people saying they were getting these emails and texts with conflated messages about my past trying to convince my investors that they shouldn’t do business with me.
I just don’t understand why this person can’t just focus on themselves.
I just want this to stop. I just want the harassment to stop. I just want the interference with my business to stop. I just want to be able to focus on my own recovery, help others in the same and direct some capital to mental health solutions which is my mission.
Shiv, you have already cost me more than $50,000 in legal expenses defending against the anonymous troll lies you’ve spread about me. Isn’t that enough?
Shiv, I know you’re reading this. Can you please just stop? Please, I beg you, put this energy into something more productive. Please get help if you need it. Please leave me and my family and my business partners alone.
On Thanksgiving Day 2020 I wasn’t sure how to handle all of this so I wanted to take the pulse of the community. I posted most of the message you see here, in the Mental Health Startup Community Slack where I shared what had transpired, and asked for feedback about myself, about the community, and about how the community feels about my involvement in the space. I wanted to know if the community, felt the same way Shiv does about me.
I offered to hand the slack channel over to someone else, or take it down if people wanted me to do so. I also offered to just be less visible and do my work in silence or private. I was shocked and overwhelmed by the positive responses and the encouragement I needed to stand up to the bullies and trolls who make stigma worse. So, I wanted to tell my story here in hopes that it helps to advance our cause of reducing stigma and delivering care to everyone.
I was hoping Shiv would just stop behaving this way, but he hasn't. In fact, he's not only continued, but now he is lashing out against others as well. It's really unfortunate and I hope someone is able to help him at some point.
During the first two weeks of December 2020, we received numerous messages from well respected clinicians, professors, and others who have told us their stories of dealing with Shiv's cheating, and abusive behavior.
One such person was a Teacher's Assistant (TA) in one of Shiv's undergraduate classes at Wesleyan University. This TA told us that Shiv was caught cheating in college and reported by another student.
Shiv retaliated against this student by trying to sabotage the student's summer internship at Deloitte. This sounds very familiar....
This is just one example of the numerous people who have come forward including one well known public figure in the mental health space who was harassed by Shiv as well.
It would be best for everyone if this behavior could just stop. But it hasn't. Again, we reemphasize, our goal here is to get the behavior to stop. We have no interest in arguing or fighting with Shiv. We just want him to get help and stop harassing others.
Shiv's former teacher at Wesleyan on 12/11/20
Check back here frequently for updates on Shiv's latest trolling efforts.