Controversial neighborhood watch app Citizen rejected an investment offer from Andreessen Horowitz — and it may have been because the venture capital giant wanted too much control over the company, The Post has learned.
Andreessen Horowitz — a legendary VC firm known for lucrative investments in companies like Airbnb, Lyft, Coinbase and Slack — was in discussions with Citizen during the summer of 2017 to invest in the company’s $12 million Series A funding round, two people close to Citizen told The Post.
But Citizen — which gives more than 7 million users across 30 cities real-time alerts about reported emergencies — turned down Andreessen Horowitz and eventually replaced its spot in the round with an investment from rival venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, the sources said.
Citizen bucked Andreessen Horowitz’s offer in part because it would’ve given the venture capital firm too much say in the company’s operations, according to an ex-employee who worked at Citizen at the time.
“The conversation around the office was they didn’t want to get tied in,” said the former employee. “There were too many strings attached.”
Citizen’s leadership believed that other potential investors including Sequoia would give more flexibility to operate however they saw fit, the ex-employee added.
In an emailed statement to The Post, Citizen Andrew Frame CEO called the ex-employee’s description of the Andreessen Horowitz negotiation “a patently false rumor.”
Andreessen Horowitz, which rarely talks to journalists, did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
Outside oversight at Citizen may have been able to help the company better avoid missteps as it has grown — and help manage Frame, who has made moves this year that have alarmed both ex-Citizen employees and activists.
In one such example, Citizen put out a $30,000 bounty for information leading to the arrest of a man that Frame believed had committed arson in Los Angeles this May.
“FIND THIS F—K,” Frame urged Citizen employees in internal messages obtained by Vice. “first name? What is it?! publish ALL info.”
“BREAKING NEWS. this guy is the devil. get him.” Frame added. ”by midnight!@#! we hate this guy. GET HIM.”
At Frame’s urging, Citizen employees spent hours sending out alerts that included the man’s name and photograph to nearly 850,000 users in Los Angeles.
But later that night, police arrested a different person — and Frame found out that he had put the bounty on the head of an innocent man.
An ex-employee who worked at Citizen in 2019 told The Post that they had been trained to not identify people by skin color or name when sending out alerts through the app in order to avoid racial profiling or ruining the reputations of innocent people.
The former employee said Frame’s decision to share such information about the supposed arsonist was “crazy” — and added the company’s ethical standards have “definitely dropped” in recent years.
In a statement to The Post, a Citizen spokesperson argued that the app has “helped countless people escape burning buildings, rescue missing children, and evacuate disaster areas.”
“During this incident in May, there was an active arsonist on the loose and multiple fires were being ignited all over Los Angeles,” the spokesperson said. “In the case of fires, seconds save lives, so we decided to share what information was available to hundreds of thousands of local Citizen users. Unfortunately, everybody had the facts wrong at that moment, and it’s something we’ve learned from and worked on to update our policies on how we verify information.”
Citizen also has taken flak from some activists for driving a Citizen-branded private security vehicle around Los Angeles as part a plan for a “privatized secondary emergency response network,” according to Vice.
The former employee who had worked at Citizen in 2019 said they found the company’s moves toward a “privatized security situation” to be a disturbing deviation from what they saw as the company’s original mission of providing public safety information.