Advertisements at the 4th and King Caltrain Station for a tech investment firm comparing startups to prisons have prompted a social media backlash. (Courtesy Eric Kingsbury)

Tech investment firm ads comparing startups to prisons prompt social media backlash

Are startups just like prisons?

Advertisements at the Fourth and King Street Caltrain Station claiming that yes, they are, earned tech investment firm Equidate a public scorching on social media over the Thanksgiving weekend.

“Start ups and prisons are similar. Free food. Free showers. Free gym. Uncertain exit date,” the ads hanging from the Caltrain station ceiling read.

The ads were first highlighted on Twitter by San Franciscan Eric Kingsbury, who has previously penned critiques of tech culture.

Following Kingsbury’s tweet, rebuke on social media for the ad was sharp and swift.

Twitter user @alevin wrote it is “offensive, written by someone who was at no risk for going to jail for smoking pot in high school or other youthful adventures for which people with less money and more melanin got incarcerated.” Twitter user @dannyman said the ad was “morally impoverished.”

Others called it “gross,” and an example of “privileged myopia.” Kim-Mai Cutler, a contributor to website TechCrunch, called the ads “tacky.”

Equidate is a venture-backed “secondaries marketplace” based in San Francisco, according to TechCrunch, which sells privately held company shares to interested investors and oversees $1 billion in transactions on its platform annually among 30 tech companies.

Equidate subsequently apologized for the “insensitive” ads in a tweet.

“Apologies for the insensitive reference. Life in a startup is by no means comparable to that in a correctional facility. We are working with the Caltrain facility to remove the ad,” the company wrote.

Caltrain confirmed the ads will come down Tuesday.

The firm raised at least $50 million in investment funds this year, according to TechCrunch. Caltrain would not confirm how much the advertisements costs, which a spokesperson said were proprietary information with advertisement firm Outfront, which manages Caltrain ads.

Equidate did not return a request for comment.

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