Protocol | Workplace

CEO warned founder that people might see her as 'a bitch,' new lawsuit alleges

Knoq founder Kendall Hope Tucker is suing the company that acquired her startup for discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker, founder of Knoq, is suing Ad Practitioners, which acquired her company last year.

Photo: Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker felt excited when she sold her startup last December. Tucker, the founder of Knoq, was sad to "give up control of a company [she] had poured five years of [her] heart, soul and energy into building," she told Protocol, but ultimately felt hopeful that selling it to digital media company Ad Practitioners was the best financial outcome for her, her team and her investors. Now, seven months later, Tucker is suing Ad Practitioners alleging discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Knoq found success selling its door-to-door sales and analytics services to companies such as Google Fiber, Inspire Energy, Fluent Home and others. Knoq representatives would walk around neighborhoods, knocking on doors to market its customers' products and services. The pandemic, however, threw a wrench in its business. Prior to the acquisition, Knoq says it raised $6.5 million from Initialized Capital,, Techstars and others.

During the contract negotiations process, Tucker alleges Ad Practitioners willfully misled her about certain financial terms. While employed at the company, Tucker says members of Ad Practitioners' executive team discriminated against her due to her gender and retaliated against her after she came forward with claims of discrimination.

Protocol reached out to Ad Practitioners for comment but the company has not yet responded.

As part of the acquisition, Tucker and the rest of the Knoq team moved from Boston to Puerto Rico, where Ad Practitioners is headquartered. But Tucker said she and her team received very little help during their transition. That's what prompted Tucker and the rest of the Knoq team to draft a guide on moving to Puerto Rico to help future employees. Tucker eventually met with Ad Practitioners CEO Greg Powel about the proposed onboarding guide, but he was not receptive, according to the lawsuit.

Powel said, according to the lawsuit, that the onboarding guide was not "culturally sensitive" and that Tucker "didn't want to be known around the office as 'a bitch.'" The part he took issue with, according to Tucker, pertained to the document's use of "island time" to signal that people in Puerto Rico are a bit more lax about time. The lawsuit alleges Powel told Tucker that she didn't want to "have [her] colleagues thinking, 'Fuck you' every time" they saw her.

The lawsuit points to a handful of other instances to support Tucker's claims of gender discrimination. For example, Tucker alleges Powel told her he disliked her "voice on social media" because she "talked too much about being a 'female founder' and what [she] learned throughout her startup journey."

Tucker also alleges Powel made disparaging remarks about the head of human resources, head of social media and office manager — all three of whom are Puerto Rican women. According to the lawsuit, Powel said, for example, the head of social media was "too difficult" and the office manager needed to be "kept in her place."

On April 6, 2021, Tucker reported Powel to Ian Robertson, the company's head of finance and operations. Robertson, however, allegedly told Tucker that Powel would not behave that way, and dismissed her claims of gender discrimination at the company.

Three days later, Tucker directly confronted Powel, who allegedly denied he treated her differently as a result of her gender. He did, however, commit to improving their relationship, according to the lawsuit. On April 12, Tucker emailed the HR department to express how she had struggled with anxiety since coming on board to Ad Practitioners.

Then, three days after her email to HR, Robertson, Powel and the head of HR fired her, the lawsuit states. In the meeting, Powel allegedly said, "We've listened to your feedback over the last few weeks and clearly this isn't working out. You aren't happy here and we don't feel like this business unit is going to be successful with you leading it."

Tucker felt surprised, she told Protocol, because she thought the conversation with Powel went well and that it seemed they "were all aligned on striving to hit our goals," she said.

After receiving the news, Tucker's Knoq team walked her out of the office, and that's when she said the surprise began to wear off. That surprise turned into anger.

"I just felt so angry that after five years of huge amounts of work, these guys thought they could take my company and not pay me what they owed me," she said.

Upon her termination, Ad Practitioners offered her $75,000 as long as Tucker agreed to state the company fired her with just cause, and that she would not file any claims against the company. The terms of the agreement would also require Tucker to forgo her annual salary of $110,000, Class B shares distributions ($150,000 untaxed), Class A shares, $15,000 signing bonus and her portion of the promised $18 million earn-out, which she estimates to be worth at least $6.4 million.

Tucker did not accept the agreement, despite Robertson allegedly threatening her that the company would disparage her reputation and damage her ability "to actively fundraise in the future," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in Puerto Rico, seeks at least $6.4 million in damages as well as other forms of relief. You can read the full complaint below.

Tucker v Ad Practitioners.pdf

Protocol | Fintech

Crypto has a payment for order flow problem, too

The SEC is concerned about payment for order flow in stocks and options. But crypto, which it is struggling to regulate, is a "Wild West."

What are you paying for your bitcoin?

Illustration: Jeremy Bezanger / Unsplash

Two of the SEC's major concerns are payment for order flow, the potentially conflict-ridden system where retail brokers get paid by market makers for sending them orders, and cryptocurrencies, the largely unregulated digital tokens that are generating a booming market in speculative trading.

What if you put them together?

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at or

While it's easy to get lost in the operational and technical side of a transaction, it's important to remember the third component of a payment. That is, the human behind the screen.

Over the last two years, many retailers have seen the benefit of investing in new, flexible payments. Ones that reflect the changing lifestyles of younger spenders, who are increasingly holding onto their cash — despite reports to the contrary. This means it's more important than ever for merchants to take note of the latest payment innovations so they can tap into the savings of the COVID-19 generation.

Keep Reading Show less
Antoine Nougue,

Antoine Nougue is Head of Europe at He works with ambitious enterprise businesses to help them scale and grow their operations through payment processing services. He is responsible for leading the European sales, customer success, engineering & implementation teams and is based out of London, U.K.


Theranos machines often failed tests, ex-employee testifies

The testimony from lab-worker-turned-whistleblower Erika Cheung could form a crucial piece of government prosecutors' fraud case against former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.

The former Theranos headquarters in Palo Alto.

Photo: Andrej Sokolow via Getty Images

Did Theranos' blood-testing technology work? That was the key question prosecutors hammered away at as the fraud trial of former CEO Elizabeth Holmes continued Wednesday in a San Jose courtroom.

The company's proprietary Edison machines routinely failed quality control tests to the point that former lab employee Erika Cheung said she sometimes refused to run patient samples on the devices, she testified in court.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Protocol | Policy

Big Tech builds bit by bit. The FTC is challenging that.

The FTC on Wednesday unveiled the findings of a study on the small deals that helped Big Tech grow without regulatory scrutiny, and took steps to treat such acquisitions more skeptically.

The FTC is putting more scrutiny on the small deals that built Big Tech.

Photo: Ian Hutchinson/Unsplash

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday took a dive into the kinds of deals that make Big Tech, well, big.

The commission unveiled findings from an investigation into hundreds of small acquisitions that companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google undertook with little government oversight, which helped those titanic businesses reach their current size and power. Some of those transactions evaded regulator scrutiny thanks to loopholes in the law, the report found.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | China

Tencent dominates digital donations in China. That’s the problem.

After building the only successful digital fundraising platform in China, Tencent's immense impact in the charity world raises questions about inequality, state censorship and platform responsibility.

Tencent's 99 Giving Day has grown into a behemoth, facilitating million of dollars' worth of donations on a yearly basis.

Image: Christopher T. Fong / Protocol

An hour before September 9, Eric, a nonprofit fundraising worker in southern China, was as frustrated as he'd been in months. It was way past his normal work hours, but he had just finished writing a few paragraphs he hoped to send to people tomorrow to ask for donations. He received his first blow from one friend, who commented that his plan felt "insincere;" and then, during a WeChat conversation with another friend, he casually brought up the project he was fundraising for and got the half-joking reply: "Don't do this to me." Eric's frustration was verging on anger.

For Eric, and countless nonprofit workers in China, this wasn't a normal day. Tomorrow would be the "99 Giving Day," an online donation bonanza that Tencent, one of China's most prominent tech companies, created in 2015 and has since grown into the most important event annually for charity workers. Every year for a few days leading up to Sept. 9, Tencent takes out tens of millions of dollars' worth of its own money to match the donations made on its Tencent Charity platform, a mini-app in WeChat where thousands of fundraising projects are listed. But to make the magic happen on these few days, nonprofit workers often start preparing months in advance, learning the platform's arcane rules, planning their strategies and mobilizing their giving communities. As the event grows bigger and the rules grow more complicated, the work is taking an emotional toll on people like Eric.

Keep Reading Show less
Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Latest Stories