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Sep. 19, 2017 12:58 pm

You don’t know Yuriy

Yuriy Porytko wants to be known as a street-smart tech investor. Broken promises, missing money and a lingering lawsuit say otherwise. What do you do when your community's most eager guide might be its most troubled?

The many faces of Yuriy Porytko.

(Photo illustration by Brian James Kirk)

Update: Added additional information regarding the lawsuit named in this article. (9/20/17, 1:31 p.m.)
The first time Yuriy Porytko emailed me drunk, his message arrived in my inbox at 5:24 in the morning in May 2010.

“Pay more attention or be fucking junior league,” he wrote. “I really appreciate what you’re are doing, you have the right idea. My simple opinion is that you have no clue.”

Seven years ago, Technical.ly wasn’t a 25-person media company. We were a blog template where two friends and I posted event recaps and interviews with those who were just beginning to self-identify as part of a Philly tech community. But we were getting more aggressive and finding that community members had opinions. Just a few months before that email, we hosted an open discussion about our model with also then-volunteer-only Philly Startup Leaders. Yuriy, whom I had only met in passing by then, went in on his email message, which included my two cofounders.

“I don’t personally care, really I could give a shit,” he continued. “I have multiple exits from local VC investment and multiple fucking revenue streams.”

Then Yuriy unloaded a line that has become legendary in our newsroom: “You all can eat pretzels forever.”

I was 24 years old and still finding my footing as both a journalist and first-time entrepreneur. So to wake up to an email like that from someone identified as a successful investor, who appeared to be better connected than we were in a community and world we were only beginning to understand, was jarring. This email felt important, like it was a great insight into how business Really Got Done. The final paragraph of the 233-word email shocked us:

“Ok, I’m a little hammered,” he said. “But seriously, you have no real impact on the real world of tech in our region outside the self serving circle of a bunch of complainers that can’t get funded or are stuck with looser early stage capital cunts that can’t accelerate a company past their front porch.”

He advised: “Open up and learn.”

My cofounders and I were sent into a tizzy. We emailed back and forth to develop a response. We discussed it at one of our weekly meetings. Suddenly it felt like there were even greater expectations for what we were doing. We aimed to step up. Seven years later we are something different, bigger and better.

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Surely it isn’t because of one drunk email, or even the collection of times Yuriy has chastised me for some expectation we failed to meet. But if he played an important voice for us and, I’d later find out, other parts of the Philly tech community, does it matter that in the end it turns out he likely spent more time as a beeper salesman than a tech investor?

Would your answer change if you knew he had a nasty habit of breaking promises and that an ongoing lawsuit puts him alongside at least three local tech companies in turmoil?

###

The Philly tech scene, like most, polices itself. That can be beautiful — and insidious.

Provocative and charismatic, Yuriy is among the most recognizable faces of that scene, familiar with all the top leaders. Lots of people like him. He’s bulky and boisterous, a self-styled, street-smart philosopher-type who proudly grew up in a blue-collar corner of economically depressed North Philadelphia, made it to the Ivy League and, in his telling of it, some of the East Coast’s most blue-blooded investor circles. He has touched nearly every tech community group here, making connections and volunteering support either because he cares deeply, or because he’s some kind of charlatan — depending on whom you ask.

But there are on-going concerns that strike at the heart of who Yuriy Porytko really is:

  • He is presently facing a civil lawsuit alleging he stole money from a coding internship program, only the most transactional claim of a failed relationship with an Irish investment fund.
  • He is accused of misrepresenting his background and network, after a lifetime of boasts gone too far.
  • His boorishness, too, has been cited as living proof of just the kind of hyper-aggressive boys club that the Philly tech community has worked so hard to avoid — jokes about guns, boats and sex.

These are the community offenses Yuriy is accused of but nobody wants to talk about, including most of the nearly 30 interviews I conducted for this story. This is the framework of the story you are about to read.

What do you do when one of your community’s first and most eager guides may be more pretender than practitioner?

Accusation 1: The SmartInvest fiasco

Yuriy Porytko has been a familiar face at Philly tech events for years. Here he attends the 2012 Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon.

Yuriy Porytko has been a familiar face at Philly tech events for years. Here he attends the 2012 Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon.

I didn’t hear Gerry Moan’s thick Irish brogue because when I asked for an interview, he directed me to speak to his lawyer.

Moan is the CEO and general managing partner of venture capital firm SmartInvest with teammates in Dublin, Philadelphia and Israel, and a pilot accelerator program in Delaware. (It has a sister brand, SmartStart, which is an angel fund.)

In 2011, Moan set plans to bring over SmartInvest from his native Ireland after an invitation from Volpe & Koenig, the Center City intellectual property law firm with several proudly Irish-American partners. By early 2015, Yuriy was overseeing the fund’s American expansion and, apparently, leading a $5 million angel syndicate, part of a pipeline of 20 companies that had been vetted through due diligence and were planning to launch the fund later that year, according to Moan in an interview from then.

But now, Moan isn’t speaking to Yuriy either, since he sent a short message in fall 2015 out to a wide-range of contacts announcing the “removal of Mr. Yuriy Porytko from the post of general partner and of his relief of all and any affiliations.”

Nobody would talk to Technical.ly on the record then, including several local founders whom we knew were rumored to have been involved in the then-on-hold fund. But that’s changed now because earlier this year Moan and SmartInvest filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas a civil lawsuit, alleging, among other things, that Yuriy took thousands of dollars that weren’t his. It has ripped open old wounds.

Now SmartInvest counsel Mark C. Stephenson says he’s requesting the court “enter judgment” against Yuriy for not responding to the lawsuit, but once again Yuriy is proving evasive. The complaint alleges primarily that in early 2015 Yuriy secured a $25,000 sponsorship for the PennApps fellowship program and cashed out nearly $10,000 of it from two-dozen ATM trips between May and September 2015 for his own personal gain. (The complaint redacts the name of the sponsor. In 2014, the program was sponsored by StartUp PHL, the City of Philadelphia’s grant-making program to support tech-fueled economic development, and in 2015 Comcast supported. It is not clear which, if either, of the sponsors are the ones involved. SmartInvest counsel Stephenson would not confirm.)

For his part, Yuriy says the allegations are “completely unfounded” and instead part of a ploy by Moan to pressure him out of compensation he’s owed. Yuriy has “his own response coming soon” that he can’t yet discuss, he said.

Whatever happened between Yuriy and Moan, their partnership represents millions of dollars of empty promises and has crushed at least three tech companies — and perhaps contributed to the shuttering of a pair of coworking spaces here. In a still-young corner of a city’s business community, this blowup, which until now has largely been kept to rumor and gossip, might have had farther reaching implications than expected.

SmartInvest was meant to be the make-good moment of big-talking Yuriy Porytko — a true leadership role in an entirely new early stage investment fund opening in cash-starved Philadelphia. Instead, it just might be his undoing.

Yuriy was SmartInvest’s Fund Limited Partner and Managing Member for the Philadelphia market — just the kind of title Yuriy had once dreamed of. (Though SmartInvest does not appear to have active investments in the United States, it does list a largely Irish portfolio, which includes several active tech startups. SmartInvest lawyer Stephenson said he was unable to confirm whether or not there were active investments in the U.S.)

Not so long ago, a startup founder named Walter thought he was going to join that SmartInvest portfolio. That’s not his real name, but this first-time tech entrepreneur’s experience is an important (and corroborated) part of the story. (We have granted Walter the condition of anonymity, due to concerns he has for this disrupting his current startup. Technical.ly has independently verified portions of his story.)

As Yuriy was signing the papers on his big investment job, Walter was nearly a year into his first startup. The web company he launched wasn’t his first business, though. Rather than the college-dorm-room trope, Walter had spent the past 20 years running a landscaping design-build firm he started as a kid mowing lawns. He grew to lead a team of more than a dozen, overseeing project-based contracts, budget projections and still “swinging a hammer when hammers needed to get swung,” he said. With just a high-school education, Walter knew if he was serious about trading in back-breaking work for a different kind of challenge, he had to go full-time with his startup. He sold his trucks, equipment and transitioned clients. He was all in.

Walter began nervously attending tech events, hoping to build a network to source talent, attract investors and build a reputation in an entirely new industry. He was reinventing himself, so naturally Walter and Yuriy hit it off immediately. Walter was put at ease by another blue-collar guy mingling with the privileged tech elite.

They became so friendly that when one of the worst ice storms of one of the snowiest and most disruptive winters in Philadelphia history hit the region, Walter wanted to help. Yuriy and his girlfriend Jill Lentz were left without electricity for days, so Walter and his then live-in, longtime girlfriend invited them to stay.

“I don’t know if Yuriy knew he was going to fuck me over by then,” Walter told me over the phone.

Soon after their night together in early 2014, this new entrepreneurial journey was straining Walter. His startup hadn’t progressed fast enough and building a network of investors was harder than he anticipated. Strapped for cash, Walter, who once had more than a dozen of his own employees at his own company, took a $16-an-hour construction job with Toll Brothers, needing the health insurance badly. Walter’s startup was adding users but, worryingly, not fast enough. If it was going to work, he needed firepower. He thought his prayers were answered when Yuriy said that SmartInvest looked like a perfect fit. First Yuriy mentioned a small $200,000 seed round. Then Yuriy doubled it, noting that with Walter’s traction, no less than $500,000 would do.

“I was so enamored by the chance at a startup life,” Walter says now. Yuriy took him to a coworking space for the first time, beautifully decorated, with free coffee and beer. It was startling for a guy who was running a sweat-drenched landscaping business just a year earlier. “It was so easy for me to fall in love with it all.”

Walter had never had someone with access to so much money offer it so off-handedly. Unsure of standard procedure, he relied on a handshake deal. By spring of 2014, a year before the alleged ATM visits, Yuriy said the deal was imminent, and they needed to get moving. So, as he had a year ago but now feeling like he had a support system around him, Walter quit his job. He hired a technical intern, a $10,000 commitment to a top-flight university software programmer.

Then something changed.

Over the next several weeks, Yuriy got harder and harder to reach. Still, he was always encouraging. We just have to finish the paperwork, Yuriy would say. Once, when Walter expressed concern about the timing, Yuriy said he’d write a personal check to hold things over if it came to that, Walter said.

But Yuriy’s calls, texts and emails were growing more and more inconsistent. Into the summer, Walter had run out of reserve cash and was using his personal savings and soon credit card debt for website hosting and other expenses. He didn’t know where to turn. Quickly costs started piling up, and Walter said he couldn’t delay paying his technical lead anymore. He ended the internship but still owed money to the promising young programmer.

“I quit my job, lost my health insurance, got kidney stones — don’t get me started — made a $10,000 commitment and put my business on the line,” Walter tells me. “I lost my girlfriend and was almost homeless. And then Yuriy vanished.”

Walter sent Yuriy a final desperate text: “Just give me the $5k to pay the kid. Do the right thing.”

Yuriy never responded.

Turns out Walter wasn’t alone.

###

From fall 2013 to early 2014, Yuriy says he was building deal flow for SmartInvest, leveraging his Philly network to bring a new investment firm to town, and it appears he at least did that.

One of the most exciting early-stage startups in town at the time was Squareknot, a quirky, design-centric website billed as “the GitHub for things.” It was a bold consumer-facing play led by Jason Rappaport, a friendly recent graduate that Yuriy had met at an event at Lehigh University, 90 minutes north of Philadelphia, and had helped lure to the city. Yuriy had Squareknot begin to draw legal documents and early term sheets for a $1 million investment, Rappaport said. It felt like a watershed moment for the first-time founder.

“We had been planning everything around that million,” the then-24-year-old Rappaport told Technical.ly in November 2014.

Throughout that period, Yuriy was known to book conference rooms in the Squareknot office, which was a light-filled glass cube subleased from Gabriel Investments, a respected regional venture capital firm whose founder, Richard Vague, had taken a liking to Rappaport. Yuriy’s meetings were often unrelated to Squareknot, and it seemed as though Yuriy was passing the Gabriel office as his own, said one early Squareknot employee.

Like with Walter, Yuriy kept saying there were delays in raising money. One month, Rappaport used $30,000 of his life savings to complete payroll and other expenses. The company owed money to a local dev firm and others. Once again, debt piled up waiting on a promise that seemed more distant with each passing day. By March 2014, Yuriy stopped returning Squareknot’s calls, according to Rappaport.

Rappaport, sweet and prone to forgiveness, still feels burned by Yuriy. (He later raised a far smaller amount and is still working on rebuilding momentum.) But he’s careful to note that he felt Moan and SmartInvest could have pushed through if they were serious about their investment expansion into Philadelphia.

“This whole fund is a hallucination,” said another Squareknot employee to whom we have granted anonymity because of their concerns about criticizing an investor. But the point was clear: Yuriy over-promised, but no one seems quite sure whether Yuriy’s delusion was a cause or a symptom of SmartInvest’s own failure to launch.

This same months-long period of Yuriy ratcheting up excitement for a new early-stage fund based and focused in Philadelphia caused other problems to inexperienced and cash-starved tech businesses here. One prominent Old City digital media company built an expansion strategy alongside Yuriy’s commitments of investment, only to see the promise wither. Yuriy is “sick” and caused irreparable harm, said the founder, who declined further participation in this story, citing Yuriy’s past “intimidation tactics.”

“He used to brag about carrying his firearms around. He’s a frightening person,” the founder said. (Yuriy recently sent this reporter an email that included the subject line “conservatively armed,” though I have never felt it was more than an off-color joke.)

At least two prominent coworking spaces, one in Center City and one in Kensington, altered their strategies, expecting to fill large portions of their offices with portfolio companies Yuriy said he would be hosting. It’s a claim several people interviewed for this story say they saw first-hand. How much and where blame should be focused is nothing anyone much wants to discuss, however.

“When Yuriy jumps into a pool, he creates more waves than even he may realize,” said a one-time business partner.

Or as Yuriy’s girlfriend Lentz put it tellingly: “You don’t walk onto the used car lot and not do your own homework.”

Accusation 2: Is Yuriy an investor at all?

The next time I saw Yuriy after he split from SmartInvest (his last day at the firm was Oct. 22, 2015, according to the ongoing lawsuit) he had me moderate a panel of investors for a January 2016 event under the FundingPost brand, a network of local resource lists that he curates in Philadelphia as another of Yuriy’s many affiliations.

In several emails marketing the event, he “mistakenly” described me as the event’s “Penal Moderator.” I got plenty of friendly ribbing for it, but I didn’t pay it much mind: just Yuriy being Yuriy, I thought. It was a productive event for a room full of mostly young and inexperienced tech founders alongside real investors from serious places, like Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Safeguard Scientifics. Looking back, between the serious crowd and my brushing aside the teasing, the message was clear: Yuriy was a serious convener. It was all very chummy.

“Everyone looked like they were Yuriy’s friend,” said founder Walter. “I was thinking: Does nobody know what this guy has done to me?

Clockwise, Top to bottom: Yuriy with friends, at home during Christmas and his Prep yearbook photo.

Clockwise, top to bottom: Yuriy with friends, at home during Christmas and his yearbook photo from St. Joe’s Prep.

Yuriy was born into a proud and loud Ukrainian family.

He remains active in various groups and camps that make up a rather cohesive Eastern European cohort in Philadelphia. He’s fluent in Ukrainian and speaks the requisite smattering of Russian and Polish.

Yuriy grew up in East Oak Lane, not far from where famed linguist Noam Chomsky was raised a generation before. Today the neighborhood has a reputation for being fairly diverse in otherwise largely Black North Philadelphia, and has that section’s only remaining White-working-class pocket. Yuriy was raised with his older sister Andrea Zharovsky in a brick twin rowhome on 12th Street near 69th Avenue.

That’s still the home of his mother, a bookish but sturdy woman named Helen. For years, she taught French at St. Basil Academy High School in Montgomery County, just outside city limits — it’s why Yuriy speaks some French himself. (She now works for the Bucks County schools, Yuriy said.) She was a concert-grade pianist and studied archeology for a time at the Sorbonne when Yuriy was still a small child, taking him to Paris. She speaks fluently or in part nearly a dozen languages.

“Mom has more degrees than a thermometer,” Yuriy told me once, as is his way. He said he “hardly” knew his father. Yuriy has implied he had a violent childhood, but he deflects and obscures, as also is his way. His sister, who has had a challenging relationship with her brother, puts it a bit more directly: “We had a deadbeat dad,” Zharovsky said. Helen was the focus of the abuse, she says. It got violent. There are details. We’ll leave it there.

They were estranged by the time Yuriy was a pre-teen. (Yuriy’s father died in 1994, when Yuriy was 25.) His mother Helen retreated more into academics. She didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore, too many painful memories, so there were no Christmas trees or decorations or even presents for many years. Helen continued on, teaching Ukrainian courses and taking night classes herself, so she didn’t always see her children much. They always had a close relationship with their grandmother, Anastasia Sagaty (known as Miss Nasty to some, Yuriy said), and now that grew. She largely raised the kids, while mom worked and studied.

“Grandma really was like my mom growing up,” said Yuriy. (Though Andrea, who speaks with a kind of detached worry for baby brother, says Yuriy was always their mother’s favorite.) So he was shook when Anastasia died this June.

But their mother Helen continued to travel extensively with Yuriy and Andrea, including frequent family trips to the Ukraine and exploits elsewhere in Europe, particularly during summers. Yuriy might have logged more air miles than any other kid growing up in East Oak Lane.

He continued his escape locally.

Yuriy says he ended up going to St. Joe’s Prep, the celebrated Jesuit high school with at least three Philadelphia mayoral alumni, because he thought taking the entry test would be an easy way to skip out on his Ukrainian heritage weekend school.

For a kid as well-traveled as he was, The Prep, as it is affectionately called, was its own cultural education, in the classroom and out. (Tuition at The Prep is more than $22,000 this year. Yuriy was a “scholarship kid” back in the 1980s.) In his yearbook, Yuriy lists chess club, the UN Club, National Honor Society and the student newspaper among his activities. Today he still cherishes his time there — along with Ukrainian culture and literature, it may be the only institution he speaks of with reverence — but it was painful, too.

“It was hard being a poor kid at St. Joe’s Prep,” said sister Andrea. “All he ever wanted was to succeed. I think he had a lot to prove.”

One time, Andrea said, Yuriy came home and told a story of how one of his fellow students who grew up with Main Line money had gotten a new watch and was showing it off at school. It could have ended there, but “Yuriy spoke about that watch for months,” said Andrea.

Yuriy didn’t grow up poor — his mother worked and his grandparents were generous. But The Prep showed him there was an entirely different end of the socioeconomic spectrum. That watch became a symbol of him feeling far behind, said Andrea, of how some get everything and others don’t.

As a teen, he was always on the move. Childhood friends remember him with a motorcycle and a Ford Bronco and other vehicles — always with vague details of where they came from. In 1986, during their next family European jaunt, Yuriy, then just a thin teenager, got a Eurail Pass and left his mother and sister behind. He ended up in Greece, wrecking a motorcycle but ultimately finding his way home on his own.

“Yuriy always wanted to be somewhere better than where he was,” said Andrea.

Yuriy thrived at The Prep, although he was eccentric and mischievous. He did well enough — fourth in his class, Yuriy says — that he got into the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1991 with a degree in European History — the classics, just like his mother. Through The Prep and Penn, Yuriy began building a network otherwise beyond reach for someone from the block.

One critical early friendship was with one of Philadelphia’s most iconic and wealthy families. Through high school friends, Yuriy met and later became close with Brook Lenfest, son of Gerry, who was in the early days of growing Suburban Cable, the legendary regional telecom that would be absorbed by Comcast in 1999 for $6.9 billion. (Through a spokesman, Brook declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Yuriy and Brook surely made unorthodox friends: one the privileged Main Line son of a thriving entrepreneur, the other a street-smart tough with a soft spot for Jesuit theology. But Yuriy was larger than life to other city kids, too. Even after he was attending Penn, he was known to meet up with high schoolers, always with some fantastical story about a life they hadn’t lived yet. Drinking and drugs were common, said one childhood friend.

“When you’re 16, it can be easy for a 20-year-old to look big,” the childhood friend said. “And Yuriy was big.” He often talked about girls, though he had a steady, longtime girlfriend for much of high school. She was another tough woman, the only one who could manage to get Yuriy to go to home for a special family meal and one who was supportive of his academic work.

With that prestigious Ivy League education, Yuriy spent five years after graduation working for Beyond Beepers, a retail chain he joined through an uncle and cousin of his, rising to a vice president role. He started with them in South Jersey and helped launch a Philadelphia storefront. It is still his longest single professional tenure to date.

As much as beepers were meaningful gadgets in the early 1990s, Yuriy’s first serious professional turn into technology came in January 1996. That’s when he took an executive role at Suburban Connect, a division of Suburban Cable, which was increasingly coveted by the fast-growing Comcast. (Lenfest famously never wanted to sell to his Main Line neighbors, Brian and Ralph Roberts, the Comcast founding family, but was absorbed by the comms giant after Suburban sold to AT&T.)

Yuriy lasted in the Suburban Connect role for about two years. He says that’s because by then the early due diligence for the acquisition was beginning and “all the interesting work had stopped.” (A representative of Lenfest-era Suburban Cable does confirm through an intermediary that Yuriy had an executive role there. But there is some dispute about what his title was and some details of his responsibilities.)

“He was a smart guy who made it to Penn and could be a $250,000-a-year kind of tech executive if he worked hard and played by the rules,” said the Lenfest/Suburban Cable representative, who requested anonymity for speaking without clear approval.

Yuriy spent the late ’90s using his language skills and telecom experience in Estonia and Latvia. He’s alluringly vague about the details of these jobs, including an injury he says he sustained while overseas. His sister does say it was serious enough that he ended up in a coma in Riga but admits, “I don’t really know what happened there either.”

Yuriy endured scarring on his scalp and long after suffered headaches and memory loss but Yuriy isn’t saying more than that.

“I don’t know how much things changed after that coma,” said Andrea, of her brother who was always independent-minded but seemed to take a different turn as he grew older. “I’ve asked myself that a lot.”

By February 2000, Comcast owned Suburban Cable, and the Lenfest family was deploying its new found wealth. Brook Lenfest, gifted a tidy sum by his father, launched what was then Brooks Capital Group, a $500 million investment fund that would later evolve into LGL Partners, Brook’s current consolidated family office. Yuriy says he was a primary operations lead for Brook to establish the office and its investment priorities. It’s these three years at Brooks Capital that Yuriy chiefly cites as the foundation of his venture capital background. (A Lenfest representative disputes some of the details about the level of Yuriy’s involvement.)

There was a split — more on that later — but for the next several years, Yuriy tried to build on something he found he loved: technology and investment. He held an array of management consulting and venture capital-adjacent roles, often mixing in the word “investor” with his title and working with an array of suburban men, always described as “billionaires and millionaires.” But he never seemed to be immediately tied to deal flow, though he contests that.

Yuriy says in this time he did more than $1 million in angel investment deals, though he is vague here too. (Looking through SEC filings and other documents, Technical.ly was unable to independently confirm that Yuriy was directly tied to any tech investment.) Yuriy says he’d rather keep his deals “private,” though other prominent tech CEOs chortle at this.

“There are too many people that call themselves an investor that aren’t active and have no reason to be in the room,” said one Old City tech startup mainstay who puts Yuriy in this category. In 2010, this startupper met Yuriy, who was then representing some tech dev consulting firm that aimed to trade cash and equity for outsourced development work. “He is either a liar or just an honest man confused about what I would call important details.”

But Yuriy climbed his way into the tech scene, surrounded by people with similar interests who didn’t know anything about his past. It was another chance to start over.

“You look at how his life started, what’s amazing is how far he has come,” said his girlfriend Lentz.

Lentz is the one who points out to me that so many of the highest-profile, most-damaging experiences Yuriy has had in this local tech community all stem from his one messy relationship with SmartInvest. That’s not many failures, it’s one, she said, albeit with many victims.

But Yuriy’s checkered business past doesn’t start or end there. No fewer than three other former business partners report feeling taken advantage of.

One longtime institutional organizer in the Philly creative community felt bilked out of money after Yuriy agreed to produce a project website. Yuriy’s year with Seed Philly, an early Center City incubator space, ended abruptly in May 2012 before it eventually folded. (The incubator’s founder Brad Denenberg declined to comment for this story.) One other organizer reports being owed money but declined to speak on the record.

In all of those cases, it was a case of Yuriy promising something he could never deliver on — but, critically, not him stealing. The common theme is over-promising. Why isn’t he learning?

“He might mean well, but what speaks most is execution,” said another organizer who worked closely with Yuriy. “He has burned enough bridges” that he’s ending up on an island.

The Yuriy defense, an interlude

Yuriy with organizers of nvigor upon receiving their first sponsorship check in 2013.

Yuriy with organizers of nvigor upon receiving their first sponsorship check in 2013.

Although investments are hard to pin down, Yuriy does have a long track record of volunteerism in the Philly tech community.

He’s a loud and at-times-criticized presence, but, say many local leaders, Yuriy shows up, and no one I spoke to finds it less than genuine. He has a particular focus on younger and inexperienced entrants and often helps get them into the right room when something new and interesting is beginning, said several sources.

Yuriy was “an early adopter” of Philly Startup Leaders, said Tracey Welson-Rossman, a local tech executive who helped launch the group in 2007. It was through PSL that Yuriy joined the community. In 2011, Yuriy helped launch one of Philadelphia’s early Startup Weekends and began curating Startup Digest, a network of locally curated newsletters that has since joined Startup Weekend as part of the umbrella of services from TechStars, the Boulder-based tech accelerator with global aspirations. He still painstakingly curates tech event listings weekly for the newsletter. Later, he added an organizing role with FundingPost, the investor event and information resource.

In July 2012, Yuriy stepped into an organizing role with OpenAccessPhilly, the prominent and well-respected public-private convening group founded by Paul Wright, Jeff Friedman and Andrew Buss in 2010 (it’s currently on hiatus). Yuriy was an early organizer of what became Start. Stay. Grow., a stakeholder group connecting college students and campus resources with Philly tech resources. (Full disclosure: Technical.ly was among those stakeholders.)

Perhaps most prominently, Yuriy took under his wing nvigor, a cross-campus effort by a group of undergraduates to establish a wider pipeline between colleges and Philly tech.

“nvigor would never have gotten its feet under it to begin with if it weren’t for Yuriy,” said Abhiroop Das, who cofounded the group as a Drexel undergrad. He is now in a management consulting role in New York. While other tech community leaders gave warm wishes but little real support, Das said Yuriy “was the only among them to roll up his sleeves and actually listen to what we the students wanted, and heard our opinions.”

Das and another nvigor cofounder Dias Gotama responded to an email from this reporter within hours, rattling off examples of real, direct action Yuriy took on the group’s behalf. He helped them raise event sponsorships, learn about fiscal sponsorship, connect with mentors and would always help give them a history lesson on the community here: “Overall just consistently making sure we got a seat at the table among the established folks in the tech community and had our thoughts heard,” said Das.

One of the many connections Yuriy has made — which also includes setting Squareknot’s Rappaport up with early employees — was between nvigor and Code for Philly, the local civic hacking chapter of Code for America. That group is led locally by Chris Alfano, who also cited a series of crucial introductions, including with an executive at Philadelphia Gas Works, which led to an impactful hack night, and an introduction to an accountant he has used for his company, Jarvus Innovations.

“Yuriy has probably done more for me than most in the tech community,” said Alfano. “But I also saw it was his nature to get excited about things before they fully materialized.”

Joanne Lang, a prominent local founder says Yuriy was “very supportive” of her first company, AboutOne, a family management tool. She said in 2012 he was among the first to volunteer to test an early version of her app and praised her company to a pair of investors he knew that she was later pitching. Through it all, his focus was action, not just kind words.

Likewise, nvigor’s Gotama pointed me to a recent Facebook post from a local college-aged developer, one who comes from a fractured family and who has had financial and home security issues. Gotama thought it was a telling example. Last month, the developer was sharing that he was broke and feeling anxious. In the comments, there were lots of well wishes. Then there was Yuriy, telling the kid he could get him a job, giving him advice, offering other support. I followed up with the young developer, and he confirmed Yuriy often did that, offering real direct support. He appreciated it but hadn’t taken Yuriy up on the offer.

Yuriy has a saying, something he picked up from his girlfriend Jill, herself proudly independent and strong-minded. “Horse. Water. Drink,” he’ll say, shorthand for the old aphorism that even if you give someone everything they to need to succeed, many would rather do nothing and blame someone else for it.

It might as well be a life philosophy for someone as fiercely self-reliant as he is.

Accusation 3: Boorishness

Yuriy with friends in Wildwood in the 1980s.

Yuriy (with the long hair and black T-shirt) with friends in Wildwood in the 1980s.

Nobody has ever described Yuriy as well-behaved, least of all Yuriy himself.

But something big happened in fall 2003, something big enough that it fractured the improbable childhood friendship that had previously thrived between salt-of-the-earth Yuriy and Italian-leather-shoes-without-socks Brook Lenfest. It was an ugly fracture and doesn’t appear to leave either blameless, though all parties decline to go into detail on the record.

Brook went on to become one of the region’s most prominent philanthropists, taking his father’s lead and transitioning an early investment firm into a consolidated family office of wealth management and charitable causes. Yuriy spiraled.

The next year, then-35-year-old Yuriy was picked up in suburban Montgomery County for a DUI. Court documents show he and his wife were behind in local and federal taxes. In 2005, they filed for divorce. (It was only after the divorce that Yuriy’s sister even knew her brother had gotten married, she said.)

By October 2009, Yuriy Porytko, well-traveled, Ivy League–educated and once in business with one of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia, was arrested drunk at 3 a.m. banging on his ex-wife’s door, according to the Main Line Times. It was an ugly incident, not one becoming of the kind of man Yuriy wants to be seen as.

“I was completely shattered after my divorce,” Yuriy told me. “I wasn’t myself.”

But that behavior has become familiar to those most active in Philly’s tech community, particularly those who organize events with an open bar.

I found no fewer than five local Philly tech organizers who have had to, in some form, ask Yuriy to leave one of their events or encourage him to slow down his drinking. Troublingly, I, too, once had to strongly recommend to Yuriy that it was time for him to leave one Technical.ly event.

What’s perhaps more complex is that in reporting out this story, I found at least three women, all in their 20s, have felt Yuriy’s reputation for getting drunk at tech events and being crass has crossed other lines, too. An event organizer read to this reporter an email complaint they received in April 2012 about Yuriy repeatedly getting into the personal space of a female attendee. The interaction reportedly escalated to the point where Yuriy, apparently finding it all a big joke, mock shouted “fuck you” to an infant in a baby carriage.

In the category of why this story is important to be told publicly, without anyone more formally addressing it with Yuriy, it happened again.

A prominent female founder felt he touched her inappropriately at a local event and then said “fuck you” when she pushed back. After initially agreeing to be part of this story, that founder declined to speak further. Before then, she produced an email exchange with Yuriy from that time in which he did not deny this portrayal of events. He sent her a meek apology in response: “If I was inappropriate in any way, I apologize.”

Squareknot founder Rappaport’s girlfriend Alyssa Romanko was briefly Yuriy’s assistant (though she says she was never paid) and also felt uncomfortable at times. She said he announced to a group that he wanted to “show her off” in a way that made her feel uncomfortable, and several others simply said he is frequently aggressive and invades personal space — always after drinking. At least one made clear, though, that much of that behavior speaks more to a troubling remnant of a boys-will-be-boys business climate that hasn’t been entirely eradicated from a proudly progressive and welcoming tech community. (See this conversation on sexual harassment here.)

“That isn’t just a Yuriy thing,” said one source.

Instead, the more common gossip about Yuriy tends to focus on what does appear uniquely Yuriy. It might be darker still.

In spring 2016, Yuriy showed up at an event held by a Center City law firm, without having registered or been invited. He got drunk and, according to one prominent startup lawyer and corroborated by an investor, he was heard making racist jokes, including using the “N” word. When he was asked to leave, the lawyer said Yuriy announced that he had a gun and would produce it. Like a lot of promises Yuriy has made, the gun never came out. He was escorted out.

“I just don’t think he can control himself,” said a local event organizer. “That problem isn’t going away.”

I asked Yuriy directly: Do you have a drinking problem? No, he said, he sometimes goes weeks at a time without drinking alcohol.

“I’m a strong personality: Half the people say I’m crass, half say I’m funny,” said Yuriy. “I like to push envelopes and when you’re drinking, we all amplify who we are.”

“I will call the baby ugly if the baby is ugly,” he adds, wavering some in his voice. Then, it seems, Yuriy expects all involved can simply move on.

In spring 2016, during Philly Tech Week, a large regional community celebration organized by Technical.ly, startup founder Walter had shut down the web company Yuriy said he wanted to invest in and had moved on to another. Walter was at the closing Signature Event, networking and connecting with the friends he had made in the local community over the last several years. Someone put their hand on his shoulder. It was Yuriy, wondering how things had gone, after having not spoken since that desperate message the year before.

“Get the fuck away from me, Yuriy,” Walter says he said then. “Don’t catch me on a bad day, because I will fucking drop you.”

Walter, explaining his reaction to me, said: “I had lost it all.”

The verdict

Yuriy on a panel at City Coho moderated by this reporter.

Yuriy on a panel at CityCoHo moderated by this reporter (far right).

After initially reporting out this story, I visited Yuriy at his home for what would become a three-hour-long digestion of his place in a tech community that he and I care so much about.

As I was leaving he described the evening as an “ambush,” a characterization I don’t challenge, though I found him more open to me than he ever had been before. At one point, out on his balcony sipping a lager, Yuriy revisited a question I had asked him earlier that evening. His girlfriend Jill, who had been trying her best to impersonate a person who wasn’t hovering around an interview, interjected but he pressed on.

“What is it that I want?” he said. “Impact. With how I got fucked over through my life, I want to teach others to not get fucked over.”

In a follow-up call, I confronted him with the idea that many of the people he’s hurt might find that hypocritical — didn’t he fuck them over? He hesitated for a moment and said, as he has before to me: “Do as I say, not as I do,” punctuated with an uncertain laugh.

After more than two-dozen interviews and knowing him for the better part of a decade, Yuriy is no evil mastermind. He sees himself as a force for good, and, in the eyes of many I spoke to, that is true. He is a big man-child who reaches for what he wants even when it might appear so clearly out of reach to someone else.

That means he asks a lot of other people, even when he himself never meets his own standards. That’s what drives him — to both do good and to cheat. He’s a hardscrabble guy who has taken every shortcut he could find to get where he wanted to go. The ironic thing about shortcuts, of course, is if you spend too much time looking for them, you never get where you want to go. And he’s hurt real people — he’s continued an ugly tradition of men using physical power against women and he’s misled inexperienced founders. Those aren’t trivial sins.

For so long, he has asked more of me than he has ever given me back. Today, that changes. Yuriy, you’ve demanded better of me, in private emails, yes, but also at events and in public forum. So I’m doing the same to you: Be a better version of yourself. Stop the drinking. Make amends. Promise less. Work harder. You’ve had plenty of impact, but you piss it all away. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can change. I’d write that redemption story, if it were to come to pass.

More than once, late at night, at the Pen & Pencil Club, when fellow reporters and I are several drinks deep ourselves and sharing stories of sources, I have brought up Yuriy. Feigning reluctance, I will take out my phone and find that first “pretzels forever” email from May 2010 to share just a bit more about the man. I will read through the nearly perfect message, using his own dramatic pauses, and anyone listening will alternate between laughs and open-mouth gasps. Because of an extra space between his last paragraph and his closing sentence, I often nearly miss it. But looking back to me then as some young reporter feeling lost and vulnerable in trying to grow a media company, that last sentence meant everything.

“You have real potential with what you are doing. I love your model. Try harder,” he said. “Ignore me when I’m drunk. I may not be right, but I am not wrong.”

Except when he is.

Edited by Zack Seward.

-30-
Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a Cofounder, Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. In that capacity, he is a co-organizer of Philly Tech Week, Baltimore Innovation Week, Delaware Innovation Week and other events that bring smart people together. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here and curates a personal monthly newsletter of ideas and links here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

  • PersonaBLAH

    what a total douchebag

  • tech investors using slang for the word “vagina” to degrade + demean people can also be included in your sexual harassment + gender discrimination stories

    • I agree Catherine, and though we talked internally about whether it was appropriate to share, ultimately we decided it was an important detail for just that reason.

    • Noneya1

      OMG, someone needs to put her her big-girl panties on.

      • That comment does not create a productive dialogue, so it’s being flagged for moderation.

        • Noneya1

          Flag it all you want, I’m not the only one with the opinion that the poster needs to grow a pair.

    • Noneya1

      OMG, someone needs to put her her big-girl panties on.

  • Nadia Adam

    I would like to thank you for writing this piece. I’m amazed that this individual has been a part of the community for so long. Open secret essentially? I believe there is a gift and curse to being a small, but growing community like Philly’s tech scene. It means, in some ways, we depend on each other. I wonder how many of his victims were reluctant to speak prior to this piece being published. When things are too small, it can become cliquey. You have to learn to get along or potentially be the oddball out(I hope that is not the case for Philly’s tech scene anymore). I also hope this serves as an example for any budding entrepreneur, in Philly or not, to please make sure you research and vet those around you. You should be asking questions and watching for patterns. I’m sure this wasn’t easy for you to write, but I’m glad you shared Mr. Wink!

    • Thanks for reading and sharing. After publication, many others have come forward to share complicated stories.

      • Nadia Adam

        Mr. Wink its at this point that I will be honest at the risk of criticism. The issue I have had with this community is the lack of self-reflection. This is the second time your platform has shed light on an issue(first one being the sexual harrassment). Rather than people taking the issue seriously and figuring out what can be done, it seems be ignored or chastised.
        I mentioned in my first comment the dual nature of our small community. I stand by what I said. If a small group of people are depending too much on one another, it is not in your best interest to speak too much about bad behavior. I’m concerned about the new, naive kid with a great idea. Just because entrepreneurship implies taking risk, it doesn’t mean that we should be walking into landmines without proper information. That goes for anything in life, not just tech. Lack of knowledge will ALWAYS leave you helpless.
        Philly can and should do better. We can’t afford not to. Again, I thank you for writing this.

  • Small Biz Philly

    Thanks for shedding light on this subject and exposing the truth

  • PhillyCoder

    I didn’t get all the way through just read the first few paragraphs.

    Is there a short version? What’s the point of of a whole article devoted to trashing someone?

    • Noneya1

      TLDR, couldn’t keep my eyes open and couldn’t find any real meat (or are you all vegans). I could get past someone trying to blame this guy for thinking a website would make him independently wealthy, on an “if come” and without doing any due diligence. Sounds like the author’s just selling veggies to carnivors.

      • Congrats on making it to the end of the story!

        • Noneya1

          I know, right? Especially without pictures or even a low quality portrait formated video, like this website is well known to post.

    • Helping others who feel they have been misled and sharing the challenging navigation of a small community.

      • PhillyCoder

        You have a good point. I realized after your comment I do read a lot of long articles on other media sites. I think the issue isn’t the length it is the style and quality. I don’t think it lines up with your goals from the comment. You should have examples from multiple multiple not a lone individual. One person makes it easy to write off as an exception in the community. One person also makes it sound like you have a personal grudge especially when the intro is him sending you a rude email. Plus, explaining a topic in a concise manner is a skill. I don’t know, I read this site almost daily and this is the first story that has left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe just have Julianne do the writing.

        • If you read a site daily and you’ve only not liked one story then it sounds like we’re doing pretty great. i also love Julianne’s work! Thank you!

  • You guys are so sensitive. With all the lawyers floating around your chosen field, I find it remarkable how many “handshake” deals transpire. You paint a picture of a very naive little community here in Philadelphia. What was it PT Barnum said?

    • I totally think it’s fair to push on the importance of getting things in writing. But that’s part of the point here, people were routinely swayed and fooled. That isn’t everyone but it was many inexperienced people. That’s not Philly only, that’s anywhere new people are joining a complex place.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I would think that a CEO of a news organization would use the platform for critical stories and analysis, perhaps only on an annual or quarterly basis.

    Instead, Christopher Wink resorts to stalking and damaging the name of a man with deep personal problems. And the co-founder created the artwork! Talk about pervasive.

    Yuyiy is a low figure on the totem pole of Philly tech and someone who a lot of us don’t take seriously. It’s unfortunate that he is probably an alcoholic — one who it seems you’re enabling by drinking with in his home to grab this story. It’s even more unfortunate that he’s been accused of harassing women, taking advantage of young entrepreneurs and being a general loudmouth asshole.

    But what is the point of tearing someone down like this? Why rummage through his past and personal life, only to put him on blast in a petty, 7,000 word medium-style post? It feels like you have an axe to grind when you sprinkle in un-corroborated details like this:
    “Childhood friends remember him with a motorcycle and a Ford Bronco and other vehicles — always with vague details of where they came from.”
    Are you you suggested Yuriy used to steal cars?

    This article is trash and an embarrassment to Philly tech. Now that you have it out of your system, please do better.

    • But unfortunately many more people were hurt and did take him seriously. He’s a complicated guy, someone who has done real good, but someone who has done real harm. That’s the exploration. (And there are three confirmations on the vehicles.)

    • Alfonso

      Absolute garbage, not that we’ve grown to expect much more out of this lot.

    • Connecting The Dots

      Wait this is supposed to be about tech ? I thought I tuned into Real Housewives of Philly.

  • Master Bates

    I long for the day when we have real journalists covering the Philly tech scene. Until then we will have to settle for bloggers that have an axe to grind and are sponsored by third parties to write crap like this. There are plenty of good companies that get funding now but it could be better. If you have an idea and think people are just going to throw cash at you then you are an idiot. It is great to have talent but if you don’t have inspiration and hard work behind it you’ll never get anywhere. So you’re telling me I have to work hard for what I want in life ? It’s not all going to be given to me ? Real entrepreneurs don’t take no for an answer. They also don’t sit around and whine about it. They go out there and prove their doubters wrong ! I honestly hope the next time we hear about this “feud” that someone is suing the staff of this rag out of business. Then they can claim that a company really was ruined ! LOL.

    • This would be a much more productive comment from a different name, but, hey, thanks for playing the game!

  • Alfonso

    Typical Muckraking from the lowest common denominator of Philadelphia tech “journalism.” This is what you get when there’s only one game in town. Philly Biz Journal wouldn’t touch this kind of calumny.

    • There are actually many wonderful journalists in the city with an eye toward the tech community, and I’m sure they all would appreciate your gracious and additive role in our online discourse.

  • Craven Moorehead

    Actually being JV is nothing special. Everyone is let onto the team, there are no cuts and no one expects much from you.

    Let’s get back to some thoughts on Walter though. Two things stick out like a sore thumb with this guy. You focus on how upset he was he had to take a JOB to fulfill his dream. My heart pumps piss thinking of how sad I am that poor Walter had to actually work for what he wanted. I guess sitting at his desk at an incubator sipping lattes would have been preferred because hey not doing work is always easier than doing it right?. He lost a girlfriend because he had to work too??? (Ain’t saying she’s a gold digger !) Poor poor Walter. Then next Mr. Wink (not to be confused with Mr. Winky from Ace Ventura), you are trying to make Walter appear the victim here by skipping over the fact that he claims to have outright threatened someone with harm in his “On a bad day I’ll drop you” comment.

    So to be clear, according to your… website/blog/opinion page violence is bad only if it’s against women, however if you feel that you didn’t get the VC financing you wanted for LattesR-Us Software, LLC, it’s okay to drop anyone who was trying to help you. Also if someone passed on your VC deal, or for some reason a deal didn’t come together and you as an entrepreneur see someone at a networking event who passed on funding LattesR-Us it is perfectly okay to DROP THEM especially if you lost your girlfriend because you had to actually go out and work for a living. I don’t know the people involved in this story but I know the business of getting capital and each time I think about the hypocrisy behind this I have to laugh and cry at the same time.

    • I think you misinterpret, I’m not telling you that anyone’s actions represented here are morally clear or not. I’m sharing an account of what happened from an array of different perspectives and trying to bring out what I think is an important point — it’s always a tricky dance to police a small community when the bonds are close. No one is blameless.

  • Representing the F.O.Y.

    Let me start by saying that being a woman in the programming world may not have been the norm 10-15 years ago but now it is much more common. I was part of the PennApp Fellows program and we considered ourselves the best of the best. I’ve spoken with other men and women who were in the program and thought it was necessary for us to come forward in Yuriy’s defense. This character assassination of one of the greatest people in the Philly tech space is unfathomable to us and something needed to be said. Yuriy spent countless hours helping the program and that included everything from giving people daily mentoring advice to picking up Pizzas to making himself available to calling to help secure internships and jobs. I like many of my fellow fellows feel that we owe a great deal of our success to him! If you look at where people from the program have gone the results certainly do not lie. Yuriy would always be there for us kicking our butts to make sure we were pushing ourselves to do better, and we did. He was like the older brother who playfully teased and encouraged us to strive for better. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it, and apparently this author does not. Yuriy you have always had our back and we will always have yours. If you ever need us you know where to find us. Thank you for all that you do !

    • Hi, I’m sorry you don’t think that perspective is represented here because it very much was my intention to do just that. I spoke to many people who felt Yuriy did support them, I have multiple people in this story saying just that. But I also spoke to many people who felt he misled them. Their perspective matters too. That’s why this story is thorny and why we felt it was interesting and worth the attention. There are wildly divergent opinions about the man. So that doesn’t mean we got it wrong, you’re just confirming the very point of the piece. He has a very complicated relationship with the world.

  • I’m So Sure…

    A professor had asked for articles citing the pros and cons of anonymous sources as a means for reporting. He was going to grade each one as to credibility and then our grade was based on finding the worst ones. He emailed me today that he wouldn’t accept this article because you aren’t a real periodical but he did say that it was a great example ! I liked the named source of the ‘girlfriend’ of a company that had sour grapes with the subject of this piece now saying she was also a victim. If you look at motive and the psychology of this whole thing, it’s possible to see how she doesn’t stand as a credible source worth using, but hey misery loves company right ? They must have an interesting relationship. I’m just curious for the author, was anything held back in this article? Was there anything that got published here that someone said maybe that isn’t relevant ? If it’s of any help I know some people who I think might be able to help out as editors. I will very seriously get you some resumes if you’d consider them. Thank you.

    • It’s at least a little bit funny that you’re offering criticism of anonymous sourcing…anonymously, right? At the end, our job is to get as close to an honest assessment of a person as we can. At least a dozen other conversations never made it into this piece, but I feel OK about conveying the complexity of a man. Anonymous sourcing is complicated, too, but they have a pretty clear role: to get closer to that honest assessment. I spoke through all of these accusations at length with the source and a variety of others. The only grade I care about is if those who know this man better than I do feel as though I’ve given an accurate portrayal of him to the rest of you, however I get there. By that measure, I present this with pride. Thanks for your anonymous comment.

      • I’m So Sure…

        I’m not part of the story so I can have the fly on the wall perspective. There are rules for trusting sources who don’t want to go on the record and I found it curious in this case because of the nature of this article that they’d want to come out if they truly felt the way they did. Also looking at your Mission Statement, I was trying to figure out how an article like this ‘Grows’ the local technology community. Is this really ‘news’ ? Or newsworthy ? All of the references are from a couple of years ago and the photos seem to be further still. Maybe it’s old news ? There’s a statement of conclusion but even in your reply to me you seem perplexed as to what your point is. If you don’t mind me saying so the article seems to lack focus and is all over the place. I read it several times and I am still not sure what you were trying to accomplish. You are also part of the story so was this a personal response on your part to the gauntlet being slapped down in front of you ? Was there some economic benefit or potential benefit coming from others involved that fed you their stories ? I was looking at your other articles and nothing about this seems to fit in. Wait, you weren’t assigned this for a class were you ? JK of course.

        • There’s an active lawsuit and a fresh request to have him appear in court. By nature of what lawsuits are, they always refer to issues that took place in the past. That’s just how the legal system works. Considering a few dozen people do feel they were misled and that situations like this happen in small communities around the world, I think my point is pretty clear: not addressing those problems publicly can have real world ramifications. No one I can see in my reporting stands to benefit financially, aside from the requisite lawyer’s legal fees, who represents a bit player in this. You are more than welcome to have any and all opinion on our work 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

  • Connecting The Dots

    This article is about the size of a wikileaks dump but you’ve provided a lot of information. I watched the video of Gerry Moan and found it interesting that it backs up everything that Yuriy Porytko is charged in the article with not doing. The legal allegations against him also are coming from Moan so if you prove Moan’s claim or discredit him it sounds like it would certainly have a large effect on the allegations and implications against Porytko. Porytko further claims that Moan owes him money. If there is any truth to that I have to wonder if Moan isn’t actually the problem.

    Did Moan follow through on his investment commitments that he claimed were going to happen in Philly in the video ? If not, why not ? Sure it’s going to be harder to get pictures of him getting drunk in grammar school but if he’s ever been divorced I’m sure there’s an ex wife that has some bitter details about his womanizing. Technical.ly owes us these answers especially if Moan wants to play in our fish bowl.

    • As you see in the article, there are also several questions of SmartInvest’s role in the lack of those investments. That’s totally reasonable and that’s why we raised those questions in this article too.

  • Jacques Sapriel

    Hey Chris,
    Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to pull this piece together.
    I ran into Yuriy a few times as anyone who frequents the Philly startup scene has, and I must say that I immediately sensed that something was off. I could not tell exactly what it was that was not clicking? Yuriy is not your typical techie, neither is he your typical investor. I have been wondering what exact role he plays in the local startup scene?
    Yes, Yuyiy is a low figure on the totem pole of Philly tech scene and that is not the issue. The issue is that relationships between advisers, investors and tech entrepreneurs is entirely based on Trust. It is important to hold accountable people in position of power or even people who pretend to be in position of power. That is exactly what you did in this article.

    You wrote a balanced article that sheds light on the dark side of Yuriy Porytko’s character while making the effort to provide examples where he had a positive impact. In the end, Yuriy could hold the role of cheerleader for the Philly Tech entrepreneur scene, providing that be became sober, made sincere amends and work a few years with a psychotherapist. Will that ever happen…?

    I have myself encountered a similar but different character who kicks around the Nature interpretation and education scene in Philadelphia, who owes small amounts and sometimes larger amounts of money to multiple friends that he employs on the projects he signs by agitating shiny tech objects in front of his clients. I considered writing an article to expose the patterns of deception associated with that character. I have not done so, because I did not want to invest the time required to pull together all the facts; also, because I know I would want to destroy the character and leave out any of his redeeming qualities.

    The Philadelphia Tech and Startup community is small, it is therefore that much more important to expose the stories that no one wants to talk about.

    • Thanks for the comment. I appreciate that you highlight a real focus of this story: conveying that it is possible that someone can both do important GOOD work and have done some BAD things that hurt people. Both of those things can be true. Thank you

  • Urban_Worker

    Yuri is to venture capital as Tyrone Biggums is to investment banking. The fact that it takes Philadelphians more than two personal encounters with Yuri to realize he is a snake oil selling sociopath with no control of his impulses is a bit sad.

  • Notmy Realname

    After watching this disaster of a story unfold over the past week, I can’t hold myself back any longer, though I have to jump anonymously for fear of being targeted in a future blog post from this site. I am aware that this limits my credibility, but I discussed it with a few people that I work with and was warned by my department head against posting publicly. From what I can tell, this blog rarely posts much of anything that’s substantive outside of rehashing some press releases, though for some reason the local tech community keeps referring me to it. I guess there aren’t many options. This blog appears to be not much more than advertisements for their own events and a sponsored content platform for paying advertisers, so I do question the post’s validity. Putting that aside, and assuming that the author did actually get multiple sources for his accusations, it would appear that the subject is someone that no one should want to know. Even so, I still don’t understand the motivation for a story of this nature. From an outsider’s perspective, the author obviously has an axe to grind and is exacting his revenge in the most public of ways – in a forum where he obviously has the upper hand. Should the subject choose to defend himself here, the scales of public opinion would obviously tilt in the author’s/CEO of the blog’s favor. What’s even worse, the author lectures the subject like a father scolding his child after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. At the same time, he gloats by Tweeting pictures of pretzels that his readers sent him. Seems a little hypocritical to me. I wonder, are advertisers and event partners like Urban Outfitters, UPenn and Comcast feeling good about doing business with a company like this?

    • I have no axes to grind. I want something better for him and for the many he led astray. That’s what I tried here. Readers thought there was a memorable quote in the story and sent something to our newsroom. That isn’t so strange. The reason anyone has done business with us because we wake up every morning and try to publish something close to true about the community we serve and have done that long enough that a lot of people do trust us. I think there there are worse reasons to do so. But I guess I have to ask, as I wonder about many of the comments here (which contrast heavily with emails and messages from named people): why do you so quickly dismiss the more than 15 people I spoke to who DO feel he treated them less than honestly? (Also, hey, always open to feedback on improving! So please share a few examples of local community news you think we could emulate. We’re fans of lots of great work being done around the country, and love hearing about more). Thanks for reading and the feedback. I do mean it, feel free also to send me an email to discuss further. (Seriously)

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