Underground Elephant was founded by an alleged “psychopath.”
  • Underground Elephant was founded by an alleged “psychopath.”
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“Combat,” “extortion,” “sociopath” and other unsavory terms are swirling around in the tornado of bad publicity blowing through the East Village company once listed by a local publication as one of San Diego’s best places to work. Jason Kulpa, chief executive of San Diego–based ad-tech firm Underground Elephant, claims a former employee and her friend are using the court to “unfairly tarnish” his good name and to bring Underground Elephant to its knees, all in hopes of a large payout.

Chief-executive Jason Kulpa has a reputation for making “sexist and demeaning comments to the women.” Pictured: employee bar.

That former employee, Alyssa Adamson, and her friend Michael Seppanen, tell a different version of the story. Adamson, a former account manager at Underground Elephant (a company that uses social media and other online profiles to direct customers to its clients), says an intoxicated Kulpa forced himself on her after a 2016 company party and beat Seppanen unconscious, fracturing his cheekbone, after being asked to leave Adamson’s apartment.

The story, now unfolding in state court, portrays Kulpa as a womanizing executive who attacked Adamson’s friend after she spurned his advances. His and his lawyer’s willingness to hide information from the judge in order to prevent the lawsuit from becoming public record prompted Adamson’s attorney to label Kulpa a “dangerous sociopath.”

Kulpa, on the other hand, accuses Adamson of faking sexual harassment claims to extort money from him and reap revenge on his company for her professional failures. As for his fight with Seppanen, in court documents Kulpa has referred to it as “mutual combat.”

Underground Elephant comes alive

Launched in 2008, Underground Elephant contracts with large companies and industries to find new clients through social media and online profiles. Banking largely on the rise of for-profit universities, Kulpa took the company from a small Mission Valley office to become a staple of San Diego’s small tech startup community. In recent years Kulpa has posed for photos next to mayor Kevin Faulconer. He sits on the board of the San Diego Police Foundation.

During that time, Underground Elephant has received accolades for its employee-centric approach where workers help themselves to free snacks, imbibe craft beer, and shoot games of shuffleboard in an East Village office replete with an employee bar, makeshift speakeasy, and schoolhouse-themed meeting room. In 2014, San Diego Business Journal named Underground Elephant one of the best companies to work for in San Diego.

According to reviews from former employees on job-search website Glassdoor.com, Kulpa has a reputation for making “sexist and demeaning comments to the women.” Another former employee wrote, “[Kulpa] never hesitates to joke about your accent, ethnicity, appearance, performance, etc. that leave employees laughing on the outside but cringing on the inside. Female employees, especially, have commented on their discomfort with his lurking presence and lewd remarks.”

The current lawsuit paints Kulpa and Underground Elephant in much the same light.

The Elephant in the hallway

On August 12, 2016, Kulpa threw a company party for his employees. After the party, Adamson and her guest and high school friend, Seppanen, returned to Adamson’s downtown apartment.

According to a police report obtained by the Reader, Kulpa, a married man, allegedly called Adamson and asked to come over to her house. She agreed but informed him that they weren’t going to “do anything.”

Seppanen told officers that Kulpa had made several sexually “inappropriate” and “unwanted” comments to Adamson throughout the night.

“He kept saying inappropriate things to her and she kept telling him no,” Seppanen told officers. “When he came over he kept saying stuff to her and he told me that she was interested. I kept letting him know that she wasn’t interested.”

According to Seppanen’s statement, he heard Adamson and Kulpa in the hallway and went to check on her. Kulpa approached him with clenched fists. Seppanen says the next thing he remembers was waking up bloody on Adamson’s bathroom floor.

According to a complaint Adamson later filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, after repeatedly punching Seppanen, Kulpa forced a kiss on her before leaving.

Security guards inside the building called police, alerting them of the fight and blood in the hallway. When police arrived, Adamson was disheveled and visibly intoxicated. She refused to identify Kulpa by name. She worried that the report would go public and she would be fired.

Officers found Seppanen on Adamson’s bathroom floor with a cut to his chin, a fractured left cheekbone, and suffering from a possible concussion. Paramedics were called to the scene and transported him to the University of California San Diego hospital in Mission Hills.

Officers recommended Kulpa be charged with felony battery charges; however, no charges were filed.

In September 2016, Adamson, who had not returned to work, filed a claim with the state in order to initiate a lawsuit.

The Elephant in the court room

On November 8, 2016, Kulpa and his attorney filed a complaint against Adamson and Seppanen, a preemptive strike to prevent any future lawsuit from going public. Kulpa’s attorneys said Adamson and Seppanen were looking to “unfairly tarnish” Kulpa’s reputation and that of his company.

While attempting to have the court records sealed, Kulpa and his attorney Joseph Leventhal failed to inform the judge that they had already entered into settlement discussions with Adamson’s and Seppanen’s attorney, Dan Gilleon. In addition, Kulpa accused Adamson and Seppanen of extortion.

Kulpa testified on December 9 that Adamson had invited him to her apartment for a party. He stated that Seppanen was intoxicated and threatened Kulpa. Kulpa countered that he left the apartment and while waiting for an elevator Seppanen attacked him.

“I repelled Seppanen,” testified Kulpa. “Both Seppanen and myself were slightly injured as a result of the exchange.” Kulpa failed to state that Seppanen had been knocked unconscious and was bleeding.

He later testified that Adamson then told him that he needed to pay her $20,000 in exchange for her and her friend’s silence. “I understand that, because she believed her salary would be increased, Adamson refused to give my name to the police that investigated that evening. It appears that, only after she believed she could use the incident to get more money, she changed her mind, embellished and fabricated parts of the incident that evening/early morning, and sought to get more money.”

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Comments

ELEPHANTITUS April 27, 2017 @ 6:28 p.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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ELEPHANTITUS April 28, 2017 @ 10:47 p.m.

Really? What portion of the usage agreement was violated?

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Jasonkulpa_sexist April 27, 2017 @ 9:14 p.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Ponzi April 27, 2017 @ 9:49 p.m.

Wow, this Kulpa dude sounds like Steve Jobs. Yep, I should know, I had some dealings with the Steve Jobs and the angst about Kulpa reminds me of Jobs.

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ELEPHANTITUS April 28, 2017 @ 8:48 a.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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SD_Marketing April 28, 2017 @ 3:23 p.m.

As a former employee, I can guarantee that any comments on this thread written in support of Kulpa are written either by him under a fake account, or by his “Human Resources” team; used to trumpet his accolades and how much incredible “culture” he’s bringing to the company through ofetn-spoken-about shallow perks and events. This is true of Glassdoor and other company reviews too - any employee review that’s been above 2 stars in the last 5 years is written by an employee who’s been directed (forced) to do so. The picture of one of the victims posted on this thread saying, “wait, this is the guy who got beat up?” is classic Kulpa too - too fake-busy to capitalize letters, and passive aggressively bringing attention away from his own shortcomings. As if a boxer (Kulpa) couldn’t do damage on someone just b/c they're larger and more athletic than he is.

He’s “won” awards, and at one point, the company had legitimate growth. The Business Journal and local news stations would do specials on the company, and immediately after the newscaster left, he’d make a comment about her body or “how hot she was.” One time a colleague left the company b/c her spouse was in the military and they were relocated before his deployment. I remember him saying “Oh well, she’ll come back with fake t**s and ask me for a job once her husband gets killed.”

I remember him mocking the accents of Hispanic, Asian, Russian and Middle-Eastern employees in front of the entire company at meetings. I remember him hiding in a hallway at a company event making out with a then current employee. I remember him paying to have past employees followed by investigators after leaving the company. He has several lifers there that will never leave the company, but everyone else is expendable. I remember him yelling, “There’s genius in everything that I do! What the [expletive] have you accomplished?!” at a colleague in a meeting. I remember him making numerous references about cocaine use. I remember him talking loudly about female employees who had put on weight. I remember him telling me he only "keeps [employee name] around because she’s hot, but she’s dumb as [expletive.]” I remember that his close family member was in charge of accounting for a long time - which seems unethical to me, but what do I know? I remember key-tracking software being on every employee’s computer and paranoia being encouraged as executives spied regularly on every move of their minions. I remember having company events where he’d stand behind a counter and serve food to the non-executive employees for 3 minutes and then praise his own humility. I remember him granting the entire company fake stock options and making a huge event out of it. When telling one employee all about how poor a job he was doing and how he was worthless compared to how awesome he is, he once bookended his shouting with, “I also drive a Porsche!” Ahh, the memories could go on for hours.

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SD_Marketing April 28, 2017 @ 3:24 p.m.

Deep down, if Kulpa ever examined himself he’d see that he’s never admitted who he actually is. He’d see that he’s not a creative genius with loads of good ideas but really he’s an over-compensating, under-performing man who’s lonely, and sad about his inadequacies but will never admit it b/c of his Trump-level delusion. This particular brand of inadequacy also comes fully equipped with a pay-to-play MBA from Harvard- where you pay $100k+ to sit in a few seminars so that you get a piece of paper that allows you to be even more of a narcissist while (clearly) not getting any smarter.

I am sure at this moment in time, he KNOWS he’s relaxed the office’s tensions after this article came out by telling them all that this news is fake propoganda, and I’m also sure he’ll throw some terrible social event for all of them, while they pump out content on their social media networks about how “awesome” the culture is there- as if they’re the first business to pay for an employee’s normally $2 cup of coffee. Look out for some sweet hashtags- “#UECULTURECRED" and other trite, wannabe tech jargon like, "#risenandgrind." They have a big beautiful office, and some very smart employees and some people that are very good there. They also have a number of people who began their careers there are good, quality people and have turned into Kool-Aid drinking, terrible people.

Jason thinks that Wolf of Wall Street is cool. That’s really all you need to know about him. Every bad thing you will hear about him is likely true and in reality, it’s probably worse - but he’s paid people off and done a good enough job to this point covering who he actually is. There could be many many more stories written about dozens of awful things- including executive-level employees sleeping with each other, Kulpa knowing it and still allowing them to work hand in hand (literally and figuratively) while scorning those below their level of faux-brilliance and creating an insane conflict of interest.

I could keep typing b/c there really are countless examples of his insanity/ delusion/ emotional abuse and demeaning behaviors in the office. I never had one interaction with Jason that was appropriate. And I worked there WAY too long.

Kulpa shifted the company slogan/ motto to “Culture over Profits” during my tenure there. Unfortunately for every single person who’s ever been around him for more than 1/2 a second, his culture of toxicity, sexism, racism and elitism is excelling over profits, and it’s embarrassing to anyone who still chooses to associate with him.

Brick by brick, I hope this place crumbles to the ground while the few remaining good people can escape.

PS - I created this account today b/c I needed to comment on this thread. I am so happy that one tiny sliver of light is finally shining through this facade of a company- used as a private piggy bank for a CEO whose best traits are infidelity, narcissism and delusion.

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ElephantHunter April 28, 2017 @ 4:50 p.m.

Well, the day has finally come. We all knew it was only a matter of time before the highly curated facade of Underground Elephant would come crumbling down in one way or another. I honestly thought they would be exposed for their terrible business practices, fraud, filing for bankruptcy, etc. I wish I could say I’m surprised that it has to do with Jason Kulpa physically and borderline sexually abusing employees, but I’m not. Why am I not surprised? Because this has been going on for years and it truly is a twilight zone experience to be embedded within the company like I was and witnessing the sexism, degradation, unwarranted firing, and false promises while the rest of San Diego saw us as an innovative company that does well for the community. To be fair, Underground Elephant has some brilliant people working under its belt. There are hard working people that I am friends with to this day and there is something to be said for anyone who can maintain a 100 person company (before the massive layoffs) in San Diego… but at what cost? I’m a firm believer that you can run a large and successful company without being a cancer to everyone who comes in contact with you.

"Just last year, VOSD wrote that it was a great company."

So how does Underground Elephant maintain a good outside reputation? Public relations. They have multiple employees whose job is to focus on “company culture” and making sure they position themselves in all the right community causes to keep up appearances: Feeding America, photo ops with Kevin Faulconer, free work for the Humane Society. And then there is the awesome looking office that went way over budget and that the company clearly couldn’t afford, evident by the firing 1/4 of their workforce - congratulations, your office is more important than your employees. But ask 80% of the people who work within the company and they will tell you a completely different story and it’s only a matter of time before that information comes out. The other 20% are new and don’t know any better, are related to Jason Kulpa, or are C-levels that are just as narcissistic and toxic as Jason Kulpa (HEY MIKE NORMAN!).

Jason Kulpa is that frat boy you imagine in your head when you think about the stereotypical jock pounding Red Bulls, degrading women, playing up the alpha male role while wrecking the betas. If you’re not a white good looking male you’re open season for Jason Kulpa. He will make fun of the way you look, the way you talk, the way you work, your wife, husband, kids. Your car is too crappy for him, your house is too small, you don’t make enough money, you’re not good enough. Jason Kulpa acts like the king of the castle, pissing on everyone while they reluctantly smile.

If you’v ever seen “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix, Jason Kulpa is Bryce, Justin, and Zach all rolled into one man.

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ElephantHunter April 28, 2017 @ 4:50 p.m.

(Continued)

Underground Elephant and Jason Kulpa are a plight on the soul of San Diego. If there is one thing I hate it’s the normalization of terrible people as an excuse for their success or business acumen. We saw it to a degree with Steve Jobs, we’re seeing it blatantly with Travis Kalanick. I understand finding loopholes and maybe stepping on some toes to become number one in your industry but guys like Jason Kulpa are defecating on the faces of his employees and is getting away with it.

If there was ever a time to show that we as a community will not stand for people and businesses like this in San Diego, it’s right now. Go be a twat in San Francisco, Kulpa, you’ll fit right in. I hope more employees will come out and reveal their experiences with Jason Kulpa. Some people might be fine with letting success overshadow evil people but I’m not that person.

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AnotherLostMyJobToThis April 29, 2017 @ 4:25 a.m.

To any person who has been sexually harassed, threatened with violence, or otherwise victimized by this Jason Kulpa fellow I would suggest contacting the attorney representing the people involved in this trial.

Do something about it: http://gilleonlawfirm.com/contact-us/

This man should not get away with this again. Anyone that works for, or has worked for, or has known someone who worked for him knows how terribly this man has treated his employees; the way he treats women; they know the drunk physical brawls he has been in; they know the drug use; they know the exhausting sexist comments. People have seen this man do inexplicable things to employees, but with lawyers and job safety as his weapons, he has gotten away with it year over year over year.

Enough is enough. Don't let him weasel his way out of this one by settling out of court for a fee and hide behind the lawyer money. I believe he calls is "[expletive] money" to those who listen.

Attacking someone and breaking their jaw is a felony. It means mandatory jail time. He sits on the board of the San Diego Police department, I would pray that our legal system stays strong and balanced.

We need the District Attorney of San Diego County, lead by our distinguished Bonnie Dumanis, to take a long look at Jason Kulpa's past and protect San Diego employees and her citizens from violence and sexual harassment like this. We citizens have seen our District Attorney's office do the right thing before.. let's make sure they do the right thing again.

You can send a letter to the San Diego District Attorney, anonymous or not, and tell them what you've seen, or what has happened to you personally. Contact info here: http://www.sdcda.org/office/contact/

You can post on this forum, and tell your story. Hope someone will listen.

You can do any number of things to get your story heard.

Or keep living your life, happy that you never have to hear or see the name Jason Kulpa again.. knowing that if you do nothing, the elephant will keep charging. "Trample the weak, hurdle the dead", as he so eloquently puts it.

If you agree with what I've said, reply with "yup", let's prove me right.

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AnotherLostMyJobToThis April 29, 2017 @ 7:20 a.m.

For reference:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JasonKulpa (note wholesome profile picture and timeline picture change immediately after losing his motion to dismiss arbitration, classic)

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonkulpa

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JasonKulpa

Disturbing things employees have said: https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Underground-Elephant-Reviews-E324421.htm

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tbone79 April 30, 2017 @ 6:47 p.m.

I can guarantee you that jason (not adam) kulpa's refresh button for this article is worn out and he's since sent someone out to get him a new one. That being said, I worked for this guy for a while and was there for the sale of his previous company. This dude needs help, his brain is messed up by his brain telling him that he is a greater power than his delusional self is. Oh and HA to @sd_marketing those stock options were great!

Kulpa get help, go somewhere with a lot of mirrors and break them all, you need to refresh yourself before jail. Oh and you can look at yourself while you are doing it, one last "yes i'm amazing" before they take you away. All those mornings with motivational boxing guy will prove deadly to not only cheek bones but mirrors as well!

Btw im sure you know who this is by the name :) But seriously get help! L33dz R3wl bruh!

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Happytimes May 2, 2017 @ 3:24 a.m.

As a former employee I can tell you we've lost more than one large client 100% because of something Jason did or said. And I had meetings with clients where they've called out the company's reputation in the industry so safe to say the word has been out for a while. Made some friends working there but for the most part, reading this article all I could think was - sounds about right

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MadeThisJustToCommentOnKulpa May 4, 2017 @ 5:02 p.m.

I am a former employee of UE. When I first joined UE I was genuinely excited about my job. We had perks, we had a mentor who we could talk to once a week, and everyone seemed happy. The mentor, who acted as a therapist, soon left because Jason wanted write ups on every conversation he had with an employee. Jason essentially wanted to know what his employees were saying about him (spying on everyone) and could use the information to then sue employees for "defamation of character." (By the way, he has sued plenty of people for defamation of character). The mentor left because he told Jason he was not going to do that. Things started going downhill quickly after that. He would fire full teams in one day without warning. People would quit and there would be no replacement. Kulpa is a psychopath and I am glad that his caustic behavior is now coming to light. I feel bad for the people who choose to stay with the sinking ship that is Underground Elephant. Get out while you can.

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JustWow May 25, 2017 @ 12:10 a.m.

Wow, to think I was going to apply at this place. My co-workers and I have been discussing this mess of a story since it came out. Mr. Kulpa, your legacy is breaking. The cat is out of the bag. Piece of advice: hire a better PR agency or fix yourself. The evidence is mounting, bro. Smart potentials will know better than to work at your ethically-challenged firm. Time to start over?

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