Investors sue Israeli unicorn Lusha for 35% stake

Yonatan Tserruya and Assaf Eisenstein Credit: Geva Talmor

Plus Ventures and Oren Abekasis allege in the Tel Aviv court that Lusha's app was copied from a previous venture owned by the same entrepreneur, in which they had invested. Lusha denies any connection.

An unprecedented lawsuit has been filed in the economic department of the Tel Aviv District Court against Israeli unicorn Lusha, which six months ago, raised $205 million at a valuation of $1.5 billion. In the lawsuit Plus Ventures venture capital fund and Oren Abekasis are suing Lusha and entrepreneurs Assaf Eisenstein, his wife Anat Eisenstein, and Yoni Tserruya. In the suit, Plus Ventures and Abekasis are demanding rights to 35% of the company's shares.

The suit was filed through Advs. Zohar Lande, Eyal Nachshon, Dana Bookstein, and Naama Ben Aroush Moshe of Barnea Jaffa Lande & Co. law firm. According to the suit, the Eisensteins and Tserruya fraudulently and behind the backs of the plaintiffs, undertook a process intended to dispossess them of the rewards of the plaintiffs' investment and shares, provide them with false presentations, and to steal from them the promising and lucrative venture and product, in which they invested, including their rights, while developing the venture and product, to benefit from the profits.

The suit states that the plaintiffs invested millions of shekels in the Neta Eisenstein company and cumulatively held 35% of its shares and rights. The plaintiffs did so, out of faith in the company’s products, in its vision, and in its lead entrepreneur, Assaf Eisenstein. During this period, the company focused, among other things, on development of the product called Network Monkey, a web browser add-on, which through monitoring and data from internet platforms, assists users in identifying target populations relevant to their needs.

In practice, in its latest form since March 2016, the product has been primarily designed to serve as an internet browser add-on, which enables users, visiting the LinkedIn website, to identify relevant targets and receive their personal details. The lawsuit states that in the four years prior to the beginning of 2016, the plaintiffs supported the company in general and Assaf Eisenstein in particular, and worked with him in order to fulfill, develop, apply, and promote the company's vision and dynamic targets, as well as the innovative and promising venture and product that it promoted.

Over the years, the plaintiffs invested their money in the venture, according to the requirements of Assaf Eisenstein, who was the entrepreneur, director, CEO and spirit behind the company, while they relied on his presentations and put their full trust in him. In addition to their money, the plaintiffs invested their time and experience in the company and advised Assaf Eisenstein.

"Only in hindsight did it become clear to the plaintiffs, to their astonishment, that they continued to invest their money and devote resources to the company in response to Assaf Eisenstein's requests, while he worked in the dark and behind their backs, along with his wife, in order to dispossess, oust and exclude the plaintiffs, and steal the venture and product in full from the plaintiffs, and the rest of the company's investors.

"The plaintiffs also discovered that at some point, Assaf connected with Yoni Tserruya with the aim of ousting them and stealing the entire venture and product from the plaintiffs and other company investors. It is also claimed that it became clear to the plaintiffs subsequently that in the beginning of 2016, at the same time that Assaf engaged in false representation to the plaintiffs, claiming the project had been completed and had come as far as it could, Assaf connected to Yoni Tzeruya, and together, they set out on a joint venture, with the project and its product at its heart." The two secretly established a new company, while hiding their identity as shareholders, and they transferred the product to this new corporate framework.

It is also claimed that, "Assaf and Yoni used the venture’s original business plan; they stole the company’s business secrets as well as its technology, including the original code of its flagship product; the two used the company’s key individuals, who secretly moved to jobs at the ‘new venture;’ and the two worked towards the same targets, ideas, users, clients, strategic plans, and development possibilities created at the company; they even made use of the plaintiffs’ money, which was provided at the beginning to fund the company’s projects and products."

The lawsuit claims that the code was created for an identical purpose and is based upon an identical code, which underwent blurring and camouflaging. The plaintiffs claim that they did not know of this activity. The suit adds that Assaf began, as another line of false representation and improper activities, together with his wife, who even served as a director of the company, to try and push for dismantling and liquidation of the Neta Eisenstein company, while hiding significant facts from the plaintiffs.

The suit claims that on March 18, 2016, the Eisenstein company presented the final version of the product, Network Monkey, which was added to the Google Chrome app store. It was subsequently discovered that on that exact day, an identical version of the app, called Lusha, was also added to the app store. That product, as the plaintiffs have learned recently, was duplicated by Assaf Eisenstein and the development and marketing teams at the Neta Eisenstein company. This was accomplished through a secret and separate corporate framework, and knowledge of its existence was never shared with the plaintiffs and was kept from them.

According to claims made by the venture capital fund, as a result of an investigation, they discovered that from the beginning of 2016, Assaf Eisenstein began to "play a double game", in which on the one hand, he functioned in his many roles at the Neta Eisenstein company and presented to the plaintiffs false presentations, claiming that the company was reaching the end of its operations and was to be liquidated; while on the other hand, Assaf Eisenstein was working in the shadows with his wife to transfer the project into the new corporate framework, which he established with Yoni Tzeruya. According to the lawsuit, Eisenstein and Tzeruya were aware of the seriousness of their actions and therefore blurred their identities as owners of the duplicated app, working for an extended period "under the radar." Thus, as part of the conspiracy that Eisenstein and Tzeruya put together, on May 22, 2016, Assaf Eisenstein established Lusha Systems Ltd.

Through an additional disguised process, the company’s shares were not held directly and in the name of the two "entrepreneurs." Rather, they were held in trust, through Y.D.H. Trusts, Ltd. Subsequently, it became known to the plaintiffs that the company’s shares were held and equally divided (50-50) by Assaf Eisenstein and Yoni Tzeruya. The company then merged with another company with the name DEV YT LTD., which was owned by Tzeruya.

The lawsuit is also based on an expert opinion, which determines that the essence of the functionality, the user interface, and the user side code of each of the two apps are similar to completely identical and that "there is no chance of obtaining this level of similarity, if the new app was developed from scratch… there is no doubt that this is a hurried copy/paste of the original software project." As if this isn’t enough, the expert, Guy Ronen, claims that in aspects where the two apps present minor differences in software, this is an effort to "disguise," the duplication efforts, through the addition of Lusha branding within the opening/closing of the app, and has no logical justification.

The lawsuit, as stated, indicates that the venture capital fund discovered that it had been a victim of fraud, only thanks to articles in "Globes", which featured Lusha and interviewed its CEO Assaf Eisenstein, in December 2021. The plaintiffs found an article in "Globes" entitled, "We received many emails from funds, and we said no thanks: the startup that doesn't want investors." The plaintiffs were amazed to discover that the article includes an interview with Assaf Eisenstein, who explains his doctrine with regard to relationships between entrepreneurs and investors. He is presented in the article as the person heading Lusha, and as ‘someone who had managed without external funding until six months previously."

Lusha said in response, "The lawsuit was received a short whlie ago and at first glance we learn that it deals with the closure process for Network Monkey, which has no connection to Lusha or Yoni Tzeruya.

Lusha's product is built on the basis of independent intellectual property (IP) and hard work by the company's entrepreneurs and hundreds f employees in Israel and around the world over the years. It looks like we are talking about a 'successful method' for venture capital investors to ride on the success of Lusha, even though there was any connection between Lusha and the plaintiffs."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 8, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Yonatan Tserruya and Assaf Eisenstein Credit: Geva Talmor
Yonatan Tserruya and Assaf Eisenstein Credit: Geva Talmor
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