Pollen had only recently disclosed a $150 million investment round from venture capital firms like Northzone and Lansdowne Partners. Nevertheless, this is how two British tech entrepreneurs drove $800 million travel startup to bankruptcy.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were squandered on drug and alcohol-fueled parties and a “frat boy” culture replete with sexual harassment before the company crumbled, according to a piece on two British internet entrepreneurs who managed an event and travel startup with a valuation of up to $800 million, reports the New York Post.
Callum Negus-Fancey, 32, and his brother Liam, 29, launched Verve, a business that offered packages for music festival tickets and stays at opulent resorts that included performances by big-name artists like 50 Cent and Justin Bieber. Later on, Pollen became the name of the business.
With its headquarters in the UK and a sizable presence in the US and Poland, Pollen attracted more than $200 million from venture capital firms. In August, it announced bankruptcy.
Former workers at the company claimed to Insider that the brothers lavishly spent money on huge gatherings that involved copious amounts of drink and drug use, including Ecstasy, acid, cocaine, ketamine, and mushrooms.
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“It was harder to not find drugs than to find them,” one former Pollen employee told Insider.
The two brothers organized a five-day glamping festival in May 2019 at a campground in Mendocino County, California, complete with acrobatic dancers, DJs, and contortionists.
According to Insider, the celebration of the $30 million influx of venture capital money cost the business $500,000.
Former employees told Insider that Pollen executives fostered a party atmosphere where employees frequently took shots of booze while on the clock.
An ex-employee recalled to Insider, “I just remember getting to the office at like 10 a.m. and taking shots, and it’s like a Tuesday.” The worker claimed that in his second week of employment, he was instructed to go on a day-long scavenger hunt.
Another employee who joined Pollen at the age of 20 reported receiving mimosas on her first day of work in the company’s Los Angeles office.
“I would describe it as a frat, but a job,” she said.
“And at 20 that was great because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, first job out of college, it’s just a party.’”
Only individuals who were of legal drinking age were provided alcohol, a firm representative told Insider.
Former workers also claimed that they participated in “speed dating” activities at retreats where staff members asked each other sexually explicit questions, such as: “Of the people in this room, who do you think is most likely to sleep with three other people in this room at some point in their career?”
A different flashcard that was used in the game was: “Would you rather be a virgin forever or have sex with your sibling one time to break the curse?”
Although taking part in these “games” were optional, ex-employees told Insider that they felt obligated to do so.
“If you didn’t engage with it or laugh about it, then you were seen as not fun and not getting involved,” one former employee said.
Former employees also revealed to Insider that Pollen would book karaoke bars and roller rinks for events known as “lock-in” parties.
Employees perceived the “lock-ins,” which were supposedly team-building activities, as an excuse to “get completely obliterated.”
Cocaine was allegedly freely distributed at after-parties at homes in the LA region, a claim the business refuted.
Callum allegedly slipped alcohol into employees’ drinks without their permission during a lock-in party in September 2018. A 20-year-old woman was one of those workers.
According to eyewitnesses, the 20-year-old was so inebriated that she nearly passed out and was unable to hold her head up or her eyes open.
Insider was told by a company representative that Callum did not give alcohol to unaware employees and that the business always made sure to serve alcohol exclusively to those who were of legal drinking age.
Another ex-employee revealed to Insider that she was terrified to look aside from her drink for fear that Callum might spike it with more alcohol.
An ex-employee said that in April 2018, while celebrating the company’s $25 million purchase of JusCollege, a business that provided trip packages to college students, Liam slipped his hand down her lower back and over her buttocks at a Las Vegas location.
Insider was informed by a corporate representative that the claim was “completely untrue.”
Pollen’s parent firm, Streetteam Software Limited, declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
“Despite strong growth since Streetteam Software Ltd.’s inception eight years ago, the knock-on effects of COVID-19 over the last two years, which decimated much of the travel sector, together with the tech stock crash and current consumer uncertainty in light of global economic conditions, put too much pressure on the business whilst at a critical stage of a scale-up’s maturity,” the company said.
Pollen had only recently disclosed a $150 million investment round from venture capital firms like Northzone and Lansdowne Partners.
But it was not enough to make up for last year’s operating losses.
Presently, FTX is yet another notable bankrupt firm in controversy. FTX’s bankruptcy filing in the federal bankruptcy court on Thursday revealed many crazy things, like that most of FTX’s digital assets have not been secured.