THE grim debauched details of UK festival tech company Pollen, that at its height was valued at nearly £700million only to crash into administration months later, have been revealed in a new BBC documentary.
British brothers Callum and Liam Negus-Fancey allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of pounds throwing lavish ‘drink and drug-fuelled’ parties before they filed for bankruptcy.
Hundreds of staff, suppliers and customers were left out of pocket, some to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds, and insiders have now revealed that the brothers took the business to the brink of self-destruction and beyond.
“Our lives were ruined.” said Emily, a senior manager at the company, following up with what she would like to say to Callum if she saw him again
“I want you to eat a bag of my ****. I would like to send it in a little bag to your doorstep, I hope you open it and think it is a cake and eat it.”
Pollen started life in 2014 and was the brainchild of the two brothers who had dropped out of their studies but had great success in the events industry with their previous brand Let’s Go Crazy – a company which organised raves for 16-18 year-olds.
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This early success was not without its controversy though, with reports emerging that there was drug use among children as young 14 at the events.
Pollen was built on a simple but brilliant idea that allowed fans to use tech to buy festival and concert tickets, but it also rewarded them for selling more tickets to their friends.
Like an ambassador scheme where you sell eight tickets to your pals and you would receive a free one.
The idea was very clever and Callum was considered a ‘marketing genius’ with the ‘gift of the gab’. It seemed easy for him to convince investors to part with their cash.
This was quickly proven as Pollen raised nearly £200m over five different rounds from keen venture capitalists.
But insiders report that all was not well and the outrageous outgoings and expenses of the brothers were like nothing they had ever seen before in a start-up.
The firm even secured a £5million Covid load from the UK government But while other events companies took the pandemic as a time to batten down the hatches and restructure to ensure they would survive, it seems that Pollen decided to go ‘large’.
Customers began reporting problems post-pandemic when some of the exclusive events they had booked turned out to be anything but.
A meet and greet weekend with Justin Bieber cost some punters over £1,500 but Justin himself only showed up for around an hour.
This was shortly followed by dozens of cancelled events including the five-day Departure music festival in Mexico which was branded ‘Fyre Fest 2.0’ after it was closed down just minutes before it was due to start.
Despite all of their cancellations the brothers continued to spend crazy amounts on having fun and entertaining. One expense claim alone from Callum was over £80,000.
Journalist Melkorka Licea, senior reporter for Insider, said: “They were just so optimistic that things would work out, that they weren’t really considering the reality. When you are doing that and you are hit with any problem, I think that is an automatic recipe for disaster:”
Perhaps the most damning evidence of foul-play came when a whole bunch of customers were charged twice or three times the amount they were supposed to pay.
This action generated over £2m of income which incredibly also appeared to match exactly the shortfall in the company’s payroll that month.
But this appeared to be no mistake or error as the company stated at the time, as it has now materialised that a staff member had altered the code to ensure that customers were recharged and their monthly payment plans were purposefully altered.
The code change was even tested a few days before it was implemented, clearly signposting that this was exactly what they wanted to happen rather than a one-off mistake.
“Wow, so not only did this person go in and manually trigger these payments, they tested it first. Unbelievable.” said Licea.
Hager, the customer insights manager at Pollen said: “I felt so disgusted and ashamed of working for Pollen at that point.”
Engineering manager Jack said: “It was very much a betrayal, to the customers, to us, to everyone. It feels a bit dirty, because it is not what we believed in.”
As the reported scam ran on, still the expense accounts of the brothers ran high, seemingly Liam’s wedding photographer’s bill of nearly £7,000 was put through the company, an action that was later put down to a clerical error.
“They are charging these huge expenses, at the same time they were not refunding customers, paying vendors on time or at all and eventually not paying their employees. That shows their priorities” said Licea.
Then finally on 10 August 2022 time caught up with Callum and Liam and the curtain came down on Pollen, putting the events company into administration.
Staff, suppliers and customers were left owed tens of millions of pounds.
“There was absolutely no apology, no acknowledgement of all of the things leading up to that moment. He took no responsibility for anything that happened. It was just a big slap to the face.” said customer insights manager Hager.
“They made a lot of very serious mistakes and they let their obsession of becoming the idea of what they saw as being a successful founder get in the way of actually making the best decisions for the company and for the people.” added Licea.
And where is Callum now? Nobody seems to know said Jack. “I wouldn’t know, honestly the last contact I had was that email that told us all we were going under.”
The experience has clearly left a bitter taste with the engineering manager
“I know it sounds dramatic, but you feel like you are not viewed as people which was just really disappointing.”
Pollen have strongly denied all allegations made in the documentary and in previous newspaper reports.
They clarified their position stating officially
“Pollen worked tirelessly to find a way to continue trading and meet all of its debts but unfortunately due to the extreme changes in the market environment it was unable to do so and had to enter administration.
“The company is sorry for any vendors who were negatively impacted by this. Callum and Liam acted responsibly and did all that they could to rescue Pollen, including using their own funds.”
To watch the full BBC documentary Crashed: $800m Festival Fail click here.