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BBC documentary sheds new light on Pollen collapse

The BBC Three documentary, Crashed: $800m Festival Fail, investigates the downfall of the music travel start-up

By James Hanley on 20 Jun 2023


A new documentary has attempted to shed new light on the spectacular collapse of UK-based music, travel and experiences start-up Pollen.

Founded in 2014 by brothers Callum and Liam Negus-Fancey, Pollen organised artist-curated weekenders such as a Bring Me The Horizon festival in Malta, the Unruly Culture Splash Weekender in Croatia with Popcaan, Diplo’s Higher Ground festival in Mexico and Justin Bieber & Friends in Las Vegas. But the firm went bust last summer – just three months after being valued at US$800 million and raising $150m in new funding.

According to a  Companies House filing, Pollen’s parent company Streetteam Software Limited owed £75 million (£59.4m unsecured) to creditors when it fell into administration. The group recorded pre-tax losses of £52.4m, £42.7m and £57.4m in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.

“The legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the growth model of the group,” said Matt Ingram of London-based administrator Kroll after the firm was appointed to oversee the sale of the London-based firm’s remaining assets.

Now, a new BBC Three documentary, Crashed: $800m Festival Fail, details luxury retreats and parties for staff – one of which reportedly cost $500,000 – which Pollen says were about building a “strong culture and collaboration”.

The documentary says the company began to show signs of trouble in late 2021 when “vendors and hotels were not getting their payments on time”.

It goes on to allege that an estimated 15,000 customers who signed up to a monthly payment plan were double and in some cases triple-charged for their instalment in unauthorised transactions worth $3.2m. Internal documents, seen by BBC Three, suggested the computer code responsible was written by a senior employee at Pollen, tested the day beforehand and then executed manually.

“Tens of millions of dollars has been recovered for creditors and impacted customers through the administration process”

In a statement to the BBC, Pollen confirmed an overcharge happened, but said it was unintentional and due to human error, adding that all affected customers were refunded within two weeks, or accepted a voucher. “No person or company benefited from the mistake,” said the firm.

Nevertheless, of the 259 claimants who responded to the documentary team, all but 10 said they were still waiting for refunds.

A spokesperson for Pollen has since hit back, telling CMU the BBC is “mistaken” in some of its claims.

“The company accepts there was an overcharge, which was an error, admitted to at the time by the employee responsible,” they say. “All customers were refunded or got a voucher; at their discretion. The refunds being referred to in the BBC Three documentary were not related to the overcharge, but due to the company entering administration.

“When a company is unable to pay its debts, it enters administration. However, tens of millions of dollars has been recovered for creditors and impacted customers through the administration process, and more money is still coming in through the sale of company assets.

“95% of customers whose events were due to go ahead post administration have either been refunded or the event has taken place.”

Pollen, which had 316 employees prior to its collapse, raised US$150m in a Series C round in April 2022, only to let over 150 members of staff go in the UK and US a month later. Earlier, it raised over $100m in venture capital funding, while the UK government’s Future Fund also previously invested in the firm.

 


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