It’s the meteoric rise you’re used to hearing about in the movies: A pair of British brothers drop out of school and begin selling music festival tickets from their car – before their business explodes into a global events empire valued at $800m.
For a decade it seemed the only way was up for Callum and Liam Negus-Fancey, aged 32 and 29 respectively, after their ‘revolutionary’ peer-to-peer marketing firm StreetTeam went from strength to strength – thanks in part to a cash injection from the UK government’s Future Fund, supported by British taxpayers.
By 2020 they were not only selling tickets to other festivals but putting on their own events at big-name venues like the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort in Mexico.
By 2022, the Negus-Fancey brothers had raised more than $200million from venture capitalists. But in August this year the firm seemingly went bust overnight, owing millions of dollars to vendors and customers in unpaid refunds.
For a decade it seemed the only way was up for Callum (right) and Liam (left) Negus-Fancey (pictured together), aged 32 and 29 respectively, after their ‘revolutionary’ peer-to-peer marketing firm StreetTeam went from strength to strength – thanks in part to a cash injection from the UK government’s Future Fund, supported by British taxpayers.
The Chief Revenue Officer Liam (pictured) shared pictures on social media using IV drips to cure hangovers
Singer Justin Bieber performs at XS Nightclub as part of a three day experience by Pollen in 2021
Callum was studying economics, philosophy and politics at A-level when he decided to leave school at 17 to start his own business.
Following in the footsteps of his father, who also worked in events, he began organising late-night raves and parties for 16-18 year olds, before going into business with his brother.
The initial idea was simple; the company, first called Physical Network, helped move tickets for events by asking young ‘ambassadors’, usually aged 16-25, to sell them to their friends in return for perks and experiences – which were negotiated with the event organisers.
The business took off and the brothers re-branded to Verve in 2014, under the umbrella of London-based StreetTeam Software Limited, which packaged music-festival tickets with stays at luxury hotels.
The firm continued to grow and in 2018 they changed Verve’s name to Pollen, and expanded to Poland and the US, setting up offices in Los Angeles.
They worked with music industry titans like Justin Bieber, 50 Cent and Scooter Braun. Forbes named the brothers in its Europe 30 under 30 list in 2019.
Singer Jaden Smith performs under his stage name Jaden at XS Nightclub as part of a three day experience organised by Pollen in October last year
Pollen employees described Callum (pictured) as a ‘grafter’ and a ‘hustler’. In an open letter to staff which he shared on LinkedIn, he said he was kicked out of six schools and ‘classed as an underachiever’, which made him ‘hate learning’. He said he wanted to create a diverse workplace where ‘everyone feels like they belong.’
By 2022, the Negus-Fancey brothers had raised more than $200million from venture capitalists (pictured The Vamps performing at a Pollen event)
Pollen employees described Callum as a ‘grafter’ and a ‘hustler’. In an open letter to staff which he shared on LinkedIn, he said he was kicked out of six schools and ‘classed as an underachiever’, which made him ‘hate learning’. He said he wanted to create a diverse workplace where ‘everyone feels like they belong.’
His brother Liam was Chief Revenue Officer who according to former staff was not often in the office. In one picture shared on social media he was seen attached to a drip alongside the caption: ‘What hangover?’
A former neighbour of Liam told MailOnline: ‘He was a nice enough bloke in person, but became somewhat of a nightmare neighbour with round-the-clock loud music, and very little regard to people who had jobs to go to. I’m glad he’s gone.’
Workers at Pollen claimed there was a ‘frat party’ culture at the firm, reported Insider. One worker told the publication she was given mimosas on her first day while another alleged they did shots ‘at 10am on a Tuesday.’
So-called ‘lock-in’ parties were also claimed to have been arranged at ice-rinks and karaoke bars, which workers claimed were an excuse to ‘get completely obliterated.’ A company rep told Insider that only those who were of legal drinking age were served alcohol.
Now, the brothers appear to have fallen prey to yet another tech bubble, after a 300 per cent surge in sales in 2021 – caused by the lifting of Covid restrictions – filled investors with a perhaps misplaced confidence.
In April investors had pumped $150m into the company, giving Pollen an $800m valuation, with the firm eyeing up $1billion in gross bookings for 2023, according to a presentation seen by Insider.
Just four months later, Pollen was filing for bankruptcy, despite the company ‘delivering $100m in revenue between September 2021 and March 2022’, according to a Pollen representative.
Liam Negus-Fancey (pictured) and his brother spent heavily on parties while running their company into the ground, according to claims made by former employees
Callum Negus-Fancey, founded Verve, a company that bundled music festival tickets with stays at luxury resorts.
In April investors had pumped $150m into the company, giving Pollen an $800m valuation (Event posted on Pollen’s Instagram)
Pollen, according to documents and the testimony of employees and customers, appears to have suffered in the long term from a string of cancelled events between 2020 and 2022 which saw its refunds and debts to venues soar. The company’s recent public accounts show the firm made a loss of £30million in 2020.
In May this year, two months before going bust, the company allegedly spent £52,776 on a villa in Ibiza for 20 employees for a period of eight weeks. Pollen maintains the property was used ‘solely for business purposes’, with Callum’s expense report listing it as ‘accommodation and entertainment for key clients.’
His brother Liam married his girlfriend on the Spanish party island just days after the expense was made.
But perhaps investors should have heard alarm bells ringing following Pollen’s Departure Festival fiasco in January of this year, just three months before they handed over $150m.
In scenes reminiscent of the now notorious Fyre Festival, the seven-day event on the shores of Playa del Carmen in Mexico promised 70 artists performing across four custom-built stages, each worth $300,000.
In scenes reminiscent of the now notorious Fyre Festival, the seven-day Departure Festival on the shores of Playa del Carmen in Mexico promised 70 artists performing across four custom-built stages, each worth $300,000.
The cancellation of Departure Festival came after the Omicron variant had been sweeping through the region in the weeks prior
39 of the 360 events put on by Pollen over the past year were cancelled (pictured: Pollen event)
However punters claimed they were informed on the opening day that the Departure Festival would be kicking off a day later than planned – before it was cancelled the very next morning due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.
The cancellation came after the Omicron variant had been sweeping through the region in the weeks prior.
TikTok user Cyrus Keefer, who was hoping to attend the festival, fumed: ‘It was as if it never existed… Like, the box office where we got our wristbands from – gone. The stages, the staff, and the crew – they’re gone.’
More than 4,000 people had bought tickets to the event, with some claiming to have not received a refund by early November.
A Pollen representative told Insider that all 4,028 people who bought tickets were refunded, and that those who did not get their money back must have had a an ‘issue on the customer’s side’. They said all costs were incurred by Pollen.
Covid also saw off Pollen’s Golden Sand festival that same month, also in Mexico, which had big stars billed, including 50 Cent, Fat Joe and Lil’ Kim.
An event headlined by reggaeton star J Balvin was postponed until June but was also ultimately cancelled, as were 39 of the 360 events put on by Pollen over the past year.
‘It is always a difficult decision to cancel any of our Experiences,’ a Pollen representative said. ‘We never want to let our customers down, nor the local community and our partners whose livelihoods would be impacted by a cancellation.’
Just weeks after receiving $150m in investments, Pollen cut around 200 jobs (pictured: Pollen event)
The company was overwhelmed by refund requests which cost them more than $75million since the onset of the pandemic, reported Bloomberg. By July, it reportedly owed the Grand Oasis Cancun and Las Vegas Hilton at Resorts World around $3.6m and $1m respectively.
Just weeks after receiving $150m in investments, Pollen cut around 200 jobs. Tech industry experts suggested the jobs bloodbath may have been a cost cutting measure put forward by investors as part of their agreement. The firm had hired more than 400 staff in total.
In August the firm was hit with a winding up petition. The order was issued by creditors 101 Ways Limited, according to the HM Tribunals website. Pollen told the Telegraph the debt had been settled and a court official said the petition was later withdrawn.
The same month, an agency complained on LinkedIn that it was owed £24,000 by Pollen, after the firm delayed its payroll for July.
Callum Negus-Fancey is understood to have told staff in August: ‘I’m afraid I don’t have a meaningful update yet. I understand the impact this is having and I’m sorry I can’t share more.’
Announcing its insolvency in August, it said in a statement: ‘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.’
MailOnline has contacted Pollen for comment.