Economics/Class Relations

From $800 million to bankrupt

Nicholas Carlson, December 20, 2022


Hello, Insiders. Today’s edition is packed with absolutely incredible reporting. We were among a group of publications that went to court to unseal records in a gender discrimination lawsuit against Nike — and today, we’re publishing findings from graphic employee surveys that rocked the company.


We also have an investigation into the self-destruction at music startup Pollen, exclusive reporting on smugglers sneaking almost $1 billion in cash and gold out of Afghanistan, and a look at the rise of the work-from-home whistleblower. It’s just one of those days where I’m so incredibly proud of the team at Insider and the stunning, important, and fascinating work we continue to do. With that, let’s get to it!

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Inside the self-destruction of Pollen, the music startup once worth $800 million.


In seven years, Pollen raised more than $200 million from venture capitalists and worked with some of the biggest names in music, from Justin Bieber to 50 Cent.


As buzz grew around the startup, its founders, Callum and Liam Negus-Fancey, saw an opportunity not only to change the way people experienced the entertainment industry, but to join the ranks of the tech elite. Investors came flocking, cash poured in, and they adopted the persona of high-flying, high-rolling executives.


But in the startup world, faking it until you make it can have disastrous results.


Pollen’s parent company, StreetTeam Software Limited, has gone bankrupt. About 430 employees were let go without their final paychecks. As of July 20, Pollen and its subsidiaries owed customers $8 million in refunds, according to an internal spreadsheet obtained by Insider.

But according to 31 former Pollen employees who spoke with Insider, the company’s implosion was years in the making. Many said the brothers ran Pollen a little too much like they ran their festivals: Drugs were often present, and heavy drinking and partying seemed to be part of the job description.

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iStock; Rebecca Zisser/Insider
  • Smugglers sneaked almost $1 billion in cash and gold out of Afghanistan as the US-backed government neared collapse, documents show. During the final months of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the elected government struggled to reassure its US patrons that it could maintain control. Yet at the same time, smugglers were illegally carrying cash and gold out of the country with the assistance of officials from within the government, according to Afghan government records. Read our exclusive reporting here.
  • Nike employees described “sloppy drunk” men, witnessing oral sex, and requests to “dress sexier” at work in newly unsealed surveys. In nearly 5,000 pages of records unsealed in an ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit against Nike, women at the company alleged abhorrent sexual behavior combined with corporate bullying, fears of retaliation, and a lack of faith in Nike’s willingness to do anything about it. What we learned from the documents.
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  • The age of the work-from-home whistleblower. Remote work has sparked a surge in whistleblower complaints. There’s more free time, less risk, and more support to call out wrongdoing when you work from home. Here’s why so many remote workers are blowing the whistle on their companies.
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Today’s team
This edition was curated by Nicholas Carlson, and edited by Hallam Bullock, Lisa Ryan, Jordan Parker Erb, and Nathan Rennolds. Get in touch:
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