UK-born travel and experiences company Pollen has been making a lot of headlines over the past few months.
In April, for example, Pollen raised $150 million in a Series C round, having previously raised over $100 million in VC funding.
The company’s investors include Kindred, Northzone, Sienna Capital, Backed and Draper Spirit.
At the time of the Series C raise, Co-Founder and CEO Callum Negus-Fancey said that, “When people look back after 10 years, and think about their top five memories, we want them to feel like Pollen was responsible for three of them”.
Pollen runs two offerings: Pollen Presents, which curates experiences for customers across travel, music, and more; and Pollen+, which partners with promoters and music festivals to offer customers who book through its platforms perks at events.
Just one month after making its Series C announcement, however, the startup let over 150 members of staff go in the UK and the US.
In a comment provided to MBW at the time, Pollen’s Callum Negus-Fancey told us that, “as part of closing our Series C round, we agreed on a new plan with our investors where we will continue to show strong growth while taking the business to profitability faster through greater focus and cutting our costs by 15%”.
Founded in 2014 by Callum, and his brother Liam Negus-Fancey, the company made two impressive hires in the UK in 2021, naming Zeon Richards as Head of Partnerships and Christine Osazuwa as its Strategy Director for Pollen Presents.
As confirmed in a post on LinkedIn earlier this year, Osazuwa was one of the execs to exit the firm in May.
Widely respected British music executive Zeon Richards, meanwhile, revealed in his own LinkedIn post on Friday (July 8) that he has decided to resign from his position as Head of Partnerships at the company, “citing practices within the company which do not align with my ethics”.
Elsewhere, last week, Sifted reported that Pollen had missed its June payroll and was working to ‘secure new funding, potentially in the form of an acquisition’.
The report adds that hundreds of staff weren’t paid their salaries on their June 30 payday.
Sifted cites a message sent to staff on July 1 by Callum Negus-Fancey claiming ‘that the delay came as the company is “closing a transaction with a large, well-known entertainment company”‘.
The message reportedly adds that “They will become our biggest investor and shareholder”.
UK-based staff reportedly received their salaries on July 1.
“Despite the millions they say they have, we are struggling to get funds which we are owed for work we have completed.”
Tasha Demi, TWENTY:TWO Agency
Separately, in a lengthy LinkedIn post, London-based creative and marketing agency TWENTY:TWO Co-Founder Tasha Demi, claims that Pollen “don’t pay small businesses for their work”.
Demi notes that Pollen, which has raised tens of millions of dollars in VC funding, “currently owe us just shy of £24,000 which as you can imagine is a HUGE amount of money for two young women to forgo”.
Demi adds that Pollen “boasts” on its LinkedIn page, “that they are ‘backed by prominent investors including Kindred, Northzone, Sienna Capital, Backed and Draper Spirit. Pollen has raised over $100 million in VC funding’ – despite the millions they say they have, we are struggling to get funds which we are owed for work we have completed.”
“Pollen, the travel platform, announced today that it’s moving from being a venture-backed loss-making technology company focused on topline growth to an experiences and entertainment company focused on sustainable profitability.”
With this all playing out in the background, just last week, Pollen issued a press release announcing a strategic shift and claimed that it now “prioritizes profits over growth”.
The company claims that it’s now moving from being a “venture-backed loss-making technology company focused on topline growth to an experiences and entertainment company focused on sustainable profitability”.
Pollen adds that “All shareholders are really supportive of our change in strategy and agree it’s the best way to succeed and create value in the current environment”.
The statement continues: “For more than a decade startups have been built on the principle that growth is the biggest driver of valuation and is more important than anything else. However, this principle is not holding true today. Global markets have been knocked by an incredibly challenging macroeconomic environment over the past few months. Inflation is running at its fastest pace in decades, energy prices are skyrocketing, and the cost of living is rising. This has all contributed to a shift in investor mentality as they look for more than just growth, and want to see businesses that have strong earning potential and profitability.”
Pollen says that it has created “hundreds of exclusive travel experiences and world-class IP, featuring the world’s biggest talent and brands, including J Balvin, Justin Bieber, SEVENTEEN, and Duran Duran”.
The company reports to have had more than 250,000 travellers on its experiences in the last 12 months across over 300 experiences.
In 2021, Pollen reports that its “sales increased more than 300% despite the pandemic”.
“Practices within the company which do not align with my ethics have led me to this decision.
In a LinkedIn post announcing his resignation from the company, Zeon Richards said: “Today, I have decided to resign from my position at Pollen.
“During my time here, myself and extremely hard-working team members were able to create wonderful memories such as DLT Malta, Hunchoz Wrld and Chop Vegas which featured artists Wizkid, Burna Boy, Shenseea and more, but ultimately practices within the company which do not align with my ethics have led me to this decision.
“I am eternally grateful to the partners and agents who trusted to work with me and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to co-found the first ERG ‘Amplify’ with Tara Rock, Yssine Matola and Alex McClelland. I look forward to a new challenge.”Music Business Worldwide