How I did it

Aussie startup slammed for allegedly misleading users on celeb sign-ups says: “we’re not a major fraud”

Denham Sadler /

 

An Adelaide-based startup said to be valued at over $9 million has been slammed after many of the high-profile celebrities it had claimed to be offering video calls with said they’d never heard of it and politicians touted to attend its launch party said they had never agreed to appear.

 

Sociabl, an online platform allowing fans to receive a personalised video calls from a celebrity, launched on the App Store this month and held a party in Sydney on Monday to mark the occasion, as reported by StartupSmart.

 

The startup has been listed by many as one to watch this year, including by StartupSmart, but co-founder Brandon Reynolds appears to have been caught out about many of his claims in an interview conducted by The Today Show host David Campbell on Monday.

 

Campbell was himself listed as one of the celebrities fans could buy a video call with on Sociabl, but told Reynolds he had “never heard of it”.

 

“According to Brandon you can pay $500 to talk to me through his app and $250 will go to a charity of my choice,” Campbell said in the interview.

 

“I’ve never heard of this app.”

 

Campbell’s father, Jimmy Barnes, also denied any involved with the startup.

 

“These people have completely lied about my involvement,” Barnes says in a statement.

 

“I think they’re just using my name to try to fool people into buying a dodgy product. It’s wrong and I have nothing to do with it. If the people behind this don’t stop putting these stories out there then I’ll have to make them stop.”

 

Reynolds has responded to the claims in a post on Medium, saying the startup had “express permission” to feature David Campbell and Jimmy Barnes.

 

“The program aired spread a lot of false claims about Sociabl and myself that were shallowly investigated,” Reynolds says in the post.

 

Reynolds’ publicist Max Markson tells StartupSmart this “miscommunication” was due to confirmation coming from the celebrities’ social media managers rather than their actual managers.

 

“My understanding is that Jimmy Barnes, David Campbell and Reece Mastin have the same social media manager – Jake Challenor,” Markson says.

 

“Jake and Sociabl have been in contact with each other since last November. Jake gave permission to Sociabl for them to feature Jimmy, David and Reece on the app.

 

“When it came to light last week that David Campbell knew nothing about it and Jake admitted he had not spoken to David and that Jimmy didn’t know about it, Sociabl took them all off the app.

 

“Everyone else on the app has been contracted.”

 

As the interview continued, Reynolds was asked if will.i.am, another celebrity listed on the platform, was actually confirmed, to which he replied: “100%”.

 

But Campbell then revealed that will.i.am’s manager had said it was not something he was involved with.

 

In the post, Reynolds claims Sociabl has been “working with” people in contact with will.i.am.

 

“Sociabl is in fact working with will.i.am through Polo Molina and Justin J Garza – in direct contradiction to claims made by the program,” Reynolds says.

 

Sociabl also listed comedians Frenchy and Alex Williamson as available for video calls, but their manager Andrew Williams says they had never agreed to be a part of it.

 

“Brandon from Sociabl contacted me during late October 2015,” Williams says in a statement.

 

“I met him on 5th November 2015 in Sydney. At that meeting he outlined the project to me and I decided that it wouldn’t work for my clients. We then noticed recently that he had cited Frenchy and Alex on his launch promotion as being involved.

 

“I told him then to remove them, for which I got no reply. Having checked again yesterday I saw he’d left them on his website, so we have informed him that he must now remove them or face legal action.”

 

Reynolds didn’t address these concerns in the Medium post.

 

Sociabl’s website was taken down on Monday afternoon, replaced by a message saying “coming soon” that was soon updated with a link to Reynolds’ statement.

 

“In the interest of all of our clients we’ve removed all celebrities from the app until further notice,” Reynolds says.

 

Sociabl also claims that 50% of the profits from every video call go to charities including White Ribbon Australia, but the charity told Channel 9 they were not involved in any way.

 

According to Reynolds, 10 of the “current clients” on Sociabl are “raising funds for White Ribbon Australia”.

 

The startup had earlier said in a press release that minister for industry, innovation and science Christopher Pyne and opposition leader Bill Shorten would be attending Monday’s launch party on the Sydney Harbour, but spokespeople for both politicians deny either of them were ever slated to attend.

 

In his response, Reynolds maintains both politicians were at one stage planning to attend the launch.

 

“Both Christopher Pyne and Bill Shorten were both acutely aware and at stages scheduled to attend the Sociabl launch,” he says.

 

But a spokesperson for Shorten tells StartupSmart the Opposition Leader was invited but had declined.

 

“They invited Bill, he declined,” the spokesperson says.

 

“We were a bit bewildered when we got a few calls last week asserting Bill was attending this event. It was never the case.”

 

A spokesperson for Pyne tells StartupSmart he also declined to attend the event.

 

Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a former editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.

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