Freedom SEO has entered into administration, with customers and the majority of staff moving to Rankfirst in the latest episode in the “trail of destruction” created by disgraced Energy Watch chief Ben Polis.
Polis, the former chief executive of Energy Watch, was also formerly managing director of Freedom SEO, which specialises in search engine optimisation.
Polis stepped down from his role at the utilities broker Energy Watch after making racist and offensive remarks on his personal Facebook page.
Energy Watch and Freedom SEO were both dumped as sponsors by the Melbourne Football Club following the race remarks scandal.
Freedom SEO was partly owned by Energy Watch and Freedom SEO’s website continues to advertise Energy Watch as one of its clients for website design.
Robynne Candiloro, spokesperson for Freedom SEO, told SmartCompany the circumstances of the collapse were “very emotional”.
“The Ben Polis trail of destruction has had such a bad effect on our work environment. He has put us through such a wringer that many of us didn’t even want to keep the Freedom SEO name,” says Candiloro.
“We are innocent and we have nothing to do with him.
“All of our customers know exactly what is going on they do not need to be told by anyone else, we are in very clear communication with every person who we trade with.
“We have come up with a good best-case scenario and someone has been very generous in what has been offered.”
That someone is the owner of Rankfirst, Troy Winney.
Rankfirst has bought the “minimal assets” of Freedom SEO, but Winney says he mainly paid for the company’s client base and will not continue the Freedom SEO branding.
Rankfirst is employing five of Freedom SEO’s staff and Winney was unsure what would happen to the rest of the staff.
“It happened very quickly and I did not even get an opportunity to meet any of the staff,” says Winney.
“Freedom SEO had other offers on the table but they took the best one for their staff.
“I had to pay in cash so they could have all the money in time to pay their staff.
“I’m just a guy who is trying to do the right thing by the clients, from my point of view I have run a very respectable company before and I don’t want this bad history to reflect on us.”
Winney says Freedom SEO’s staff have been paid all of their wages, however, he is not aware whether they have been paid their entitlements.
“Their staff look to be me like I am a bit of a saviour to them, it is also a bit of an opportunity to them,” he says.
The current director of Freedom SEO, Gordon Chong, is Winney’s former business partner and a former director of Rankfirst.
Winney says he started Rankfirst with Chong four years ago, then two years ago Chong announced he wanted to separate from Winney and “soon after that he started Freedom SEO with Energy Watch.”
“Whatever people think of these Energy Watch people, [or what] the deal that we made was, his main priority was to look after his staff and also the clients,” says Winney.
“Ben Polis had sold out of there before I was privy to any information and so I don’t know what the split of the relationship was; I did not speak to anyone else at Freedom SEO or EnergyWatch except for Gordon.”
Energy Watch was previously a client of Rankfirst’s and Rankfirst shared office space with Energy Watch. However, Winney says he no longer has any association with Energy Watch or Ben Polis.
“I haven’t spoken to those guys since we moved out of their office over two years ago. I haven’t spoken to Ben [Polis] or Luke [Zombor] since then.
“I don’t have any friendship or association with those guys, I have continued a friendship with Gordon Chong.
“I understood the background before, but it is not as if we have taken advantage of the situation, I am not getting a great deal because of any association.
“There is nothing that I think is untowards about any of this.”
Freedom SEO was previously the Melbourne Football Club’s official media partner and was given exposure on all club internal and external communications, media backdrop and “prominent signage” around the scoreboard at all AFL games played at the MCG.
Announcing the partnership deal in June last year, Melbourne chief commercial officer John Poulakakis said: “Freedom SEO is an innovative online brand, and we welcome their support of the Melbourne Football Club. Importantly, Freedom SEO will become an important service provider for the club’s growing business community.”
Ben Polis, then managing director of Freedom SEO, said: “We are delighted to be involved with the Melbourne Football Club. I know it’s one of the oldest clubs in the world, but for me it is also progressive, dynamic and youthful.
“These are all attributes that we at Freedom SEO can relate to, and it’s the reason why we’ve become involved.”
Once the race allegations surfaced, the Melbourne Football Club terminated its relationship with Energy Watch and Freedom SEO.
Melbourne Football Club told SmartCompany it had no further comment.