[Updated 5.22.15 at 9:10 a.m. PT with Userfarm’s statement]
Video crowdsourcing company Vizy has shut down its U.S. offices and left a trail of unpaid fees, according to several videomakers.
The company was formed last December by the merger of North America-based Poptent and Europe-based Userfarm. Both companies had similar models — getting brands to select videomakers via competitions for the production of short videos about their products. The videos were used online for social media campaigns and other marketing efforts.
In April, CEO Bruno Pellegrini announced that Vizy had completed the integration of the platforms from the two companies.
This past weekend, two videomakers contacted VentureBeat to say that Vizy had abruptly and recently closed its main office in Philadelphia, locking out employees who were then allowed to re-enter briefly to retrieve their personal possessions. There are also reports that a second office in California has similarly closed. Philly magazine reports today that the Philadelphia office is shuttered.
The phone for both offices is the same, and we have not heard back after leaving a message requesting a comment. The Vizy Web address delivers a blank page, although there is still a Poptent site and a Userfarm site.
The Poptent site still lists the Philadelphia and California offices, which have the same phone number. VentureBeat sent an inquiry through a form on the site, but it has not been answered.
The Userfarm site lists only offices in London, Rome, and Paris. According to several videomakers, it had previously listed the two U.S. offices as well.
We have spoken with four videomakers, each of which report a similar story.
Littleton, Colorado-based Dean Friend said he is owed $8,500 for work done last year. He received an email from Vizy in January, saying payments would begin coming but they did not.
Michael Cameneti of Canton, Ohio said he’s owed $6,600 for a video he made for the All Free Clear Laundry brand detergent. Andrew Blankenship, who lives near Stockton, California, claims $14,000 from last year is due. Ten thousand dollars of that was for winning a Visit California contest that he said paid Vizy and which the company was supposed to administer.
Zachary Bock of Lincoln, Nebraska said he is owed $8,900 for a video he did for Abbott Diabetes Care, a healthcare company. He said the brand told them they had paid Vizy.
Each of the videomakers say they are in touch with a number of others in similar situations, with some suggesting there are at least dozens whose fees are unpaid. The comments board on the Poptent site, which is still active, shows a number of similar complaints by videomakers of unpaid bills.
These videomakers — and one other who prefers to remain unnamed — all report that their efforts to get payment have been futile. In fact, CEO Pellegrini has emailed several of them to say that his company is based in Europe and is not responsible for debts from the U.S. office of Vizy.
An email to Blankenship, a copy of which was sent to VentureBeat, said:
to my knowledge Vizy Inc. (legacy Poptent) trouble is managed by Nat Wasserstein.
As a simple european branch of Vizy (formerly known as Userfarm) we are not responsible for the job you took with Poptent months ago.
Pellegrini signed it as the CEO of Userfarm Spa.
It’s hard to imagine that the merger between Poptent and Userfarm would not have included an assumption of any prior debt. In fact, Bock has noted that one of the videos he made for Poptent is appearing on Userfarm’s site.
We have emailed Pellegrini directly, as well as the apparently U.S.-based Wasserstein through the U.S. email address for Vizy, but have received no responses. Wasserstein reportedly specializes in corporate reorganization.
Nick Pahade, the former CEO of Poptent who had been the Chairman of the new Vizy until April, told me that he is no longer affiliated with the company. He declined to comment, except to say that he hoped “they will do the right thing.”
Today, Bock emailed to say that “it has come to my attention that Vizy Inc. (US) may be in the process of starting to pay out employees and possibly creators.” He based this on a conversation with Wasserstein, who said “he was just starting to understand the entire situation he has been put into so far and would update me again as he knew more.”
UPDATE: On May 22, Userfarm emailed VentureBeat that it has posted the following statement:
“There are misconceptions regarding Userfarm’s relationship with Vizy, Inc. (a successor in interest to Poptent, Inc.) and the financial issues that Vizy, Inc. is facing. We want to clarify these misconceptions.
Userfarm and Vizy, Inc. are two separate companies. Userfarm has never assumed obligations or liabilities of Vizy, Inc. Any debts owed by Vizy, Inc. are (and always have been) the sole responsibility of Vizy, Inc.
Userfarm’s shared use of the Vizy brand unfortunately did not last long due to the financial issues of Vizy, Inc. We have therefore returned to our strong and popular former brand, Userfarm.”
Userfarm is focused and committed to serving its clients, employees and creators, in the same professional manner that has been our hallmark for many years.”
However, a press release sent out on January 14 by Userfarm and Poptent clearly said the two companies had merged to create Vizy. It began:
“The two biggest names in video crowdsourcing, Poptent and Userfarm, today announced they have merged to create Vizy, the first truly global resource for brands and agencies wishing to engage digital audiences more effectively through high quality video content.”
Additionally, it’s not clear how “Userfarm’s shared use of the Vizy brand” could not make it liable for Vizy’s debts, since that phrase indicates Userfarm operated under the Vizy name. Some of the debts apparently come from the pre-Vizy merger, but others appear to be post-merger.
We have reached out for comment from Userfarm. Pahade, who is listed in the January 14 press release as the CEO, declined to comment.