(Photo by Christopher Wink)
Brand.com is underwater.
The Center City tech company, which seemed to vanish into thin air earlier this year after a splashy domain purchase and a mayoral welcome in 2013, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last month, according to court documents. Chapter 7 means that the company must sell off its remaining assets.
The company owes more than $1.9 million to nearly 70 people and organizations — including $52,000 to former landlord Keystone Property Group, nearly $200,000 to services like Salesforce, LinkedIn and content recommendation startup Taboola and more than $200,000 in pending lawsuits from former employees and clients. It reported a total of $104,000 in assets, the bulk of which is office equipment like computers, furniture and phone systems.
The company reported making $11.8 million in revenue in 2013 and $8.5 million in 2014.
When reached for comment, cofounder Rich Gorman, who is listed as the chairman of Brand.com on the filing, wrote in an email: “If you show me an internet entrepreneur that hasn’t failed, I’ll show you someone that isn’t an internet entrepreneur.”
Gorman, 32, a Chadds Ford resident, according to state records, said the company ran out of funding when it tried and failed to pivot from reputation management to content marketing. It attempted to pivot after Google “changed its policy on reputation management, and penalized the 2 largest ORM [online reputation management] companies (Brand.com & Reputation.com),” he wrote.
Essentially overnight all of the tools that we utilized didn’t work. Google even went so far as to remove both Brand.com and Reputation.com from its search engine….
What I learned quickly was that you should never build a business model that is dependent on another platform, especially an SEO play on Google’s platform. e.g. Brand.com’s success was dependent on Google’s algorithm. Business was great until Google’s engineers decided that they would change their algorithm [to] adversely [affect] many of the tools we used at the time to run ORM campaigns.
Gorman had previously told us that, contrary to employee reports otherwise, he was not involved with day-to-day operations of the company after 2013. In February, he told us that he did not know what had happened to Brand.com. Now, he says that in fact, he did make “key contributions” to the business in 2014.
“I was not involved in the business during most of November, December, and January, therefore when we spoke last, I was still wrapping my mind around what happened at Brand.com,” he wrote.
Gorman said that despite its fate, he’s proud of what the team accomplished.
“While it’s really sad to see the Brand.com venture end, I must tell you that it was a fun experience,” he wrote. “A lot of great people put a ton of sweat equity into the business, and the ORM industry showed a lot of promise circa 2011-2013.”
Brand.com cofounder Justin Singletary is also listed on the filing as a debtor, alongside Gorman. Brand.com staffers previously told us that Singletary was rarely around the office.
The filing sheds a little more light on company ownership: the majority of Brand.com is equally owned by Gorman (via his company, Gorman Economics) and Creative Estates, LLC, a company that has been linked to Singletary in a court document. But there’s another company with a minority stake: Lydia Security Monitoring. The CEO of Lydia Security Monitoring, which does business as COPS Monitoring, is Ira Riklis, whom one former Brand.com exec had named as an investor.
The filing names Michael Griffsby and Ryan Andrews as treasurer and secretary of Brand.com, respectively, though mysteriously. Griffsby does not appear to have any online footprint and it appears that Andrews has scrubbed his online persona of any connection with Brand.com (though we did find this Google+ post that names Andrews as the company’s Chief Legal Officer).
According to the filing, Brand.com sold its domain for $300,000 to what’s listed as “Silicon Valley.” The company had purchased it for a reported $500,000 from from MakerBot VP Chuck Pettis. Brand.com also sold NHQ.com, the domain for its content marketing identity News Headquarters, for $10,000. The Brand.com Twitter account has also been sold.
A public hearing will be held in the coming weeks, said Christine Shubert, the trustee who was assigned to the case. Though the hearing is public, only Shubert and creditors — those who Brand.com owes money to — are allowed to question Gorman about the bankruptcy.