- 24 Aug 09, 18:02 GMT
There have been more twists and turns in the saga of Spinvox, the leading British voice-to-text service that isn't quite as high-tech as it claims. We know that the company has had to employ thousands of call centre staff to transcribe voicemail messages - what's become clearer is the rocky state of the firm's finances.
Last week, a filing at Companies House showed where the company had gone to raise the £15m it found it needed at the end of July after apparently getting through the $100m (£61m) it raised in March 2008. The filing showed that Tisbury Master Fund - an existing backer - had provided a loan, or rather what's known as mezzanine finance, but with some serious strings attached. Tisbury can now demand to be repaid a total of £30m - it looks as though an existing loan due for repayment next July has been rolled up with the new money - by Christmas this year. Finding that money could prove quite a challenge.
As if to emphasise just how difficult it will be, the Sunday Times has reported that what it called "unaudited" accounts showed that Spinvox's losses had climbed 30% to £49m in 2008, with revenues of £10m, far short of what the company's co-founder Christina Domecq had claimed last year would be achieved. A few days ago, I sat down with someone who has intimate knowledge of Spinvox's finances, and after a few rapid sums on the back of an envelope, he too came up with an estimated loss of somewhere around £47m. Spinvox's new PR firm is Brunswick, which I learn was called in by John Botts, who as chairman of both Tisbury and Spinvox, now appears to hold the future of the company in his hands. Brunswick has not sought to deny the story in the Sunday Times.
But here's an interesting question. What were the employees of Spinvox told back in July when they were encouraged to invest in their own company? They were told it was vital that they should swap part of their pay for July and August for share options, in order to see the company through to profitability. But did they know about the document sent to investors making serious allegations about financial mismanagement?
No, says the Spinvox PR team. And did they know about the accounts showing their company had made a big loss in 2008? No again - though they were given monthly updates about the company's progress. I've been looking back at some notes from the 20 July when I spoke to the Spinvox co-founder Daniel Doulton about the share offer to staff.
"We offered staff the opportunity to buy stock now before the next big (investment) round where our value increases by orders of magnitude and they're going to benefit," he told me. "It's only fair that we share the upside with our staff and don't keep it all to ourselves." So it appears they were told that the outlook was very bright.
The week before, Spinvox's Head of Social Media James Whatley, responding to a blog post about the employee share offer, wrote this:
"I'd really like to clarify some things:
1) Headline of piece:
'SpinVox Paying Staff In Stock To Save On Costs' Well, no. Not really.
'SpinVox Offers Staff *Opportunity* To Be Paid In Stock'... is closer to the truth, i.e.: it's the truth.
Remember, the important parts here are 'offers' & 'opportunity'. While this may well be part of a longer term to save money - it's actually a bloody good offer (one that I've taken up myself)."
Mr Whatley, you may remember, wrote a Spinvox company blog post describing the BBC's original story as "a veritable maelstrom of accusations, misapprehensions and sometimes just plain lies". But today, he has left Spinvox. Like many of those who have left, he has apparently signed a non-disclosure agreement, so he won't be talking about his experiences at the company.
So we are unlikely to find out soon whether he still thinks that he and his colleagues were given a "bloody good offer" back in July.
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