Used and Abused

Dragons’ Den has opened up a lot of  fabulous doors for me.  But one of the big downsides of being a ‘Dragon’ is people wanting to use you for personal gain.

As someone who exists to encourage enterprise, I daily tread a fine line between wanting to help entrepreneurs with genuine intent, whilst trying to avoiding being ripped off and sucked dry from those who want to take take take – and give nothing back.

One such blood-sucker is Leon Heywood, whose E2Live event was cancelled yesterday just 5 days before it was due to happen.

The official story as per the website is that the event has become ‘too big too quick’ and needs to be moved to April 2011 to ‘do it justice’.

The reality is that ticket sales have failed to materialise, sponsors have pulled out, Excel has not been paid – and key speakers (like me) have also not received their promised money.

There is of course a classic formula to creating an event.

Sign up some big names as speakers, put it in a big name venue to give it credibility, get some joint venture partners to back it (in this case charities like London Zoo), then get a whole host of other speakers on board who are anxious to get exposure – some who have been asked to pay to speak and all of whom have been asked to promote the event into their databases.

At last count there were c90 speakers – assume each has a personal database of 10k followers;  it’s an easy way to promote to almost 1million people on the strength of personal recommendation.  Apparently 4,500 tickets have been sold this way – that’s about £150k.

The final bit of sparkle on top of everything was that ALL the profits would go to Charity.

Despite everything I’ve been through in business I do still have a rather daft tendency to trust people to their word, and so back in the Summer agreed to speak at the event. I normally don’t allow my name and image to be used to promote a show until I have been paid 50% of my agreed fee, but on this occasion I agreed to give smooth talking snake oil salesman Heywood until 16 October to make that payment.

Alarm bells should have started ringing when. close to that date, Heywood’s wife and ‘Chief Financial Officer’ Lavaine James-Heywood  issued all the paperwork in the name of ‘E2 Holdings’.  (Create a subsidiary so it’s easy to liquidate it.)

16 October came and went – and that’s when the bullshit began.  Some via emails, some via telephone conversations.

The bank had ‘lost’ £25k; a sponsor had pulled out; £65k had been ‘stolen’ from the company via false invoices raised by a bogus supplier.

Excel had not been paid, neither had I, yet the relentless promotion of tickets went on. Towards the end of October I asked for my name and photo to be removed from the website but by then on the strength of my involvement there was already enough of a starry line-up to convince people to come see the show – many of whom had already booked travel and accommodation.

Almost daily, I was promised that money would be coming very shortly.  Here’s just some of the emails received:

15 October:
Hi Rachel,
Just to let you know, we have transferred the money, however NatWest seem to be playing silly buggers and withholding funds when we transfer things. If the cash does not appear in your account shortly let me know so I can go and shout and them again.
Best Regards,
Leon Heywood
25 October
Rachel,
Once again I must apologies for the tardiness of your money, unfortunately a sponsor pulled out about an hour ago, due to the fact we are not on ExCeL’s website.  I am trying to sort this out, and I will get this money transferred to you ASAP. 
I will understand if you choose to take a different commitment that is not having so many ridiculous problems in paying you, and we will still honour our financial commitments to you ASAP.Best regards,Leon Heywood

29 October
Hi Rachel
Many thanks for getting back to me,
  1. we should complete our reconciliation with our bank  by the end of next week  as i am sure you are aware banks don’t run at a fast pace  like we do in the business world  
  2. we are  chasing sponsors for promised funds as we speak
  3. Should be no later than Friday 5th November
  4. If we manage to  sort out the above earlier  we will send payment to you at the earliest possible time
  5. I will keep you updated on any changes on the situation we find ourselves in  
Best Regards
Lavaine
11 November
Rachel,
I have tried twice this week to speak with Charlie, on both occasions we missed each other, so this is why you have not been updated.
It saddens me that you feel that the reasons I have given you are “Bullshit” however I could have made a payment to yourself tomorrow. I dont understand why you are stating that you are still REQUIRED to speak at the E2. If you have lost confidence and do not wish to be involved then we can may a payment tomorrow, and ensure that the rest of your cancelation fee is paid post event, but you do not have to commit your time to an event you no longer believe in.
Best regards,
Leon Heywood

The last email in that string was in response to the threat that I would write to all my fellow speakers to let them know what was happening, as I was receiving eshots from many still pushing ticket sales hard. 

Needless to say tomorrow came – but no money – then I find out from fellow speaker Sue Stone that E2Live has been moved to April.

The message displayed on the E2Live site detailing the reasons for the shift in date is just an incredulous pack of lies!

I would urge anyone who has paid money into this event – either for the chance to speak, to have a stand at the show or for tickets to attend – to claim an immediate refund.

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4 thoughts on “Used and Abused

  1. Thank you for this Rachel and for letting everyone who reads your blog know about Leon Heywood. He promised Heropreneurs £50k and other charities similar amounts of money and now of course the people who our support will be getting anything. What a disgusting thing to do.

  2. Sadly Rachel, your story seems to mirror our experiences. Originally contracted to provide a radio service for the event, the payment deadline came and went. Like you we always prefer to trust people at their word but business is business and payment in advance is the only terms we worked to.

    Mid October, after getting a reassurance that everything was “all fine” a week previously, I received an email saying that he couldn’t afford to do it and he would be in touch next year. After the repeated missed payments and promises that never came to fruition, we were expecting this anyway.

    The saddest thing is that I had to hold back from being part of the Dreamflight trip in October… Dreamflight takes 192 seriously ill children on a life changing 10 day trip to Orlando… Aside from the disgraceful business practice, for this, we would never do business with ‘Mr Heywood’ again, whatever the terms.

  3. as someone who runs events, when we were approached by leon to be involved it was clear to me that it would be impossible to run this event successfully with the timescale, resources and lack of experience involved. I was also concerned about some of the speakers that he was claiming would be there who I new would not. Furthermore the event was due to be at Olympia originally and I put in a call to them, and was told a booking had not been made; they had just receive an enquiry. I think that leon probably believed he could pull this event off, buy in my opinion was very naive and from my experience the event was never going to happen. I think that instead of admitting the problems early on, Leon exaggerated the number of registered delegate (I believe he was claiming 2000) and sponsors support etc. I see that the event has been re scheduled buy can’t see how on earth it will work.

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