Work Item

Crashed: $800m Festival Fail

The jaw-dropping story of the spectacular rise and dramatic fall of British music and festival company Pollen.

The company was launched in 2014 by two young British brothers, Callum and Liam Negus-Fancey. Riding the wave of the tech boom which saw start-ups like Deliveroo, Airbnb and Uber become ‘unicorn’ giants valued at $1bn or more, the brothers created a simple idea that soon attracted huge investment. Beginning as a ticketing platform – giving festivals goers the chance to earn VIP rewards for selling tickets to their friends – the company tapped into a lucrative market when music festivals and Instagram influencing were flourishing. They promised their customers a ‘bigger life’, gave staff a glamorous, party-fuelled workplace and soon went global.

In 2020, the pandemic hit the festival scene hard. But where there was chaos, they saw opportunity. Banking on the inevitable upsurge in demand for festivals and getaways that cooped-up twenty-somethings would have once the world opened up, Pollen pivoted and accelerated plans to put on their own events, not just selling tickets to them, partnering with big-name acts including Justin Bieber, J Balvin and Tiesto.

Faced with the ongoing problems of Covid and some chaotically managed festivals, customers began to turn on the brand, and Pollen’s reputation took a nosedive. In August 2022, just months after being valued at $800 million, the company went bust - owing tens of millions of pounds to its staff, customers and shareholders.

This is a cautionary tale set in the world of entertainment and excess. It’s a story about a company run by ambitious young entrepreneurs, determined to turn their company into the next ‘unicorn’. And it’s the inside story of what went wrong at Pollen; told by ex-staff members who were left without pay, angry customers who demanded refunds for disastrous events and journalists who began to question the reality of Pollen’s success.

Released on iPlayer and broadcast on BBC THREE in June 2023.