For a while now, reports have suggested that the reality at Hampton Creek doesn't match its carefully-crafted image. A damning expose in the latest edition of Bloomberg Businessweek is sure to leave people wondering whether investors in the vegan food startup feel like they have egg on their face.
The story, by Olivia Zaleski, Peter Waldman and Ellen Huet, alleges Hampton Creek's founder, Josh Tetrick, orchestrated a full-scale subterfuge to mislead investors about how much eggless mayonnaise his company was selling, sending dozens of shoppers to grocery stores to buy out their inventory and concealing the scope of the buyback program in financial documents.
"We're aware of the informal inquiry and we'll be sharing the facts, as opposed to the inaccuracies reported by Bloomberg," Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick reportedly told Bloomberg in an email.
Here's what we know about how investors have reacted over time to Hampton Creek's controversies. Inc. has reached out to numerous Hampton Creek shareholders and will update with any comment.
Only a question of time.
Investor Ali Partovi quit work at Hampton Creek as a liaison* to investors after only nine days on the job, according to Bloomberg. He reportedly told Tetrick the company's sales projections were misleading to investors. "If an investor discovers it during due diligence, we could lose financing and run out of cash. If they don't, they'll realize they were duped within months, and they might have a case for fraud," he was quoted as saying in a 2014 email obtained by Bloomberg. Partovi declined to comment to Inc.
Founders Fund withdrew an offer to lead a financing round.
Peter Thiel's venture capital firm, Founders Fund, reportedly reacted to Partovi's departure by rescinding an offer to lead a round of financing for Hampton Creek with an investment of $20 million, according to Bloomberg. Instead, the company invested only $500,000. Hampton Creek told Bloomberg Founders Fund never gave the company a term sheet to lead the round and that the firm continues to be supportive of the startup. Founders Fund declined to comment to Inc.
Some say Hampton Creek was honest about the buyback.
The company has said its buyback of its own mayo product from stores was for purposes of quality control, and a pair of investors anonymously confirmed the explanation to Bloomberg. Critics say such a move could distort sales figures.
The venture capital world notices.
Investors in Hampton Creek may be hesitant to talk about controversy surrounding the startup, but that hasn't stopped investors without stake in the company to take notice. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen tweeted after reports of Hampton Creek buying its own product surfaced, "No comment on specific companies, but make no mistake: Buying your own product to inflate your reported revenue is fraud."
No comment on specific companies, but make no mistake: Buying your own product to inflate your reported revenue is fraud.-- Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) August 5, 2016
He didn't explicitly mention the startup, but it seems reasonable to wonder whether mayonnaise was the product he had in mind. His firm, Andreessen Horowitz, declined to comment to Inc. citing that it's not an investor in Hampton Creek.
Editor's note: Partovi has disputed Bloomberg's description of him as a liaison to investors. His exact title was Chief Strategy Officer.