Barely a week after the sad demise of smart helmet startup Skully, court documents filed in California have painted a dark picture of corporate abuse and misuse of the millions of dollars raised by the company.
Digital Trends initially reported on the Skully project in 2013, when, in an interview with DT, motorcyclist and psychologist Dr. Marcus Weller first laid out his vision for a revolutionary helmet that would give a rider a 360-degree view of the world (and traffic) around him and provide navigation, communication, and entertainment (music) while riding — all from a self-contained computer, camera, and projection system built into a stylish, modern skid lid.
After raising a then-record $2.4 million from 1,940 backers on Indiegogo in 2014 and getting production steps in place, it appeared Skully was set to become the latest crowdfunding success story. The timing seemed right: Helmets with Bluetooth communication were becoming commonplace (and affordable) and resistance to tech inside helmets within the motorcycle community was dissipating. Plus it just looked super cool.
Skully missed a mid-2015 production target and since then, the helmets have only trickled out, with production numbers running from dozens to less than 100 complete units by some estimates. Finally, in July of 2016, the Wellers were ousted from the company and Skully officially went under after failing to secure more funding with a new CEO, although the company’s website remains active, with pop-ups for ordering new helmets at $1,500 a pop.
The Wellers took trips to Bermuda and Hawaii using company funds.
A fresh lawsuit, detailed here, takes the story to lavish new heights, with allegations of widespread corruption and incompetence. It was filed by bookkeeper Isabelle Faithhauer, who claims she worked 50 hours a week without overtime compensation and details exuberant spending by Dr. Weller and his brother, Mitchell, listed as a co-founder on the Skully site and Director of Business Management in his email signature. Mitchell’s current LinkedIn profile says he is “considering new opportunities.” Dr. Marcus Weller’s page lists him as “Inventor, Entrepreneur, Industrial Psychologist.”
Faithhauer alleges wrongful termination, defamation, wire fraud, and more. She also claims the Wellers used the funds raised by the Indiegogo campaign and a secondary $11 million round of funding in 2015 as their personal “piggy banks”to buy several motorcycles, two Dodge Vipers, groceries, and so on. The Wellers took trips to Bermuda and Hawaii using company funds, she said, went to strip clubs, rented a Lamborghini, and paid for personal housekeeping services on the company credit card, as well as paying out funds ranging from $500 to $80,000.
Lastly, she claims that the Wellers asked her to fudge the books to obscure the expenses. Faithhauer claims that when accountants came calling with questions about the expenses, she was up front about what was going on. She says that when she took a pre-approved vacation to Disneyland in December of 2015, she was fired upon her return and offered a severance package, which the suit calls “hush money.” She declined the offer.
Following her termination at Skully, Faithhauer claims that when she found a new job, her new employer contacted the Wellers at Skully and were told she could not be trusted with confidential information.
She was fired from that job as well, Faithhauer says.