Student Rents: CEO who faked Airbnb deal misled investors in £466k crowdfunding raise
An entrepreneur who fabricated that Airbnb acquired his Scottish proptech company also misled investors during a £466,000 crowdfunding raise for a separate venture that claims to be the “Uber of student rentals”.
UKTN can reveal that Grant MacCusker, along with his teenage son Jamie Stewart, listed three fake employees on an investor slide deck on the crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to raise cash for their company Student Rents.
In January Student Rents, which claims to be an online portal to connect students and landlords, closed an oversubscribed crowdfunding raise that secured capital from 179 investors.
Those investors were told, per a pitch deck obtained by UKTN, that three of the five employees listed had combined experience at Shopify, eBay, Santander, American Express and Streetbees.
UKTN can confirm that all three of these employees do not exist. “Nicola Wood” and “Phillip Scott” are listed as Student Rents’ chief marketing officer and chief technology and product officer, respectively.
These individuals were also listed as employees for MacCusker’s proptech company Letting Cloud, which falsely claimed to have been acquired by Airbnb earlier this month.
A UKTN investigation published yesterday revealed that their LinkedIn profiles – now deleted – were fake and using stock images.
Santander, eBay and Shopify all confirmed they have no record of these individuals ever working for them.
A third Student Rents employee, called “Kirsty Wilson”, is listed as the company’s chief operating officer. The investor slide claims Wilson had experience at Streetbees, a London-based consumer data intelligence startup.
A spokesperson for Streetbees said: “We have checked our systems and have no record of Kirsty Wilson ever having worked at Streetbees.”
A reverse image search of “Kirsty Wilson’s” headshot leads to a stock image on the popular stock image site Unsplash.
Misleading work experience
Elsewhere on the investor slides, Stewart, who became Student Rents CEO last month, has put the logos of Amazon, eBay and Shopify underneath his name on a page showcasing the past experiences of the Student Rents ‘team’.
A Shopify source said it has no record of Stewart working for the Canadian ecommerce company.
An eBay spokesperson told UKTN: “We have no record of this person having ever worked at eBay.”
Amazon told UKTN it can find no record of Stewart working for the tech giant.
When UKTN approached Stewart with this information, he claimed that the logos did not mean he worked for those tech companies, despite the logos underneath MacCusker’s name and others signifying previous work experience.
Stewart said: “I would like to ask where it states that I worked at Amazon, Shopify and eBay? As the screenshot you have provided contradicts your allegations, it states ‘three years launching and scaling a digital marketplaces’ which is completely different to working for, as in fact I used these companies to help scale.”
MacCusker, who stepped down as Student Rents CEO last month to become non-executive chairman, did not return UKTN’s request for comment. Stewart did not respond to UKTN’s questions about the fake Student Rents employees.
Due diligence questions
The Student Rents crowdfund poses serious questions for Crowdcube about its due diligence process. A Crowdcube disclaimer on Student Rents’ crowdfund page states: “Every pitch on Crowdcube is reviewed to ensure it is fair, clear and not misleading.”
In addition to the fake employees, experts have told UKTN that Student Rents’ financials are not credible.
According to the investor pitch deck, Student Rents expects to grow from gross profits of £14,000 in 2022 to more than £13m by 2026, with a gross profit margin of 89%. The company also claims it will grow from an 11% market share to 84% by 2026.
One accountant described the growth projections as “outrageous” that “would need a lot of substantiating”. He added: “Gross profit margin increase is the most suspect area as this should remain relatively consistent.”
Student Rents raised £466,172.55 at a pre-money valuation of £4.5m, selling 9.3% of the company’s equity. This valuation is at odds with Student Rents’ most recent Companies House filings, which show the company had tangible assets of just £13,813.
Stewart claimed that Crowdcube gave Student Rents the £4.5m valuation. However, Crowdcube policy states: “Firstly, please note that whilst we do provide guidance on valuations, it is the company’s decision to price their investment offer and ultimately the crowd then decides if they are willing to invest at that price.”
It is unclear whether Student Rents has yet received the investor funds.
In a statement to UKTN, Crowdcube said: “We are aware of the reported allegations and are conducting an investigation. At this stage, we cannot provide further comment.”