Airbnb’s ‘acquisition’ of Letting Cloud was entirely fabricated by the Scottish proptech company’s CEO and founder, a UKTN investigation can reveal, which also uncovered a pattern of false claims from the self-styled “award-winning tech entrepreneur”.
Last week Grant MacCusker, CEO of Letting Cloud, claimed the Edinburgh-based company he founded in 2019 had been acquired for an undisclosed sum by US short-term rental platform Airbnb.
That claim was robustly denied by Airbnb. UKTN has since uncovered a series of false or misleading claims from MacCusker that led to numerous media outlets publishing the fake acquisition, along with evidence that he has been dishonest about previous business dealings.
They include MacCusker falsely claiming that Letting Cloud is being represented in its dealings with Airbnb by an international law firm, creating fake LinkedIn profiles purporting to be Letting Cloud employees, and making false claims about his business credentials.
Airbnb deal does not check out
On Tuesday 11 April, UKTN – alongside more than a dozen other outlets that included The Times and The Herald – ran a story on Letting Cloud’s supposed takeover by Airbnb. A press release issued by Letting Cloud claimed the deal would help Airbnb navigate the Scottish government’s legislative “changes surrounding short-term holiday lets”.
MacCusker said: “Our software behind the main website which conducts all the verification checks required to complete a successful let is what attracted Airbnb. To be honest it hasn’t really sunk in yet!”
Later that evening, Airbnb issued an unambiguous statement that began the unravelling of MacCusker’s subterfuge.
“We have no relationship with [Letting Cloud], we have had no discussions with this company, and we have not acquired – nor do we intend to acquire – this company,” a spokesperson for Airbnb told UKTN.
The spokesperson added that a press release quote attributed to Airbnb’s (legitimate) director of engineering, Jordanna Kwok, is “fabricated”.
Airbnb’s statement was first reported by travel industry news site Skift and was swiftly published in retractions and corrections by other outlets that ran the original story.
The phantom law firm
In response to Airbnb’s denial, Letting Cloud issued its own statement on Wednesday morning: “In the wake of recent developments in various media outlets, the matter is now in the hands of our lawyers and we will not be making any further comment at this time.”
Letting Cloud ignored UKTN’s request to name this law firm. However, in an audio recording obtained by UKTN, MacCusker can be heard claiming on multiple occasions that Letting Cloud is being represented in its dealings with Airbnb by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a California-headquartered international law firm that specialises in technology company deals.
Wilson Sonsini denies that it is working with Letting Cloud.
A spokesperson for the firm told UKTN: “Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati does not represent Letting Cloud or Grant MacCusker in a dispute with Airbnb.”
UKTN has found further evidence that suggests MacCusker’s ruse is not just recent. According to Letting Cloud’s (now deleted) LinkedIn page, an employee named “Phillip Scott” is listed as the company’s chief technology and product officer.
Scott’s previous job experiences are listed as senior UX designer at eBay, and head of product at Shopify. Scott’s career, per his LinkedIn profile, then took a perhaps unexpected turn when he moved to Letting Cloud, then a two-year-old startup, in September 2021.
However, “Phillip Scott” does not appear to be a real person, UKTN can reveal. A reverse image search of the account’s profile picture points to a stock image that first appeared on ‘Stocksnap.io’.
Nor does eBay have any record of a Phillip Scott working for the ecommerce giant. An eBay spokesperson told UKTN: “We have no record of this person having ever worked at eBay.”
A Shopify source told UKTN that it has no record of a Phillip Scott working for the company in that role.
Meanwhile, “Nicola Wood” claims to have spent nearly two years as marketing director at American Express before moving to Letting Cloud to become its chief marketing officer, according to her LinkedIn profile. Prior to American Express, her job history included head of product marketing at Santander between November 2014 and March 2018, and a two-year stint as a marketing executive at Red Bull.
Santander said it has no record of an individual going by that name and matching that job description working for the bank during those dates.
UKTN traced the original source of “Nicola Wood’s” picture to a stock image on the popular stock image site Unsplash.
American Express said it was looking into the matter but was unable to provide a comment. Red Bull did not return UKTN’s request for comment.
When UKTN presented MacCusker with this information, the two profiles were deleted, along with Letting Cloud’s LinkedIn page. Letting Cloud’s website, which had previously been set to redirect to Airbnb’s homepage, has also been taken down.
Doubts over business claims
On social media, where he has amassed over 30,000 followers, a gold Rolex watch and a Porsche convertible paint a picture of MacCusker as a successful tech entrepreneur. His LinkedIn profile claims he is a “reputable figure in the Edinburgh business world” and a “founder with multiple exits”.
Companies House filings tell a different story. Letting Cloud’s current assets are worthless and it is in negative equity of nearly £100,000, according to a filing for the year ended 28 February 2023.
One accountant, who specialises in company valuations, told UKTN that it “doesn’t look like there’s a shred of value in Letting Cloud, so it makes no sense for it to have been bought by Airbnb”.
Nor is there any evidence of MacCusker selling any of his previous ventures, contrary to his claims. MacCusker claims on LinkedIn that he took “Alexander Crombie Property Management from a startup in 2009 to a successful exit in 2015”.
However, Companies House filings show that Alexander Crombie Property Management was dissolved in 2015.
Elsewhere on his LinkedIn profile, MacCusker claims that he won “BT Young Entrepreneur of the Year” and “BT Young Business of the Year”, both in 2010.
A BT spokesperson told UKTN: “BT could find no record of the award wins in question but is checking with partners to see if they were more broadly affiliated.”
Tech Nation: Falling star
However, some award nominations appear genuine. MacCusker made it to the regional finals of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in 2020 and 2021. Letting Cloud was also a regional winner of Tech Nation’s Rising Stars 4.0 competition in 2021.
According to Tech Nation’s website, Letting Cloud’s “platform aims to bring everyone in the letting industry together under one community cloud to provide a better experience and match people and property in a modern way with purpose”.
Last month, Tech Nation invited MacCusker back as a regional judge to help pick the winner of the startup support network’s final Rising Stars competition.
Tech Nation ceased operations at the end of March. UKTN reached out to several former Tech Nation staff involved in the Rising Stars competition, but all declined to comment.
What’s the motive?
It is unclear what MacCusker was hoping to achieve by fabricating the sale of Letting Cloud to Airbnb. However, a company set up by MacCusker last month, called Grant MacCusker Limited, might give an indication.
The newly formed company is registered to provide business consulting services and investment fund activities. Meanwhile, MacCusker’s personal website – now deleted – and LinkedIn profile state that he provides “business mentoring”.
One entrepreneur active in the UK tech scene speculated that MacCusker was hoping to move into business coaching off the back of a successful exit to a large tech company.
“In such a strange case, all we can do is speculate,” said the entrepreneur, who asked not to be named. “The only explanation that seems to make sense is that Grant MacCusker was looking to go into business coaching, but needed to point to a successful exit to a household name to justify charging fees to unsuspecting clients for his ‘expertise’.”
UKTN put all of these allegations to MacCusker. In a statement, MacCusker said: “I can’t comment at this moment in time.”
Note from the editor: On 11 April, UKTN published a story incorrectly stating that Airbnb had acquired Letting Cloud. As soon as this was brought to our attention, we took the story down while we investigated. Responsibility for this oversight lies solely with me, the editor. We regret the error and apologise to our readers.