The MadBird ‘JobFish’ Con

The Zoom meeting was called to welcome the growing company’s newest recruits, and Ali Ayad wanted everyone to be ambitious hustlers. In a fake meeting on Zoom , fake people were listed as participants. The BBC spent a year investigating what happened.

Chris Doocey, a 27-year-old sales manager based in Manchester, started work at Madbird, a human-centred digital design agency in London, but the pandemic was still raging when he started.

Madbird hired 50 more people. Jordan Carter, who was 26, was credited with being one of the hardest working employees, having pitched 10,000 possible business clients in five months. Madbird’s HR department posted job ads for an international sales team based out of Dubai. If they met their sales targets, they could be sponsored to move to the UK.

Ali Ayad was always changing his story as he made his way to London, claiming to be a Mormon, a hustler, or even from Lebanon. Ali told people stories about his career as a Nike creative designer, where he met his co-founder Dave Stanfield. He was a smooth operator on video calls, and he seemed caring.

Ali’s LinkedIn profile was filled with glowing endorsements from former colleagues and the testimony of his business partner Dave Stanfield.

The two people whom Ali compared himself to most often were Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. He tried to work 16 hours a day to keep pushing through tough business decisions. However Madbird’s workers had not been paid for months, because their contracts had been written in an unusual way.

Using fake identities gleamed from the internet, MadBird portrayed the glitzy entrepreneurial lifestyle of it’s boss Ali Ayes (from his fake profile above)

The young adults designers and sales and marketing employees had been offered in their contract to be paid on a commission-only basis for the first six months of work. They felt they had no choice but to accept the terms. Madbird staff were forced to take out credit cards and borrow money from family to pay bills after six months.

The longer you worked at Madbird, the harder it became to leave, as you feared losing your job or that sale or contact that might come through earning you the commission that the company had offered. Madbird did not pay staff because there was no money coming in, but new staff thought their contracts were unique.

A 27-year-old designer was curious about her commute to Madbird’s office when she spotted a Google Street View that showed an apartment block in Kensington. Gemma contacted an estate agent, who confirmed the block of flats was purely residential, and nobody had ever seen Ali Ayad.

Gemma shared with another Madbird employee that the company’s work had been stolen from elsewhere on the internet.

The staff thought about their options and decided to send an email to staff from the alias of Jane Smith. Madbird’s founders were accused of stealing the work of others and fabricating team members in an email sent on a busy workday afternoon.

Madbird claimed to have been shipping products for 10 years, but had only been registered with Companies House the same day Ali Ayad interviewed Chris Doocey.

At least six of Madbird’s most senior employees were fake, including its co-founder, despite his having a LinkedIn profile and emails from him. This profile picture in reality was of a beehive maker named Michal Kalis who had never heard of Madbird; Ali Ayad or Dave Stanfield. The other person using Dave Stanfield’s name was a model named Nigel White.

The identities of the graphic designer, brand growth manager, and marketing manager at Madbird turned out to be photoshopped photos of fake people created from stolen photos. One document distributed to Madbird’s potential clients was lifted from a London-based design firm and used in Madbird’s fake staff profiles.

Ali Ayad had modelled for Massimo Dutti and was featured in a British GQ issue, but it was an advert for a watch

Ali’s own backstory crumbled, too. Nike didn’t employ anyone with his name or an alias and the universities he claimed to have attended didn’t offer degrees he claimed to have studied. Ali’s Instagram account was one of the reasons many Madbird’s workers admired him, but the life he presented on Instagram was only distantly related to the life he actually lived.

Gemma and Antonia claimed that Ali Ayad had modelled for Massimo Dutti and was featured in a British GQ issue, but it was an advert for a watch.

Ali Ayad is claiming complete ignorance and is claiming full responsibility for Madbird’s website, but still admits he should’ve known better. Madbird’s staff received no apology from Ali Ayad, who withdrew from the digital ether. Madbird’s former workers were devastated; they had racked up a credit card debt of £10,000 while waiting for their first pay cheque.

Stephie Nkoy-Nyama, from east London, quit a good job to join Madbird. She said Ali played her like fools and her visa hopes were shattered by the Jane Smith email. Another employee Elvis believes that if the deal went through, he would have faced serious legal consequences and imprisonment under Dubai’s strict business rules.

A trio of former workers sued for wages. Madbird failed to respond to the tribunal, and the judge ordered that they be paid £19,000 in wages in total. If Madbird was insolvent like Ali Ayad said, it couldn’t pay the wages.

Madbird workers were offered money in recognition of unpaid training and were paid £29.70 by Ali. After months of messages, Ali Ayad agreed to sit down and give his version of events with the BBC, but dropped out with a day’s notice.

We tracked down the suspect and confronted him in a west London street. He was surprised by us, but eventually spoke. After we accused him of creating fake identities and stealing other people’s work, he grew angry and refused to name anyone else involved.

Ali Ayed is finally confronted by the BBC investigators into MadBird’s Jobfish Scam

There was always the possibility that some anonymous mastermind was behind everything, but as we didn’t have any names or help from Ali, we couldn’t pursue the idea.

The man stopped answering questions after admitting to a couple of things. He also said the majority of the things were absurd and incorrect. Madbird was started out as a joke by Ayad, but the company, staff believed, was just days from signing on clients when everything fell apart.

Ali Ayad got a kick out of pretending to be a boss. He talked about how he turned people’s lives around and sent staff links to deep house music to listen to while working. Ali Ayad exploited the way in which people want to work.

He tried to be the next Elon Musk, what’s most shocking part of Ali Ayad’s exploitation is the fact that that we live in an age where this form of employment activity nearly worked.

Below is the recent BBC investigation into MadBird and the interview with Ali Ayed.

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