When you think of startups your mind wonders towards innovation, hard work, team mentality, cult like work ethics and more. However in Iran, the story of startups are sometimes slightly different. Who are behind the start up brands? The funding, the CEO’s. Once you dig into the facts the picture becomes rather shady and puzzling.
Alopeyk – Mehdi Nayebi
Alopeyk has two original co-founders. Mr Nayebi who works as CEO and Mr Pezeshk who works as the CTO of the company. Why is this relatively medium size digital Iranian startup of interest?
The background of Mehdi Nayebi:
Born in December 1982, with French and Iranian citizenships, Medi Nayebi claims he started his education and career in the banking and investment sector, eventually founding a digital startup in the UK with the name KweekWeek which was mainly branded on social media at the time (Facebook) to promote event tickets from concerts to parties and club nights on weekends.
After a relatively short period of time, with self-promotion Mr Nayebi suddenly announces in 2014 that his company has raised 3.25 million USD, out of the blue and claims the investment was raised by unnamed private angel investors. This is at the same time much bigger ticketing companies like event bright had raised 20x that amount and were dominating the digital sphere, it’s hard to imagine any investor parting with that sort of cash for a startup without any history of profit or much revenues being raised. Mr Nayebi further used this self-promotion to start self-branding himself as a digital super star.
Then all of a sudden in 2016/17 the company suddenly disappears into thin air (after claiming millions in revenue of ticket sales in false PR statements to media) and Mr Nayebi files to bankrupt his company (dissolved) having investigated his accounts he has never filed a taxable profit, allocated external shares or shown on the balance sheet the 3.25 million USD he claims to have raised and so successfully self-promoted himself for. Fast forward 12 months, Mr Nayebi suddenly finds himself in Iran, with the market ripe for digital investment and the bright future looks of the JCPOA in Iran’s digital economy. He reaches out to Turquoise Partners which also have London financial and banking connections and invest in Iranian startups, with his partner and friend Mr Pezeshk who was also living in France at the time they raise capital to launch Alopeyk.
We have been informed by a source during the pitch to raise this money Mr Nayebi relied heavily on his previous record in Kweekweek who Turquoise Partners clearly seem to have neglected in investigating properly and were swindled into handing over money for Alopeyk or perhaps they were lured by the huge potential margins and profits. The launch of Alopeyk coincided with the huge growth spur of digital apps in Iran specially in the taxi and delivery sectors such as Snapp!, chilivery and Tap30. Alopeyk handles a lot of deliveries and data in Iran via it’s delivery services, many of which are very sensitive in nature. Fast forward to 2018-2019-2020.. Post Donald Trump sanctions on Iran we started to see Mr Nayebi start to become rather vocal on channels like twitter, liking and promoting posts by MEK (terrorist organization aligned) figures such as Kaveh Shahrooz, starting to align against the system which has enriched him via the Alopeyk brand. Having spoken to some of Mr Nayebi’s employees in Kweekweek as part of our investigation, we found that he had an aggressive managerial style who bossed his staff around, was very deceptive and we also heard complaints regarding payment. We asked the same questions from his staff in Alopeyk and many again were unhappy with the rates they were being paid but had to work so they don’t go hungry in this economic climate, all the same time Mr Nayebi is back to his old tricks of fake self-promotion that his man of the people, human rights tweets for others he clearly doesn’t believe in himself, not for his own staff at least.
Why is all this important? It shows a man who conned his way into the Iranian digital startup ecosystem, is in position of potentially sensitive data regarding individuals, companies, deliveries and GPS being aligned with individuals of the MEK (Iranians terrorist groups) in the west and promoting quite an aggressive anti government agenda on twitter, can only be seen as a security risk for the country. Anti Iranian groups or even terrorist organizations or foreign governments could well use such naive individuals for data gathering of terror acts in Iran or such data can reach foreign governments.
Jhubin Alaghband – CEO of Snapp!
Many in Iran may not be too familiar with the name Alaghband but the family is quite well known in the wealthy London circles in the UK headed by Vahid Alaghband, who was originally very pro Shah of Iran, and left his home country for the UK to start Balli Group PLC. Which is claimed to have made him riches north of 130 million GBP.
Part of Balli Group PLC’s remit was to acts as a distributor for Xerox, queue Jhubin Alaghband, who is installed as the CEO of Xerox in Iran when Xerox as a company had no direct contacts or relations with Iran due to US sanctions. Jhubin Alaghband remains in the background for years during his sales type role for Xerox in Iran until there’s is a sudden announcement that Snapp! Iran’s second biggest and second most successful digital group is allocating him as the CEO. It was baffling for many, who was Jhubin? What experience did he have in digital tech? Where did this announcement come from what was his qualifications for the job? None of these questions were ever answered, in fact none of these questions were ever really asked of him in a journalistic way it was simply accepted that he must be qualified to have got the job!
Having conducted in-depth investigation into the background we have uncovered that the Alaghband family invest and own many institutions in Iran including banks and insurance companies, despite leaving Iran due to their hate for the Islamic revolution they have never missed the trick when it came to reaping profits from Iran for their personal gains. We have been told by a well informed source that the Alaghband family had a share steak in the Snapp! Holding company in Iran via their subsidiaries and VC companies based in Iran therefore the installation of a Alaghband as a CEO was a no-brainer move!
Jhubin Alaghband didn’t last long as the CEO of Snapp till he officially made his announcement he will eventually step down, it was never disclosed the reason why but his families anti-Islamic Republic of Iran track record as well as the families corrupt business dealings for the past 2 decades in Iran could have been part of the reason, or perhaps it was something far more sinister and security related. He has not said what his future plans will be and he still has partner companies with the Alaghband families registered in the UK for trading purposes. Having talked to a contact in the Iranian tax office we have found that he was never taxed, investigated or even declared his UK wealth or income inside of Iran even though companies his associated with in the UK holds millions of GBP in assets.
Snapp! Is Iran’s largest digital transport company, it holds data on literally every Iranian from their house location to financial data, gps live data and their habits of movement.
Turquoise Partners – Ramin Rabii, Cyrus Molavi
Again, European based and sniffing easy profits back when negotiations with the JCPOA were going well, Turquoise Partners made it’s way to Iran to quickly stamp down it’s authority as a foreign funded VC firm investing in all kinds of businesses from oil and gas to digital startups. This company is partnered and related to other Iranian VC funds and holds shares and assets in many Iranian companies. Once the sanctions were snapped back by Donald Trump the company started to slowly disappear into thin air without much in PR while still holding steak in Iranian share holdings. The directors started to leave Iran back to Europe sensing economic down turn due to sanctions. They have never openly announced where their money came from, exact sources, profitability and how they export money out of Iran specially during this harsh sanctions climate where its difficult to get foreign currency. They are aligned with many European individuals who came back to Iran to start a business and got funding from this group, but the source of the funding remains a questionable entity as well as their strategy. Once thing was for certain and that’s this company preferred a more pro-western board prior to funding of startups.
With recent allegations against the UAE’s failed coup of Qatar and how they used VC to fund economic turmoil coming to light, it’s easy to wonder the security risk this type of company poses for Iran and the dark shadows behind the VC.