They Worked for a Slick Design Agency. Or So They Thought

The BBC looks at the 'elaborate con' that was Madbird
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2022 3:10 PM CST
They Worked for a Slick Design Agency. Or So They Thought
"The Zoom call had about 40 people on it - or that's what the people who had logged on thought," writes the BBC.   (Getty Images)

That their boss, Madbird founder Ali Ayad, sometimes signed his name Alex Ayd or Ali Ayyad could have been a red flag. That he required employees to work on commission-only for the London-based design agency for the first six months might have been another. But as the BBC reports in an investigation, the more than 50 people he hired across London, Dubai, India, Uganda, and beyond from September 2020 through February 2021 were "young adults looking for work and living through a pandemic. Many felt they had no choice but to accept the terms in their contracts." And Ayad was an infectious boss: Self-described as having cut his teeth as a creative designer at Nike, where he met Madbird co-founder Dave Stanfield, he had glowing LinkedIn recommendations and 90,000 Instagram followers. His team was pitching like crazy and thought they were so close to landing deals. Then Gemma Brett did a Google search.

The 27-year-old had only been with the company two weeks, but decided to Google the headquarters she'd get to work at once the pandemic was over. The address was linked to a residential address, and she confirmed it had no Madbird connection. Worried, she opened up to Antonia Stuart, who was trying to generate business for Madbird in Dubai. They discovered most of Madbird's past work was actually stolen from other firms. They alerted their peers, and that's when the BBC stepped in to probe. What they found was wild: Dave Stanfield didn't exist. Neither did other senior employees. Some employees who appeared on company Zooms didn't exist. Ayad had never worked at Nike. A photo of a page in GQ that showed Ayad modeling was a fake. Ayad denied knowing anything. Then the BBC tracked him down. (Read the full piece to read the two theories on why Ayad started Madbird.)

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