Dozens get conned into working for a fake design agency

British design agency Madbird turned out to be a total sham.

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Dozens get conned into working for a fake design agency


Future. British design agency Madbird turned out to be a total sham… but that wasn’t figured out until after it had hired dozens of employees all over the world and was this close to locking in deals with brands. Could CEO Ali Ayad have gotten away with it if that money actually came in? Maybe… but the fiasco shows that the “fake-it-’til-you-make-it” hustle can actually ruin lives.

It’s a Mad, Madbird

What if you found out you worked for a business that didn’t exist?

  • A British design agency called Madbird hired more than 50 people across the UK, India, South Africa, the Philippines, and Uganda between 2020 and 2021.
  • Many employees worked for over six months to close deals with brands, all on a commission-only pay structure during their probation period (ahem, six months).
  • But when those six months came and went, no one was paid.

That’s when two employees (Gemma Brett and Antonia Stuart) discovered that everything about the company (the offices, the leadership, the references, etc.) were all fake. They sent a company-wide email showing the evidence… which knocked over the whole house of cards.

Will Ali pay?
Who would go through all the trouble to create an entirely fake company, hire so many people, and put everyone to work? Meet Ali Ayad:

  • His LinkedIn was littered with fake job histories and endorsements, including a stint as a creative director at Nike.
  • His Instagram account clocked 90K followers and included a (turned out to be photoshopped) modeling spread in GQ.
  • He created Madbird using a web of fictional executives (who were inexplicably on Zoom calls and answered emails) and copyrighted materials from other agencies.

How Ayad expected to get away with all of this is anyone’s guess, but the fact that a worldwide pandemic led to everyone working from home certainly helped his con last so long. Former employees are trying to sue Ayad for owed payments, but, according to the BBC, it will be an uphill battle — especially since Madbird never existed in the first place.

David Vendrell

Born and raised a stone’s-throw away from the Everglades, David left the Florida swamp for the California desert. Over-caffeinated, he stares at his computer too long either writing the TFP newsletter or screenplays. He is repped by Anonymous Content.


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