That the tech start-up world is awash with the ethically challenged is no secret. There's a lot of money to be made, and if you need to "fake it till you make it," then so be it.
But what happens when you take "faking it" too far? Sometimes nothing. Other times, as in the case of Grouper founder Jerry Guo, your deceptions are broadcast all over the Internet.
Betabeat this week published a fascinating article about Guo, who, in the few short years since graduating from Yale, has blazed an impressive path of fakery leading to Silicon Alley, from where he earlier this month launched Grouper, an online social service that hooks three strangers up with three other strangers for a platonic "group date" at some cool place.
Grouper does this by mining Facebook profiles via some mysterious algorithm -- or so the company claims. (At least one Grouper user tells Gawker he or she believes there's no magic algorithm, unless you count Guo "playing matchmaker manually, via simple Facebook surfing and old fashioned intuition.")
But that's debatable, so we'll put that aside for now. Let's also put aside Guo's claim that Grouper, now in beta, already is profitable.
Instead, let's focus on what we know:
* Guo claims to have been a staff writer for Newsweek until it merged with The Daily Beast last November. But a Newsweek/Daily Beast spokesman told Gawker that Guo was no more than an intern.
* While at Newsweek, Guo received numerous free perks -- travel and accommodations at exotic locations, expensive gifts -- under the guise of being "on assignment," then wrote nothing for publication. The complaints began flooding Newsweek soon after his departure.
* Last spring Guo lined up an interview with Adam Sachs, chief executive of group dating site Ignighter, under the guise of doing a freelance piece for The Atlantic Monthly. Guo and his Grouper co-founder then spent an hour picking Sach's brain. Guo stalled Sachs for weeks, until a suspicious Sachs finally emailed the magazine. Turns out The Atlantic Monthly never green-lighted the article (though Guo apparently pitched it).
* Betabeat also reports that AOL travel site Gadling fired Guo as a blogger in November 2008 for gaming the payment system. Gadling Editor-in-Chief Grant Martin told Betabeat in an email that "Jerry was terminated because he was taking old, past published posts and tucking them into the recent (but out of sight) queue so that our payment system would automatically sweep through and double pay him."
Gadling also apparently was farming out his blogging assignments to elance for $5 a shot. (Crappy work if you can get it!)
Martin concludes his email to Betabeat with this: "Jerry’s tenure at Gadling was full of him trying to work our system, squeeze us for more money and earn free travel. I’m glad that he’s gone, but I wish that I had been more proactive in reaching out to his other/future editors."
Well, then! With a now quite public record of fraud and flimflammery under his belt, you have to wonder what Guo will do for employment should his oh-so-profitable group dating site go under. Seriously, with that kind of track record, where would he turn?
Mr. Guo, Goldman Sachs is on Line One with a lucrative job offer!