The kind of CEO who posts dick pics of clients and orders his cofounder (and girlfriend, at the time) to “kiss the ring and listen to my billion dollar guidance,” does not go gently into that startup graveyard, even if his company is imploding around him.
Former employees who recently resigned from JESS3 after they realized the digital advertising agency would not be able to make payroll have told Valleywag that CEO Jesse Thomas threatened to call the cops or prosecute staffers for storing company laptops at home. "He never gave us instructions about what to do with our computers, so we felt it would be safest to take them home with us rather than leave them in an abandoned office," explained one ex-staffer.
What’s worse, roughly 15 employees, who grew suspicious after delays in receiving their paychecks, noticed that while money for 401k was marked as withheld in their paystubs, no deposits had been made their 401ks since for the past couple months. Those missing funds were their own investment. "JESS3 doesn't contribute anything," said a former employee.
Naturally, none of this has deterred the STRAIGHT CRUSHING IT facade Thomas relentlessly broadcasts on social media. In the past week alone, he’s posted photos of Instagram indicating visits to the offices of Spotify, USA Network, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as a tenderly lit shot of his dinner at Momofuku's Má Pêche, where New York magazine says the price range is “$$$.”
The threats came after Thomas dispatched people to JESS3's offices in Los Angeles and Oklahoma City to pick up his toys and comic books and take inventory of equipment. "He was most concerned about his toys, and asked for them to be sent to his parent's house," said a former staffer. "He's obsessed with vulgar Bart Simpson figurines, vintage 80's toys, legos, and Garbage Pale Kids." Of course he is!
According to interviews with staffers, Thomas told his CPA to inform employees that he would call the cops if the computers weren't mailed back to him at once. "He later threatened me and several employees personally via email saying that he would prosecute us for theft if he didn't have the computers in his possession within the week," an ex-staffer said.
Another former employee also received threats regarding a company email account. In that case, the threats followed a letter of intent notifying California’s Division of Labor that the employee had not been received compensation for the last pay period. “[Thomas] responded to my email by saying he could file charges against me for deleting my company emails.”
Many former employees speculate that JESS3 is headed for bankruptcy. “I don’t see how he can [avoid it] especially with the number of former employees that are starting to file small claims against him and the number of client projects that are left unfinished,” said a former employee. We heard one employee is owed as much as $6,000.
After meeting with a labor lawyer who examined their case, former staffers were advised not to file collectively. “They don’t think that JESS3 has any money and it might be harder to ultimately get paid what we’re owed,” said a source. Thus, ex-staffers are in the process of filing individual small claims against JESS3 and the 401k claims personally against Jesse Thomas. “According to our CPA at the time, [Thomas] had full control and had to get approval for everything that had to do with money.”
If this sounds like the kind of company you’d like to work for, he’s hiring! “I don’t know how he’s gonna pay them . . . or trick them into working for him for a couple weeks and then not get paid,” said a former employee.
We reached out to Thomas for comment and will update the post when we hear back. We also reached out to Washingtonian magazine to verify whether Thomas was featured on its recent list of "tech titans," as it appears in this photo he posted on Instagram.
Update: Washingtonian responded that Thomas appeared on its 2011 list under "Entrepreneurial Couples," but not in this year's roundup.
To explain the Instagram photo: at our 2013 Tech Titans reception, to which past TTs are invited, we had a photographer setup a green screen that generated that faux-Washingtonian cover as the backdrop. Looks like Jesse just Instagrammed his printout.