Don’t call it another Dan Wagner comeback

If there is one thing Dan Wagner can claim as a skill, it is starting companies.

The entrepreneur began his career back in the 80s, with MAID, the information service later renamed Dialog and consequently dubbed “Dial A Dog” by the Financial Times Lex column.

When shares in that venture plummeted 95 per cent in the dotcom crash, he sold it to the then Thomson Corporation in 2000 for $275m and came back with a new business in 2001 — Venda, an ecommerce services company built on the remains of the dotcom flop Boo.com.

In 2014, the loss-making company was sold to Netsuite for about $50m, by which time Wagner was making headlines with Powa Technologies, the now collapsed startup whose many, many failings we have previously discussed.

Could he bounce back again after the spectacular demise of his most recent venture? Well, it seems like he’s trying.

On 16 February, the day the FT revealed that there was trouble at Powa, Wagner’s father, John Wagner became the director of a shell company called “Soul Seeker Limited”, according to Companies House records. The business was capitalised with £10,000 that day and is owned by an entity called “DBLP Sea Cow Limited”. The following day, Powa investor Wellington Management pulled the plug and put the Powa group holding company into administration.

A couple of days later, 19 February, when news of Powa’s collapse emerged, Dan Wagner announced that a buyer had been found for the business: Richard Thompson, the former Queens Park Rangers chairman. The statement, from Wagner’s personal email address, referred to himself as “chairman and CEO”, even though he had been terminated as a director of Powa that same day.

Soon after, the registered address of Soul Seeker was changed to 22 Percy Street, the same address as Wagner’s Bright Station vehicle. On 25 February, the company was renamed Powa Commerce Limited. That same day, lawyers acting for administrators Deloitte sent a letter to former Powa staff warning them not to pass the collapsed company’s intellectual property to “members of the Powa Group’s previous management”.

As it happened, Powa was not sold to Richard Thompson — one part was hived off to a London-based digital marketing company, and another part, the mobile payments business, Wagner’s crown jewel, was sold to an entity led by Powa director Ben White, a person former employees describe as an adversary of Wagner — a characterisation borne out by an internal email seen by FT Alphaville.

The Powa Commerce entity has since been rebranded — it is now called Rezolve. One person who was close to Powa says Wagner is planning to keep his head down for the rest of the year, and re-launch in 2017. Another says the new venture will be a business in the mobile payments space, a competitor to the Ben White business. It’s all rumour at this stage. We’ve reached out to Wagner via email and will update this story if and when we hear back.

But if he does bounce back again, who will back him? Thompson, maybe? Who knows, maybe Wellington could be persuaded to have another punt.

Related Links
All of our coverage on Powa and its collapse – FT & FTAV

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