Nick Jaspan, How-Do Ltd, The How Do Awards and the How-Do Website.
By Mark Garner
I have known Nick Jaspan, the founder of How-Do Ltd (HD) since meeting him during his ill-fated attempt at starting a major newspaper here in the North West in 2006.
He isn’t a friend, but both of us would get on down the years. This culminated with me using my acceptance speech for an award given to my magazine at The HD Awards to praise him and his team for producing an excellent B2B online magazine, How-Do.co.uk.
On the evening of 27 October 2011 I was approached by Jaspan at the Buy Art fair. This was being held in the same building where Jaspan and I had offices. He asked me for a ‘very urgent’ word in private.
I took him up to my boardroom where he told me that HD was in serious financial difficulty and that he was bringing in a liquidator the following Tuesday. The firm owed HMRC money and they were knocking on his door at the family home looking to distrain on his goods, which was of course distressing to the family. All the other problems of running a business losing £15k a month with no prospect of an upturn in the general economy were playing on his mind.
He asked me for my advice.
The Confidential brand had been through hell for four years starting with Barclay’s withdrawing a £350,000 loan in January 2009. Since then we had sailed a convoy across choppy waters and lost a couple of frigates along the way in the form of subsidiary companies contracted to sell advertising space. One company, Cpub Ltd, which operated the e-commerce and built software platforms, was in negotiations with HMRC but pretty ill.
I told Jaspan how this works in the correct legal framework, but that it was too late in How-Do’s case to emulate the model legally, in my opinion. I did say that he should fight to the very last to hold on to a brand that had taken five years of his life, and many tens of thousands of pounds of his investors’ money.
The following Monday I met again with him. He wanted to know if there was anything that I could do to help him. I agreed that I would meet with one of his shareholders on the Wednesday who was known to both of us and could act as an ‘honest broker’. Nick agreed that he would put off bringing in the liquidator - doing that would have meant of course that both HD and Place North West (PNW) would have closed that day, the staff would have lost their jobs and been paid the statutory minimum, around £1200, by the liquidator two or three months later. A bleak prospect.
On the 11 November 2011, an agreement was reached where I would take 90% of HD, and allow the company to operate my personal Confidential assets. Cpub ltd would cease to trade and be wound up, unless HMRC were willing to negotiate.
Jaspan and his shareholders urged me to do the deal.
No promises were given other than I would do my best to save the brands and turn them into money makers. This would leave the shareholders in with a chance of recuperating their money, along with the staff getting paid that Christmas.
The alternative for Jaspan, who owned less than 38% of HD, and his other shareholders was that the company and HD would disappear and Jaspan would be seen to have been at the helm of another disaster, with the HD brand well and truly down the toilet.
The two entities would trade from my offices at Quay House, we would benefit from sharing overheads and the economies meant that in November, HD saw a trading profit of £28,000.
Over November and December I agreed, against the advice of others, that Jaspan would carry on as publisher of HD and PNW; we shook hands at Christmas, with Jaspan asking for an iPad to seal the deal. This he got.
In January Jaspan appeared to be on the ball. When one of the online trade magazines published a story about the Cpub Ltd winding up order, Jaspan suddenly became very concerned. Although he knew full well what we were doing with this company, the final one of three destined for liquidation.
Jaspan kept on going on about his reputation being destroyed. In a Shakespearean ‘doth protest too much’ way, if you know what I mean. Scratching my head, it all seemed a bit strange. Surely he hadn’t forgotten that his reputation would have been in a much darker place had he liquidated HD back in November, owing huge sums of monies to his bank, his creditors and his staff, who would have had a terrible Christmas?
Then, on 31 January 2012, Nick came to see me and my co-director Helen Ramsbottom at 5pm. He handed a letter to me stating the following.
- He was resigning.
- He was ‘taking control’ of www.How-Do.co.uk website and email addresses.
- That he was being accompanied by key members Dunstan Carter and Rachel Bullock.
- That he expected that we would be out of business shortly.
I was stunned. I was also starting to get a flavour of the man. He had planned the departure to happen at a time when I was supposed to be on holiday, aboard a night train from Paris to Berlin. He was going to leave it all with Helen.
Jaspan appears to have operated like the company salesman who resigned but kept the company vehicle on the basis that he had the keys and therefore owned the car. Any normal person would describe this as theft.
I have since instructed Cobbett’s, our solicitors, to write to Jaspan and demand that he hands the HD assets back. I am publishing two letters from Cobbett’s to Jaspan online as simple proof that the letter you are reading deals simply with the facts. It is not a ‘he said, she said’ piece. Everything laid out in this note can be proven. As will become clear.
I also emailed Jaspan in February warning him that The HD Awards and all rights to them are owned by HD and that he should not run them without my permission.
He has not done so and has sold and is selling tickets and sponsorship for the Awards asking for monies to be sent to Northern Publishing Ltd, a company recently set up and owned by Jaspan. He has defrauded his original shareholders by doing so.
In the meantime, I have learnt a salutary lesson. Possession is indeed nine tenths of the law. Cobbett’s tell me that I need over £62,000 to get an injunction to prize the site back off him.
So, whilst protecting our position, we have been negotiating with him to sell the rights of the How-Do website, along with access to the email database and ownership of the awards.
We have not heard back from him.
This all started over five weeks ago. At the start Jaspan agreed with me to help the transition of the new directorships with the banks and our online clearer, PayPal, taking his name off the various mandates.
He gave me his solemn word, during a telephone call one week prior to my injury detailed below, not to be obstructive as it was clearly in both our interests to ensure we did no damage to the three brands involved; Confidential, HD or Place North West. He also agreed not to publish any stories about the affair.
Only a man with an ego problem would do so. There is simply no profit in it.
Shortly after I had the misfortune of injuring the vertabrae at the top of my neck, with a disk closing off, and killing, the nerves to my right arm. This paralysed the arm, leaving me in agony for four weeks. Once the problem was diagnosed correctly, I underwent emergency neurosurgery at Salford Royal. I am still in major pain and have been told not to work in an office environment as the injury was precipitated by poor posture at my desk.
During the time that I was totally ‘out of the game’, Jaspan has not only to broken his word to me, but done some very odd things for any publisher wishing to negotiate with another for title to the rights of a magazine.
These actions are as follows:
- He has deliberately chosen to destroy HD’s relationship with PayPal, our online merchant facility that clears an increasing amount of money per month. Amongst other things, Jaspan has told them that he is owed a substantial amount of money and that he is going to close the company down. This is completely untrue. We now have to wait 45 days to access our money.
- He has threatened Helen Ramsbottom, our Commercial Director, and others, with lawsuits for actions conjured entirely from his own mind.
- He has approached our staff in the street outside our offices, telling them that HD was going to close at the end of last month and that they would not be paid.
- He has published stories on HD about Cpub Ltd and intimating that the winding up order would mean that The Confidentials would collapse, which, as Jaspan knew, was completely untrue, malicious in its intent.
- He has been briefing mutual clients and friends with a distorted account of the story, attempting to gain advantage for his newly formed company, Northern Publishing, and thus hoping to defraud HD of its IP both in its websites and events. He is a very plausible liar.
- He is passing off himself and Northern Publishing Ltd as the owner of The HD Awards along with several of Place North West’s events in the same manner.
- Finally, Jaspan is using the email lists owned by How-Do Ltd against the rules of the Data Protection Act. My company will be reporting Jaspan and Northern Publishing Ltd for this during the coming week.
There is more. But the key problem, it seems, with Jaspan is that either he is very clever and wanted HD to fail so he could ride off into the sunset with 100% of the HD assets and free and clear of his original shareholders with no-one to bring him to account. Or, he is not well.
What we did was to save his company and magazine for him, ensuring his staff’s employment and fair redundancy payments for those who had to go. And whilst he has spent the previous month venting his spleen at me personally, when I have been powerless to defend myself, he has been careless over the livelihoods of those who work with me.
Simply put if it hadn’t been for our actions HD would have been wound up and liquidated in November 2011.
Meanwhile HD and The Confidentials have had to cut back drastically as the forecast revenue from the HD website and The HD awards are daily being banked into Northern Publishing Ltd’s account by Jaspan.
The result is that fourteen people have been made redundant, people are out of work, mortgages are being called in and cars being re-possessed.
In the meantime I find myself paying back tens of thousands of pounds in business loans personally guaranteed by him with charges against his house, plus being saddled with another large HMRC debt, and having other creditors that Jaspan has turned his back upon.
The purpose of this website and the information on it is simply so that the truth about Jaspan is out there.
And it is the truth.
Jaspan will no doubt refute everything I say here.
But he has a problem in doing this.
Because I have recorded my meetings and discussions with him - over four hours in total of his astonishing admissions as to how he does business.
Note what he says about shareholders.
"Why are you worried about them you just talk to them once a year or so..."
There are many little gems like that.
But the most important thing is this: from Jaspan’s own mouth comes the truth. These recordings are available to all who are prepared to sign a non-disclosure agreement not to name any companies discussed on the tapes.
I wish to say this to Jaspan.
You have tried to destroy The Confidentials, a brand built with my team’s blood, sweat and tears. That team would be out of work today if it were down to you.
And all this over a cowardly attempt to cover your tracks.
Now, I cannot currently use a legal system that is ill fitted to deal with this kind of dispute, I need to invest everything I have to build on the success of The Confidentials.
But I do believe that you have committed several criminal acts and I am delivering all our files to the Police in the coming week. As well as to the Information Commissioner in Wilmslow.
Additionally, I am publicly stating that you are a thief, a fraudster, a liar and a cheat.
So, Jaspan, sue me.
But I am not sure you are as daft as that. Because in your 4am moments, you know who and what you are.
For any queries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org