Jake Bezzant’s former partner Tarryn Flintoft told Heather du Plessis-Allan she had no choice but to come out publicly. Audio / Newstalk ZB
Invisible Urban Charging chief executive Nigel Broomhall confirms ex-National Party candidate Jake Bezzant has quit as the startup’s chairman – although he still holds a minority stake.
“I accepted Jake’s resignation as chair and a
director last Thursday night, which was in the best interest of the company and our shareholders at this time,” Broomhall tells the Herald.
“Our advisory board in the US is across the issue and the risks presented and remain on board with us.”
Invisible Urban has developed a “charging as a service” business model, which sees it angling to lease electric vehicle chargers to large organisations.
Last week, National leader Judith Collins distanced herself and her party from the North Harbour candidate, whom she called a “fantasist” and possible “sociopath”. Bezzant resigned from the party after allegations emerged that he impersonated an ex-girlfriend online and uploaded intimate photos of her in the process. Bezzant has denied the allegation or at least said there is another side to the story (which he has yet to elaborate).
However, another development seems more positive for Invisible Urban.
In a June 2020 interview with the Herald, Bezzant said Invisible Urban Charging had been able to pitch to one of America’s highest-profile private equity players: Eileen Murray – until April 2020 co-CEO of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund with some US$160 billion in funds under management.
In an October 2020 story, the Wall Street Journal called Murray – who is now an HSBC director and chair of FINRA, an industry body overseeing 630,000 brokers – “one of the highest-ranking women on Wall Street”. (The context of a story was a power-struggle. Murray had sought US$100 million from Bridgewater in a gender-discrimination case alleging under-compensation. In October she settled on undisclosed terms).
Bezzant said Murray was excited about Invisible Urban’s prospects in the context of something of a private equity boom in green investments. Murray would come onboard as an advisor and investor, the then-National candidate said.
At the time it seemed a stretch. Murray did not respond to requests for comment. But in February this year, she duly turned up on Invisible Urban’s share register, according to a Companies Office update. And Broomhall says the financier is coming to New Zealand shortly.
Invisible Urban also staged a crowdfunded equity campaign in March, which saw 254 punters chip in $1.33m (the drive had a minimum target of $500,000 and a maximum of $2m). The campaign put a private equity valuation of $8m on Invisible Urban. A presentation said the company would lose $160,000 this year on zero revenue, and be $683,000 in the red on $2.6m revenue next year, but make $272,000 on $13.2m turnover in 2023.
Broomhall and Bezzant told the Herald this time last year that while their early stage company had a local proposal knocked-back by the Government’s Green Investment Finance fund, but had a pipeline in North America that would be worth $82m once various builds – delayed by the outbreak – went ahead. There were six anchor clients. One was named, the on-again, off-again Ovation development near Nashville, Tennessee, which include about 130,000sq m of office space, two hotels, plus retail and restaurants over 58ha.
This morning, Broomhall (who also owns ChargeSmart, a company that sells EV chargers) said two major contracts were in the works, and could be announced shortly.
Bezzant’s first time at bat
Invisible Urban was not Bezzant’s first startup. His first was Parking Sense (now called ParkHelp), which operates in a related area – carpark management, and where events followed a similar arc. That is, he exited stage left under controversial circumstances, but the company appears to be in good shape and growing.
Controversy about Bezzant’s time at Parking Sense began in the build-up to the October 2020 election, where he was standing for the blue-ribbon Upper Harbour seat vacated by Paula Bennett (which the National deputy leader held with a 9556 majority; Bezzant would lose it to Labour’s Vanushi Walters by 2392 votes).
A person who said they were a National supporter, but opposed Bezzant’s candidacy approached media in mid-2020 to point out a late 2019 ParkHelp media statement – still on the startup’s website, that described his departure in vague but pointed language.
“Jake Bezzant has concluded his work with ParkHelp, and will no longer work in the parking industry,” it read.
Why would he never work in the industry again?
The lack of a clear answer from his former employer hung over Bezzant’s head in the build-up to his election, even though his party stood by his nomination as the September 18 cut-off for candidate changes came and went.
Anonymous correspondence sent to various media outlets and the National Party over June and July alleged that Bezzant had exaggerated his success on the US tech scene and his status as a founder of Parking Sense which began in the NZ in July 2014 but expanded into Australia, the US and Europe (the ParkHelp rebrand occurred after it absorbed a Spain-based rival).
Paul Collins – who co-founded the company with his wife Jo – served as chief executive until July 2018 when he was succeeded by Bezzant.
Law-grad Bezzant joined the company in October 2014, after previously working for Smart Parking Technology, and had served in a number of senior management roles before taking the reins.
His time as CEO ended just 10 months after it began in April 2019.
Bezzant was succeeded as chief executive by Ed Robinson, who is also a partner in one of NZ’s best-known venture capital companies Movac – which invested in ParkHelp in 2017.
Speaking to the Herald from his office in San Francisco in the runup to the election, Robinson said an agreement limited what he and other ParkHelp staff could say about Bezzant’s departure.
He refused to comment on claims by a person close to ParkHelp who told the Herald that Bezzant had been “removed by the board” because he had misrepresented the value of potential contracts.
Bezzant had been with the company for years, and was promoted to its top position.
Could he not have achieved that unless he had proved his chops?
“It wasn’t until his tenure as CEO, when his work had to be reviewed by the board, that it was realised that much of what he had supposedly created in his previous couple of years actually wasn’t quite at the level of that he represented and in some cases didn’t exist at all,” a source close to ParkHelp told the Herald
“I guess we had – we were all to a degree taken by his persona and his veneer of confidence and ability up until that point.”
ParkHelp was still dealing with financial fallout in the realm of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bezzant’s time as CEO, the source said.
“Was he in over his head? I think he was promoted beyond his capability, but I don’t believe that was the root cause of what occurred,” the source said.
“I think that just as in his bid for a political career, he has thrived on the misrepresentation of who he is and his capability.”
One point of contention was whether Parking Sense ever had a contract with Wade Park, a US$2b, 175-acre urban development project in Dallas that was bankrupted and stalled as little more than a hole in the ground.
Could Bezzant be blamed for a potential customer running into financial problems?
The source said: “His representation of [Wade Park] was purely fictional. It was never going to happen.”
Bezzant is alleged to have ordered the manufacture of 6000 parking sensors for the development, worth around US$1.3m, without a signed contract.
The source could not name other deals where there were issues, but said “it was definitely a pattern of behaviour” that concerned multiple contracts.
In a message, the Herald asked Bezzant if he could respond to the source’s accusations.
A National Party press secretary responded on his behalf, saying: “Thanks for getting in touch with Jake. Jake has nothing further to add.”
Bezzant did not respond for a new request for comment this week.
Robinson would not comment on Wade Park or any other deal.
He said there was nothing he could say about the former CEO beyond a mutually agreed statement first issued in January this year, which read: “After five years at Parking Sense, Jake Bezzant is leaving. Jake started as COO then was promoted to CEO until the board asked him to step down in April 2019, seeking a new focus for the company. After April, he moved back to New Zealand and assisted with sales.
“Jake’s departure now is by mutual agreement. He is leaving the parking industry to campaign for public office in New Zealand. We wish him all the best for the future.
“His last day working for Parking Sense will be January 17 .”
Asked why that statement differed from the one on the Parking Sense/ParkHelp website, with its claim that Bezzant would “not longer work in the parking industry”, Robinson declined further comment.
‘No financial wrongdoing’
Earlier, in response to a written question about Bezzant’s departure, Robinson said: “As incoming CEO, I did not find any financial wrongdoing. If I had I would have reported them to the authorities.”
As a privately held company, ParkHelp does not publish financials, but Robinson said numbers included in an email sent to media in July were incorrect.
ParkHelp’s website says it manages more than 400,000 parking spaces for customers that include HP, LA Metro, Zurich International Airport, the City of Anaheim, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the University of California’s San Francisco campus, the City of Las Vegas, City of Mountain View and Galleria Dallas.
Robinson said while things had not worked out for Bezzant at ParkHelp, he thought the former CEO’s people and communication skills would place him well for a career in politics.
Bezzant said in a letter to Upper Harbour constituents on June 10: “New Zealand is facing the worse economic storm in recent history and we have a Labour Government who have failed to deliver … I left a career in Silicon Valley to return home because New Zealand needs a team with economic and real-world experience more than ever.”
His critics have called this a retrospective justification.
The source close to ParkingHelp also objected to Bezzant’s characterisation of himself as a co-founder of Parking Sense, even though he joined the company just four months after its formation by Paul and Jo Colins (whom the Herald understands were family friends), and at a time when the startup was still in a pre-commercial phase – implying it was just semantics to say he was not a co-founder.
“It’s a little bit more than semantics when you claim to have founded a company in the bedroom of a university flat when, firstly, you weren’t at university when the company was founded, and second thing you had absolutely no part whatsoever in its incorporation,” the source said.
A link to a Facebook clip of Bezzant talking on the campaign trail was sent anonymously to the Herald from person who said: “It has Jake Bezzant laying claim to being the person who took a company called Metereye to the Australian stock exchange.” (Parking technology company Meter Eye was created by Paul and Jo Collins before Parking Sense.)
However, in the clip – while not mentioning cofounders by name – Bezzant does not in fact hog sole credit.
He acknowledges he was a student working part-time and uses the pronoun “we” and talks about “me, the CEO and the team” building Parking Sense in the US.
The source said: “I’ve never voted anything other than National in my life.” They had called the Herald out of concern the party was not aware of the circumstances of Bezzant’s departure from ParkingSense.
Party stood by Bezzant
In an October 5, 2020, statement to the Herald, with the election looming, National Party president Peter Goodfellow said: “There were some issues raised to the Party in June about Jake Bezzant which were thoroughly investigated.
“As a result, National accepts Jake’s position about his time at ParkHelp.”