Jerry Guo's startup "Grouper" sets people up on dates with posses of strangers. That's the kind of company you need to be able to trust. Which is why it's especially relevant that Guo's history of conning people—and apparently the nation of Thailand!—has just been revealed.
Guo scammed his way into all sorts of free gifts, travel and accommodations while a staffer at Newsweek, BetaBeat revealed, pretending he was on assignment for the magazine when he in fact was not. After the nomadic Yale graduate left Newsweek, the magazine's legal department fielded 10-12 letters of complaint, including one about an expensive watch and one over a five-star trip to Thailand arranged by that country's tourism board for Guo and his companion, ostensibly a photographer.
"I didn't have an apartment, so it was always nicer to be on a plane or in a hotel," Guo told BetaBeat. "Sometimes if I wanted to make a trip work, I would just figure out a way to get [Newsweek's] The Good Life involved... You couldn't get into Tibet from the Chinese side, so I just called up this ridiculous yoga retreat on the Indian side, told them it was a piece for The Good Life, they let me stay for free and next thing you know, I'm talking with the Dali Lama about human rights."
After his internship ended, Guo took his deception a further: He called up the CEO of one of Grouper's competitors, falsely introduced himself as an Atlantic Monthly freelancer, then asked "a ton of questions" about his business over the course of an hour.
This is the kind of startup assholery that's gone into Social Network-inspired overdrive lately. But, hey, it's not like there weren't warning signs: Guo claimed his dating startup wasn't a dating startup; "ditched" his startup paperbuff.com for the completely different qomments.com within 36 hours of a scheduled investor interview; changed that into Grouper; and claimed Grouper was profitable while it was still in beta. The only people who couldn't have foreseen Guo's comeuppance are these guys.
Update: Guo wrote in to dispute BetaBeat's characterization of him as an intern, saying "I was a staff writer who spent almost a year and a half at the magazine." He added, "The trips [BetaBeat] referenced were for a weekly column called the Good Life, where by nature of the subject matter—luxury
travel—we were writing about over-the-top experiences. taking press trips was allowed under our editorial policy."
As for the letters of complaint, Guo tells us they "stem from the fact a) I just didn't end up writing about some of the places I stayed, because they sucked and I wasn't about to portray them as anything else and b) Daily Beast and Newsweek merged last winter, and I left pretty quickly after that, so with a
lead time of several weeks / months, those stories just didn't get written."
Update 2: Newsweek contacted us to correct Guo's correction. From Andrew Kirk, director of Public Relations, Newsweek and The Daily Beast:
"Jerry Guo was never a "staff writer" with Newsweek International. He joined as a fellow - essentially an intern - whose association with the magazine was terminated with the Newsweek - Daily Beast merger."
Also, we originally wrote that Guo said he startup was profitable before it went into beta. In fact, he said it was profitable while still in beta.