TL;DR: Nikolai Lebedovsky sabotaged our marketing operation, deleted our Facebook ad campaigns, made a major alteration on a landing page to drive traffic to our direct competitor instead of our own site. If you plan to work with Crowdtoolz, then you need to read this post first.
This post is kind of a review, and it’s not pretty, but I have to publish it after what happened because I don’t want other startups to get hurt.
Getting to know Nikolai
I first met Nikolai Lebedovsky, the one-man band behind Crowdtoolz in July 2015, before launching the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard crowdfunding campaign. My business partner and I had already done most of the groundwork for the UHK campaign up to that point. We had also gathered thousands of subscribers on our mailing list. Although we may have succeeded without him, we wanted someone who could help us further.
We funded the campaign on Crowd Supply on 2015 December. We raised $246K of the $200K goal in two months. (The $688,685 sum displayed on Crowd Supply and on Crowdtoolz’s site includes the $443K after-campaign sales which Nikolai hasn’t contributed towards).
We paid Nikolai’s share, and afterward, we weren’t actively pursuing marketing, so we didn’t need Nikolai’s services for a while.
After the campaign
After a long break, Nikolai reached out to us and offered his services to boost our sales. We then reached an agreement on 2018 September. He was responsible for optimizing our webshop and running ad campaigns, and in return for his services, we paid him a substantial percentage of our monthly webshop income.
As time went by, it looked increasingly apparent this deal wouldn’t work in the long run. A one-time promotional email campaign went really well. However, despite Nikolai’s bold claims, apart from that campaign the results weren’t great. Moreover, he once claimed that his optimization on our webshop resulted in a constant 300 percent sales increase, but in reality, the change was negligible based on our long-term sales figures.
On top of the lacking results, it was evident that Nikolai wasn’t spending a lot of time on the project. We understood that he had other clients, which he was open about from the offset, but even low-effort tasks weren’t getting done in a timely fashion.
Given these issues, I reached out to a marketing agency, and granted them access to our Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Twitter Ads accounts for them to be able to provide us an offer.
This lack of progress plateaued in 2019 January when Nikolai was in Malaysia, as he was spending time with another client. I was following his progress closely, and concluded that in the whole month he was spending about a day’s work on our project.
Now, I’d like to put this situation into perspective. We’re a small hardware startup, we have no investors, and our cash flow is tight. We’ve worked our asses off to get where we are now, and so have our employees, contractors and suppliers who we deeply respect and admire. So, when you have a contractor like Nikolai who earns an order of magnitude more than others, but works a magnitude less than others and doesn’t deliver great results, it’s a serious problem.
I tried to explain this issue to Nikolai. He said that if sales were great, I shouldn’t complain. I explained that even if sales were great and he was the most talented marketing expert in the entire world, I would still complain because exceptional companies don’t merely succeed by having talented people. Instead, companies succeed by having talented, hard-working people who deliver great results. Therefore, talent is not a substitute for working hard, and in our case there wasn’t a shortage of work to be done.
I expected some changes, but nothing had changed. So, during our next meeting, I brought up the issue again. I expected him to lower his fee for January substantially given his lack of progress, but he didn’t. He told us it doesn’t matter how much he works because he bills us based on the income of our webshop. However, the thing was that the sale kept coming, even if he doesn’t work at all. By the end of the meeting, he was fired.
I told him to bill us for January, and we’re done. I also told him that we’ll settle the payment after our new marketing contractor completely takes over all the ad campaigns. I didn’t trust him to be available when any question arises regarding knowledge transfer, so this was an assurance on our behalf.
Shortly afterward, we realized that our Facebook ad campaigns had vanished. I also noticed that Nikolai had made a major alteration to a significant landing page to drive traffic to our direct competitor instead of our own site.
When Nikolai sent me an email about his pending invoice, which displayed thousands of dollars, I asked him about the missing Facebook ad campaigns and the altered landing page.
He told me he noticed earlier that we had added a marketing agency to our ad accounts, and the moment he noticed it, he deleted the ads to “protect them from getting into the wrong hands” because they’re “his intellectual property”.
Imagine your contractors sabotaging your operation behind your back at the moment they get the slightest hint of getting replaced. Sysadmins would bring down servers and developers would delete the code they’ve written.
Then when they are questioned about the sabotage, they would respond by telling you that their actions are completely justified because the work they were doing while being paid by you is “their intellectual property”.
Regarding the altered landing page, his reply was: “any reason why I should not do that?”
Lastly, he threw in some projected sales figures to make us think that we had made a colossal mistake by firing him. However, his formula is simple: next month income = current month income + $5,000. He never hit such goals, and always had to readjust his projections.
Nikolai could have simply acknowledged that he was replaced, get paid, and move on. Instead, he opted to sabotage our operation, which also resulted in this review and not getting paid for January given that his invoice doesn’t cover the losses that he had caused.
This experience has been sorely disappointing. Nikolai is a person who I once considered a friend and I also looked up to him. However, his recent actions speak volumes about who he really is at his core. I think trust is the basis of every relationship, both personal and business, and he’s broken our trust on every level and it is now beyond repair.
I hope this is a warning sign for everyone who wants to do business with Crowdtoolz. A person who has such poor ethics should not be employed. If I knew Nikolai’s true colors, I would have never done any business with him in the first place. However, I’m also glad that he eventually showed his true colors because things tend to go downhill over time for with people like him.
As a closing word, in case you have any doubts about the truthfulness of the information above, it can be confirmed by András Völgyi, my business partner who is a person with exceptional ethics.