Exactly Who Is the Investor Behind Virgin Orbit's Failed $200 Million Rescue?

2 months ago 6

“I decidedly judge that a ample portion of it [is] arsenic a abstraction enthusiast.” That’s what Matthew Brown told CNBC connected March 23, when asked wherefore helium was considering a $200 cardinal concern into Virgin Orbit, a astir bankrupt rocket company.

He Tossed His Bitcoin, Now He Wants It Back

A week later, that woody collapsed, and Virgin Orbit, which had begun to bring employees backmost to enactment successful anticipation of caller funding, is facing the end. The institution has ceased operations and volition laic disconnected immoderate 675 employees, CEO Dan Hart said successful a meeting reported connected aboriginal by CNBC.

Sporting a purple Texas Christian University chapeau and shifting uncomfortably successful his chair, Brown claimed connected TV to person investments successful 13 abstraction companies and argued that Virgin could vie based connected its accelerated motorboat capability. Several investors who were watching told Quartz they acceptable speech the concern lawsuit to wonder: Who is this guy?

“Simply put: I americium a elemental feline from Fort Worth / Dallas who made a fewer bully bets (and a batch of atrocious ones) and walk my clip trying to beforehand the UN’s Goals,” Brown told Quartz via email. “ALL my $$ volition extremity up successful philanthropy to enactment those efforts. I hap to unrecorded a elemental and minimalistic beingness and emotion to beryllium astatine bid surfing connected the shores of Hawaii while—financially—supporting those overmuch smarter than myself.”

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But Quartz could not substantiate galore of the claims helium has made astir his concern experience. Presented with a elaborate statement of the discrepancies we found, Brown said they were “factually incorrect” but declined to explicate how.

Matthew Brown claims associations with Mark Zuckerberg and T. Boone Pickens

Tyson Halsey, a South Carolina-based concern advisor, was expected to present Brown astatine a conference for household offices successful Miami past year.

Halsey said Brown told him helium started his vocation arsenic a teenage tech entrepreneur moving with Mark Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss brothers earlier selling a institution to Salesforce. Then, portion a 19-year-old enrolled astatine TCU, Brown won an enforcement presumption and, soon thereafter, the apical occupation astatine a Texas household bureau managing $6 cardinal successful assets. He advised the Obama White House and the famed capitalist T. Boone Pickens connected renewable energy. From there, helium started respective concern funds, and his ain task concern vehicle, the Matthew Brown Companies.

TCU officials confirmed that Brown was enrolled astatine the school, but said helium did not gain a grade there. Meanwhile, Quartz recovered nary grounds that the Woods Family Office, wherever helium claimed to work, exists beyond its website. Brown withdrew his adjacent company’s registration arsenic an concern advisor with the Securities & Exchange Commission successful 2019, and has ne'er filed 13F reports required by wealth managers with much than $100 cardinal successful nationalist securities. According to Pitchbook, a backstage concern database, Brown has invested successful 3 abstraction companies—SpaceX, by buying shares successful the secondary market, and successful task rounds with Rocket Lab and Astra. Rocket Lab told Quartz that Brown ne'er participated successful immoderate backstage task round; Astra, present public, is presently successful a quiescent period.

As for that league successful Miami, conveniently timed to coincide with Art Basel, Brown ne'er showed up. According to Halsey, Brown told him that “you should person gotten a enactment from my assistant. I was successful a chopper mishap and I’m successful the hospital.”

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board person nary records of immoderate chopper accidents occurring successful Hawaii during the period earlier the conference. Brown told Quartz helium was injured erstwhile helium failed to deterioration a spot loop during a unsmooth landing aft his chopper suffered a mechanical nonaccomplishment during a formation to Oahu, but doesn’t retrieve erstwhile the incidental occurred.

A fiscal wunderkind?

Other stories that Brown told Halsey are arsenic impressive, including that he collaborated with Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and Mark Zuckerberg done a web institution helium founded earlier selling it to Salesforce—an absorbing communicative fixed the celebrated feud betwixt the Winklevii and Zuckerberg, each of whom declined via spokespeople to comment. Quartz obtained a database of six companies acquired by Salesforce earlier 2008—Instranet, Slideaware, Koral, Crispy News, Kieden, and Sendia. None was based successful Texas oregon led by Brown, although in 2006 the Dallas Morning News reported that a Matthew Brown was a finalist for a younker entrepreneurship grant for his web institution “Provost Enterprises/Provost Designs.”

Brown told Halsey his adjacent enactment began successful 2008, erstwhile helium became an enforcement astatine Woods Family Investments, serving 1 of the families that inherited shares of the General American Oil Company, which was sold to different steadfast successful 1983.

According to Halsey, Brown began moving connected renewable energy, and as the fiscal situation and commodities bust bore down connected the oil-focused fund, helium pitched a strategical overhaul to household patriarch Eric Woods in a 30-page memo. Halsey says Brown told him he was offered the occupation arsenic CEO of the household bureau the adjacent day, managing $6 cardinal successful assets, erstwhile according to nationalist records Brown would person been 19 years old. According to Halsey, Brown made returns of 11% to 17% investing successful upwind and solar.

Brown has besides indicated, connected LinkedIn and elsewhere, that portion astatine the Woods Family Office, helium spent years advising famed Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens connected renewable vigor investments, and that helium launched a associated task with Pickens’ Mesa Power.

Jay Rosser, who served arsenic Pickens’ main of unit and spokesperson from 2002 until Pickens’ decease successful 2019, told Quartz that helium and colleagues hadn’t heard of Brown. “I was precise adjacent with T. Boone Pickens,” Brown says. At the University of California, Berkeley, wherever Brown claimed to beryllium an advisor to a renewable vigor laboratory, the laboratory told Quartz helium had nary authoritative role. But its director, prof Daniel Kammen, said helium did admit Brown from unfastened meetings astatine the lab.

Meanwhile, determination are fewer records of the Woods Family Office oregon the Woods Family Investments, wherever Brown’s LinkedIn illustration indicates helium worked for 14 years. The Woods Family Foundation mentioned connected the household bureau website has ne'er filed the IRS’s 990 signifier for tax-exempt organizations. The company’s website claims that it operates Hogshead Spouter Co., a Hong Kong-based concern manager besides referenced connected Brown’s LinkedIn profile, but nary specified steadfast is registered with Hong Kong’s securities regulator. Brown declined to present Quartz to immoderate members of the Woods family, oregon employees of the household office.

Woods is supposedly a descendent of Henry W. Peters, 1 of the founders of the General American Oil Company. A brief history of the institution by the Texas Historical Society and news reports of its merchantability marque nary notation of Woods oregon Peters. Key facts successful the household past connected the Woods website look to beryllium incorrect; notably, institution laminitis Algur Meadows passed distant respective years earlier helium was supposedly progressive successful the merchantability of the firm.

The household of Algur Meadows inactive operates a philanthropic instauration today. When contacted astir Woods, a Meadows Foundation spokesperson could not substantiate the Woods office’s existence. However, she did enactment that the Meadows Foundation had discovered a website claiming to beryllium connected to the Great American Oil Company; it is akin to the Woods Family Office website. The Meadows are not connected to the tract and are trying to find its owners.

A tangled fiscal web

Brown has been progressive successful different fiscal companies, according to his LinkedIn profile, Pitchbook, and SEC records. 

One Brown vehicle, Tamara-Tacoma Capital Partners (TTCP), is described connected Brown’s LinkedIn arsenic an concern limb for household offices worthy “$5b+.” There are nary records of the institution oregon its funds astatine the SEC, but Pitchbook says the money has $150 cardinal nether management.

The institution was progressive successful astatine slightest 1 deal, purchasing a distressed upwind workplace successful Colorado. That woody became embroiled successful litigation successful 2016 aft TTCP enactment the institution successful receivership and declined to wage $8.5 cardinal owed to the US subsidiary of Sany, a Chinese steadfast that delivered the upwind turbines.

In court, TTCP argued that the powerfulness works importantly underperformed, but Sany alleged successful a tribunal filing that TTCP had transferred $910,000 from the institution to insiders astatine TTCP, including Brown, his partner, and his partner’s American Express card. TTCP’s attorneys from the steadfast Eversheds withdrew from the case; successful a treatment with the court, the attorneys said disclosing the reasons wherefore would beryllium prejudicial to their clients. TTCP and Brown obtained caller lawyers and the parties settled the lawsuit connected undisclosed presumption successful 2019.

Brown was besides a founding spouse of Energent, an backstage equity money focused connected renewable and alternate energy. That money filed paperwork with the SEC to rise $150 cardinal successful 2017, but Brown and his spouse Shane Starr withdrew their registration arsenic concern advisors successful 2019 and it’s not wide if immoderate wealth was ever raised. Ben Nelson, an lawyer who served arsenic the president of the fund, told Quartz that Energent ne'er made immoderate deals earlier shutting down.

Brown told Quartz his investments are made done special-purpose vehicles that bash not trigger SEC reporting requirements. Private investors bash often usage trusts, ammunition companies, and offshore fiscal centers to operation their transactions for privateness and competitory reasons. However, that task grows much hard arsenic the assets nether absorption increase.

PPP loans, societal media posts

While Brown’s task investments person proven hard to confirm—he says each 1 includes a non-disclosure agreement—his concern institution (employees: one) did person two loans totaling astir $42,000 from the US government’s Paycheck Protection Program successful 2020. Those loans, similar galore of the exigency PPP loans extended during the covid-19 pandemic, were forgiven.

Brown’s societal media, meanwhile, is stocked with images documenting the beingness of a high-rolling entrepreneur who spends clip successful Hawaii and travels by backstage pitchy to sojourn factories gathering high-altitude blimps and outer launchers.

Brown whitethorn beryllium a SpaceX shareholder, but his extremity of owning a abstraction institution outright has collapsed nether scrutiny, with Virgin Orbit’s enactment incapable to find if helium had the wealth to prevention their company. According to a Virgin Orbit worker not authorized to talk publicly, the squad astatine the rocket-maker was archetypal elated by quality of a imaginable rescuer, past dismayed by much of what they learned astir Brown arsenic the woody crumbled.

Brown told Quartz helium had the financing acceptable but wanted much assurances from Virgin.

Curious edits connected the Virgin Orbit Wikipedia page

Four days earlier Reuters broke the news that Brown was negotiating with Virgin Orbit, an anonymous IP code successful Dallas updated the company’s Wikipedia leafage with quality that Matthew Brown was readying to bargain the company; the time earlier the quality broke, that idiosyncratic added more detail.

The aforesaid IP code besides is liable for adding Brown’s sanction arsenic an capitalist successful OpenAI and Boom Aerospace, and as an executive with the Houston Texans shot team. The aforesaid relationship besides said that Brown and Eric Woods were aboriginal investors successful SpaceX. Most of those changes were reverted by Wikipedia editors for lacking extracurricular citations; nary of the companies has responded to inquiries from Quartz.

One happening is for sure: The aboriginal of Virgin Orbit and its employees nary longer hangs successful the hands of a 33 year-old investor—if it ever did.

This nonfiction primitively appeared astatine Quartz.

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