Exposing the frauds

 

Updated on May 20th, 2020 with screenshots to verify dates and details.

Did I ever tell you the story about the time I accidentally started a company with a complete scammer, liar, and psycho? What about the time I invited her to my wedding and she snuck out of the resort without paying and left me and my new wife with a $500 tab on our honeymoon. Did I mention that after the wedding I found out she stole, misused, and embezzled all the startup capital we raised for our company?

I never told you guys about how she also hired a team full of her friends who are also liars & frauds that tried to slander me, throw dirt on my name and ruin my reputation? I never spoke about how they accused me of not paying them for the work they did after knowing that their friend stole the company’s money and was the reason they couldn’t be paid?

Oh man, this should be fun. Imagine being called misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Black, and accused of “not paying/stealing from Black women” when none of those things are true and you were in-fact the one that was stolen from.

Are you ready for a roller coaster ride? I don’t think you are. This story has twists & turns that not even Hollywood’s best screenwriters could’ve conceptualized. There are some valuable lessons to be learned here, about life, and business so be sure to read this in its entirety.

Many of you know the story of my experience with discrimination while using Airbnb, and the company I subsequently ended up starting, Noirbnb, with a woman by the name of Ronnia Cherry. What started off as a promising endeavor rapidly turned into a nightmare.

When my Airbnb story first went viral, my friends and I were all in the house and my phone was blowing up. I’ve gone viral many times, before and since, but up until that point, it had been nothing of that magnitude. I was getting tweets and DMs from all kinds of media publications  and things were getting hectic. Being the opportunist that she is, and also having experience in PR, Ronnia Cherry offered to assist me with the influx of outreach. She was actually the person who had booked the Airbnb for all of us because we had been part of a team that was orchestrating an event during 2015’s A3C hip-hop festival in Atlanta.

I obliged and she assisted me with managing the calls, interviews, etc.

After that incident happened, we did our show which was a success, and we all flew back to where we were living. At the time I was living in Washington, D.C. and she was living in Miami, Florida, which is where we’d originally met and done events together before.

Mind you, I had a friend bring complaints to me about the way she does business and I’d heard things, but people always say things and I didn’t take it too seriously because I hadn’t noticed any major red flags when working with her before.

LESSON #1: When your real friends and people you trust say someone is shady, you should listen. (Unless those friends are shady themselves, but we’ll get to that later)

To provide some context about myself, I’m a Jamaican, Rastafarian, and I believe in the teachings of Marcus Garvey. Part of my vision is a united and self-sufficient global Black community. That is a primary factor and cornerstone in a lot of what I do.

After our instance with Airbnb, many of my Black friends and Black people around the world reached out to share similar experiences that they’ve had while using Airbnb. Being an entrepreneur and natural problem solver, I decided it was time for us to provide a solution to Airbnb’s discrimination problem.

I’m not a typical tech person. I’m not a coder or engineer. Although I have another company that specializes in website and mobile app design, my background is primarily in marketing, branding, entertainment, and communications/media.

My initial idea was for Noirbnb to be a platform within Airbnb’s already existing platform. I originally envisioned Noirbnb as a community within a community, one that focuses on our specific demographic. Similar to a VH1-Soul. I wanted our community to have a space to connect with one-another and feel safe and comfortable while seeking accommodations and traveling the world. That’s still my vision.

When the idea hit me, I reached out to Ronnia. I did this for 2 reasons. 

  1. Because she assisted me with the media relations
  2. In my pan-African idealism, I wanted to build a venture with a Black woman. In my mind, the idea of a Black man and Black woman building something so new and game-changing was powerful and would be a great look for the culture. Not only because it was a dope idea, but also to help unite the culture in a cool and new way.

I’m going to fast forward a bit because long-story-short we didn’t end up partnering with Airbnb and we decided to venture out on our own.

As I said previously, I’m not your typical tech person. I’ve never built anything like what I had in mind, but I act on faith, not fear. I’d always been interested in starting a tech company and the idea for Noirbnb hit me like a lightning bolt so I decided to venture out. After negotiations with Airbnb fizzled, I told Ronnia that we should just do it on our own. She was hesitant because she really wanted to work with Airbnb, but I knew that they weren’t adamant about solving a problem because, truth be told, they didn’t really need to. Black people were a fraction of their bottom line. They could ignore us. Me? I couldn’t. I refused to. So, we pressed forward.

Her idea was that, if we create a landing page and make this announcement (Friday, June 3rd 2016) and we have at least 100 email sign ups by Monday (June 6th, 2016), then we might have a business we can work on.

I put my marketing skills to use, posted a couple tweets, and next thing you know, we took off. I mean, insanely took off. By the time Monday came around, we had around 14,000 email sign ups. That tells you everything you need to know. We had a business we could work on.

At that point, we began putting our team together and thinking of ways to raise capital for our new venture. We brought on a gentleman named Jide Ehimika who was recommended by a good friend for having experience in technology and operations. Because things were getting so crazy, I invited Ronnia to fly from Florida and crash on my couch in D.C. so that all three of us could be in the same place and strategize being that Jide lived in D.C. as well. She crashed on my couch for 3 weeks, free of charge.

Ronnia had more corporate experience than I did. I was more of an independent hustle and grind type of guy, but she’d worked with Honda and other major corporations before so I trusted her experience in recruiting and hiring. My focus would be on marketing and user growth.

LESSON #2: Always pay attention to everything. Never give anyone too much power because absolute power corrupts absolutely. If you’re the leader of an organization or company, be on top of who becomes part of your organization. Especially in the beginning stages.

Ronnia, as Chief Product Officer recruited her former friend Sarah Hambrick aka sarah “huny” young as Noirbnb’s Creative Director who then recruited Ronnia’s ex-girlfriend Gintel Gee as Art Director. She also recruited some other team members such as a woman named Anita for UX design. At this point the only person I’d brought on was Jide.

Now mind you, everyone mentioned above besides Jide is a member of the LGBTQ community. After that I myself even recruited members of the LGBTQ community. Want to know why? Because I don’t care what someone’s sexual orientation is as long as they’re cool and most importantly can do the job they were recruited for. More on that later.

At that point we began working on building the platform. We had a massive base of people who wanted our product. While I’m not a tech person, I do know that when you have a product that’s in high demand, you try to get it to them as soon as possible.

While all of this is happening, I forgot to mention that we were also competing with a company that tried to steal our name, entire business model, and users by adding an “e” to Noir and causing confusion while also piggybacking off our marketing to get press interviews and build their users. That’s a blog post for another day and a movie within itself.

We went through so many platforms because the folks that I trusted to know what they were doing clearly didn’t. Imagine being the youngest person in your company, the reason anyone even knows and cares about it, while being surrounded by strangers who are all older than you and supposed to be proficient in their fields. Truth be told, it was a mess. No one seemed to be in it for the product or to provide the service for our customers and community. It was just some new hot internet shit to them. That was my fault though, I shouldn’t have put my faith in any of them. But in my idealism of trying to build a Black tech company with an all-Black team, I was lost in the sauce. 

Also while trying to build this, let me not forget that I’m also planning my wedding. So let me fast forward to my wedding date.

My wife and I got married on Saturday, August 20th, 2016. The same day as Ronnia’s birthday. I invited her to my wedding because my wife and I had both known Ronnia and considering her and I had just started Noirbnb and I was about to move back to South Florida, it seemed like the perfect celebration to kick off this next phase of my personal and professional life.

We planned for everyone to stay at or around the resort we got married, Secrets Montego Bay. Not only did this woman Ronnia oversleep and miss not one, but TWO flights to Jamaica from Miami, she booked an Airbnb 30 minutes away from the resort. She books an Airbnb while we’re building Noirbnb, that was ironic within itself but, whatever. Did I mention that she had 2 of our investors/advisors buy her plane tickets to the wedding? Yeah, that too.

As part of our wedding reception we had planned to sing Happy Birthday to her but she completely missed all the festivities and didn’t arrive at the resort until after 9pm. The resort gave her a 1-night pass that ended at 3am to hang out with us because she missed the ceremony and reception but, considering she was staying 30 minutes away, it was late at night, she isn’t Jamaican and had never been to Jamaica, we didn’t think it was safe for her to travel by herself at night, so our friend Yejide opted to let Ronnia crash in her room for the night.

We all hung out that night, had a great time, and things were cool. We all actually ended up kicking it for the whole weekend. Oh before I forget, she tried to seduce my Father in-law because apparently she went to Jamaica with a mission in mind to find a husband and get pregnant. My father in-law is an Entrepreneur as well and I guess this weirdo thought she was going to find some wealthy older man and be our new mother in-law? Lol. She gave him her number and everything. We’ll just leave it at that though lol smh.

By the time Monday morning comes around, the resort calls my wife and I around 8am to tell us that one of our guests from the wedding was supposed to leave two days ago and their ID was still at the guard gate and that they had to pay $500 because the resort was $250 a night, for Saturday night and Sunday night. At that point we called Ronnia to let her know the situation and we figured she would handle it. That’s when shit IMMEDIATELY WENT LEFT.

She gets to telling this whole story about how she didn’t know the resort was that kind of place, that if she would’ve known she wouldn’t have come, and how we only care about money and we care about money more than her, and she said she felt like just walking into the ocean. A bunch of super extra dramatic shit to get out of paying her bill. She then sends us the phone number for two of her cousins and her father. I don’t know those folks. Wtf do they have to do with her paying her tab? We called them and they basically said what I would’ve said “I ain't got nothing to do with that, yall handle it”.

Later on we find out that she got on one of the buses that came in the resort and snuck away to Kingston, on the other side of the island, without even collecting her ID. Because she knew that to get her ID she would need to pay that $500 and she wasn’t going to do that so she opted to leave that expense on my wife and I. 

My wife is the sweetest, nicest, most caring, and loving person I’ve ever met and known in my entire life. Excuse my French but, my wife really wanted to beat her sneaky, scamming ass up. We were both pretty angry and annoyed with the situation, but we did our best to enjoy the rest of our honeymoon. When it was time to leave on Saturday, we paid the  $500 bill, and flew back to Florida to move into our new apartment and start our life together.

Update: After this was originally posted, Ronnia denied the above situation and her owing $502 dollars. Below are screen shots for verification.

When we got back to Florida, Ronnia was still in Jamaica. We had a very real conversation, but because we were still building a business together, we decided that we’d meet and talk it out when she got back to Miami and just keep working in the meantime. As of my writing this, May 18th 2020, Ronnia Cherry is still in Jamaica. And still up to a bunch of wild and totally insane shit. We might touch on that later, but once again that’s a movie within itself and this post is long enough.

Below is a screenshot from our conversation when I first got back from Jamaica after the wedding.

By this time we decided to make Jide our Chief Operations officer and our third co-founder. I was CEO, Ronnia was CPO, and Jide was COO. Having 3 co-founders is good because it helps as a tie-breaker when it comes to difficult decisions and also helps to divide up key roles. 

This is when shit REALLY got crazy. You’re probably thinking, “it gets crazier?” 

My nigga, yes. Yes it does.

The 3 of us were on the phone discussing bringing in a third-party accounting company to manage the finances. Besides the fact that it just made sense, it removed a bunch of liability from us as founders, provides transparency and a bunch of other benefits. 

When we mentioned bringing on an accountant, Ronnia immediately got defensive and suggested that we hire her mother to do the company’s accounting. After the fiasco in Jamaica my immediate thought was “GTFOH , are you crazy????” but I simply just disagreed, as did Jide. We decided it was best for us to look over the company’s current financials to see where we were and map out our moves and expenses for the next few months. Ronnia gets to berating Jide and saying that she doesn’t trust him, he’s this and that, and doesn’t want to give him access to the company’s PayPal or Bank of America accounts. That led to a draining hour-long debate. At some point her phone dropped off the call (because she didn’t have good service in Jamaica lol smh), I told Jide that since we were all founders it was only right that we all have access to our PayPal so I told him I’d share the password with him. Sometime during that, Ronnia got back on the call and accused us of plotting against her or something. Which further extended the already infuriating conversation.

We all got off the call and decided we’d try again later.

The next day I tried to login to our PayPal account only to find out that the password had been changed. I immediately called Ronnia to see what was up. That’s when she gave me this bullshit line that I’ll never forget: “I have nothing to hide, but everything to protect.”

Update: I thought I called her but in fact I sent her a text message. The line about "I have nothing to hide but everything to protect" can be seen in the screenshot below.

What does that goofy bullshit even mean?? At that point the jig hit the roof and I knew there was a finesse afoot. It had been afoot.

After that conversation I gave it a day or two. I woke up at around 3am a couple days later and decided to pull a Mr. Robot and fake hack my way into the PayPal account.

At that point we had raised around $11,000. When I logged into the account, how much money was in there?

$8.15.

Eight dollars and 15 cents.

She was the only person with the PayPal and BOA debit cards for the company. At that point I immediately started locking up the company’s different accounts, changing passwords, and essentially doing as much damage control as I possibly could to stop any future bleeding. I then began checking through the company’s transactions. She had been transferring herself hundreds of dollars at a time. Running up tabs at bars and restaurants. She even bought the flights to stay at my house in D.C. with company money. I almost couldn’t believe the things I was seeing.

Almost. 

After what she pulled in Jamaica, seeing this wasn’t too surprising. Scammers gonna scam. Fraudsters gonna fraud.

LESSON #4: ALWAYS KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE MONEY. Do not assume everyone is like you, has your intentions, and is trustworthy. They’re not. Be sure to have systems and protocols in place so that your business partners can’t fuck you over.

The next day I called our creative director, her friend, none other than Sarah “huny” Hambrick. 

In retrospect, that conversation was very weird. After telling her about how the company’s co founder embezzled a bunch of money and essentially had to be removed from the company, she basically tried to defend her and say we shouldn’t remove her. She then stated that if we did remove her that we should give her a severance package.

WHAT???

All the money she stole was her damn “severance package”.

How does someone steal from their company, their team members, their customers and community deserve any kind of severance package?

That was super dead.

Now that I think of it, I truly think huny was in on the bullshit all along.

I spoke with Jide before speaking with huny and he felt it would’ve been a bad look for a company as young as ours to already be removing cofounders, and I felt him, but at the same time, he didn’t take a $500 loss during his honeymoon and the idea for Noirbnb wasn’t his. Jide is the homie but he didn’t have the amount of skin in the game that I did. Noirbnb was and is my baby. I didn’t take kindly to being scammed like that. This company was meant to change all of our lives for the better.

Update: Originally we were advised by a man named Eric who said that we should keep her in the company. Eric was brought on by Ronnia due to his startup and finance experience so it made sense he would try to keep her in. Nothing against him though.

We decided to remove Ronnia from the company and promote huny from Creative Director to Chief Product Officer. She was the one primarily handling the user interface and user experience design, so it made sense. Plus we could keep a Black woman in a position of power and leadership. As previously stated, that was important to me.

Besides choosing Ronnia as my co founder, promoting huny instead of completely removing the entire team & starting over was my 2nd worst mistake.

She was the absolute worst and most toxic person I've ever worked with in my entire life. Before or since. She made me hate everything about my life while building that company. Even rehashing these moments is building up feelings of anger and resentment from deep within me.

Everything was an argument. She literally stalled our launch for what felt like forever because she was worried about what her design friends would think of the website if it didn’t look perfect.

Fam, besides the fact that no product or platform is perfect upon initial release, no one gives a single solitary fuck about your design friends. This company was created to serve the Black community and provide safe and dope accommodations for them while they travel around the world. Not impress your fucking design friends.

LESSON #5: Hire your own damn team. Do not surround yourself with a bunch of strangers just because someone recommended them. They are not your friends, they likely don’t really care about what you’re building, and they are not loyal to you.

After removing Ronnia, we came across a technology development team that offered to build the entire backend infrastructure of the site for equity in the company while huny designed the front end UI/UX. It seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The only problem was that the development team hated working with huny even more than I did. As the CEO I basically had to play mediator between the two of them just to make any progress on the site, just so we could get a working product to market.

The breaking point was when huny designed a gender drop down menu that featured Male, Female, Trans, Non-binary, and the option to input whatever gender they identified as.

As someone who has Trans friends and people who identify as whatever they’d like, and also as a business person in modern times, I didn’t have an issue with it. I just wanted to get a product to market so we could serve our customers. Regardless of what their gender identity or sexual orientation was. 

The dev team was NOT feeling it. I literally spent 3 excruciating hours trying to negotiate this gender drop down debacle. The site was literally 90% complete and it looked BEAUTIFUL. I just wanted to get it to the people so we could fulfill our mission and continue building.

That whole ordeal essentially lead to huny giving us an ultimatum. Either the dev team had to go or she would leave.

We opted to fire the dev team and keep huny on board.

That was the 3rd biggest mistake I made. One that I regret and pains me to this day.

Long story short she ended up leaving anyway because the company wasn’t making money yet, because we didn’t have a functioning product yet, and she has kids to feed. I understood and wished her well, even though she was essentially the reason we weren't making money because she was the primary reason the product was stalled and didn't have a functioning product. Smh.

LESSON #6: Curate your company’s culture very carefully. They don’t have to be exactly like you, but they have to be a good fit for the environment you’re trying to build. Ideally it’s a productive environment full of positive, respectful people that are easy to get along with and easy to work with.

Months later, I found out that she unfollowed me on Twitter. No pressure, it's Twitter, who cares?

I unfollowed her as well. But tbh, because I never planned on working with or ever speaking to her again and didn’t particularly like her as a person, I blocked her as well. She once told me I shouldn’t be CEO because of my tweets. Lol. Fine, if you don’t like my tweets you’ll never have to see them again. I blocked her and kept it moving.

Here’s where things get funny.

On September 19, 2017, an incredibly stupid article from “Very Smart Brothas” came out called “Straight Black Men are the White People of Black People“. Knowing me, I trolled it and my tweet trolling it went viral. As many of my tweets often do.

The writer of the article and "Very Smart Brothas" co founder, Damon Young, also happens to be Sarah “huny” Hambrick’s cousin. Although her name is Sarah Hambrick, she publicly goes as “sarah huny young”.

My tweet trolling her cousin’s dumb article went viral, at which point she must’ve came across it a couple days later and realized she couldn’t read it, because, well, she was blocked, which inspired her to tweet this:

This tweet right here set off a bunch of bullshit and purposely, deceptively framed me as some thief or person who doesn’t pay people for their work.

Update: below are screenshots that verify that huny knew about Ronnia's embezzlement. Because they were friends I opted to let her try and mediate the situation.

Mind you, when we were able to raise a little more money, WE DID PAY HER. I paid her before I ever saw a dime from Noirbnb, but here she frames it we ran off with her work, while conveniently forgetting to mention that it was her scamming-ass, stealing-ass, scandalous-ass homegirl running off with the company’s money being the reason she wasn’t properly compensated.

Update: below is a screenshot of one of the payments we made to huny's design company  on PayPal. Clear proof that we did in fact pay her. Not to mention I gave her 15% equity in the company, MUCH more equity than her own friend gave her.

She has a large following in Black Social Justice Twitter and proceeded to purposely weaponize them against me and the company. Painting me as some kind of villain who doesn't pay Black women, all while conveniently never mentioning her friend Ronnia’s thievery.

That shit still bothers me honestly because whenever our company goes viral or gets some shine, a bunch of weirdos who believed huny's bullshit try their best to ruin the company’s image and ruin my reputation. She knew what she was doing and did it anyway. That shit is borderline evil fam. 

Then huny's other friends who were either hired by Ronnia or huny herself joined in on the bullshit to make it seem like I’m some dude who steals from/doesn’t pay Black women. The whole shit was shady and makes me incredibly angry to this day. We were all working for free and supposed to be compensated once the company had either met its funding goal or generated enough revenue from the platform to cover everyone's salaries. That was also agreed upon and signed on legal documents by everyone who joined the team.

I gave up my life and income in D.C., to move to Florida, so Ronnia and I could build this business. Even sold my Lexus so that the company could have more startup capital so we could make it work. Meanwhile these motherfuckers are publicly accusing me of not paying them, when they know what the truth really was?

Shit is disgusting. I would expect something like that from some racist ass white supremacists, but you don’t expect that kind of slander, false framing, and straight up lying bullshit from your own people. 

Since then I’ve been accused of all kind of things. Being homophobic, even though tons of my friends and many of Noirbnb's founding team are gay. Being misogynistic, even though I’ve worked with, hired, worked for, and empowered tons of women throughout my life and still do. Accused of being “anti-Black” while dedicating my life to Black causes, fighting for Black people, and building Black business to solve Black problems and make Black life easier.

These fake ass internet folks and social justice warriors get on social media, say a bunch of bullshit because they know people will believe it, and sure enough they do.

The reason I wrote this is because even though I tried to let it go and let it die, to this day, there are still people spreading lies on my name, and trying to ruin my personal and professional life. 

The next time they try to tell lies on my name, instead of even replying trying to defend myself, I’m just going to share this and expose the truth of what happened. 

Many of them don’t care about the truth though, they just wanna run with bullshit and drag people for fun or because they hate their lives and want you to hate yours too. But for the real ones who wanna know what really happened, this is for them.

To be honest, even after this long ass blog post, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more I didn’t say, that I could say, and if folks keep playing with me, I’ll keep pulling the layers back so folks can really see how sick all these weirdos are.

If you made it this far, you’re a trooper with a long ass attention span lol.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Noirbnb is still here, we've got a great team, and we’re still growing and still building. We’ve got listings around the world ready for you to book right now and we'll be adding a lot more in more locations very soon. You can also sign up to become a host today.

Also, since those things happened I got my Real Estate license, became a Real Estate investor and consultant, and I just wrote my first book, The Beginner’s Guide to Real Estate Investing. Be sure to check it out.

Peace to you and yours. Stay safe. Bless up.

 

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5 thoughts on “Exposing the frauds

  1. Brother, This has taught me valuable lessons.

  2. Jesus dude…god bless

  3. I can’t believe no one has left a comment on this just yet.

    Anyway, FIRST LOL 😂

    But on a serious note, thank you for sharing this. I don’t really know you or interact that much with your tweets, but I have heard of noirbnb and I’ve always thought that it was a great concept.

    Keep shining, thank you for sharing your story and looking forward to learning more from you Stef!

  4. I’ve Been wanting to collab with noir bnb but couldn’t get in touch in the past. Anyway, i think it’s great that you are sharing your story. I also applaud you on conTinuing your vision. May you pRosper with purpose!

  5. Man i read all of that. Hey at least you learned many things from what happened.

    Hope noirbnb gets bigger! Good luck. 👍

    Also, maybe I should start writing a real estate ebook too like you. 🤔 I keep writing just blogs and that’s it. 😅

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