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More Trouble for the Richard Branson-Backed Startup Clinkle

Barry McCarthy, the company's new leader and the guy expected to get the beleaguered payment startup back on track, is leaving after only five months

Two weeks ago, I wrote a story about Clinkle, the San Francisco-based startup that claims to be developing an app that will reinvent mobile payments. Armed with $30 million in venture capital and A-list investors like Richard Branson, it seemed (at least form the outside) that the startup was destined to become “the next big thing.”

In reality, it was anything but: The company was nearly 3 years old, and had yet to release a product. Worse, it was hemorrhaging talent. About 50 employees had left the company or had been fired since 2012—an incredibly high human “burn rate,” even in Silicon Valley, where people are always chasing new opportunities.

Toward the end of the piece, I noted that despite the internal problems at the company, and the multiple launch delays, there was hope on the horizon. Its 22-year-old CEO, Lucas Duplan, had managed to hire Barry McCarthy, a former Netflix executive, to be the company’s chief operating officer. I wrote that it was “a promising sign that McCarthy, a guy that likely had many professional options, would choose to bet on a startup that had yet to even issue a product.”

Well, today McCarthy resigned.

For my story, I spoke with several former staffers who explained why and how the disfunction festered. Many pointed fingers at Duplan. They felt he overhyped the business and acted inappropriately at times. In one instance, half the company quit after he fired an employee on the spot. They also felt his inexperience made him incapable of actually getting the product off the ground and into the hands of the consumers. (Duplan declined multiple requests to speak with me for the story.)

In an interview with Re/code today, McCarthy said he was told by Duplan when he joined in October 2013 that the product would be ready to go live in November 2013. That turned out to be untrue. “They’re not nearly as close to scaling the businesses as I thought they were when I came in the door,” McCarthy told Re/code.

Right after he was hired, McCarthy managed to recruit two of his former colleagues—senior executives at Netflix—to join him at Clinkle. They still remain at the company (for now at least). McCarthy and Duplan are positioning the departure as a “mutual” agreement.

“[Duplan] is taking an enormous amount of shit and we would all agree he’s done some dumb stuff,” McCarthy told Re/code. “But how many guys his age would have had the vision, been able to attract the capital and people, and have had the courage to go out there and risk it all. I have great admiration for him.”

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