Rainn Wilson, perhaps best known as Dwight Schrute on The Office, just filed a counterclaim against Think Brilliant, a Web design startup founded by Aviv Hadar. We've profiled Hadar in the past--he was the one who created (and subsequently made lots of money from) the "I'm With Coco" logo--and in that profile, we quoted none other than Rainn Wilson. Only two months ago, Wilson was singing Hadar's praises, calling him a "visionary." What went so wrong in these past few weeks?
Only Hadar was willing to speak at all--Wilson's publicist responded with a quick "no comment." Hadar, though he couldn't go into many specifics, says that he and Think Brilliant fully deny Wilson's take on alleged hacking and an exclusivity agreement.
On July 9th, Think Brilliant filed a lawsuit against Wilson and Wilson's part-silly, part-serious "metaphysical social network," SoulPancake. Think Brilliant was hired by SoulPancake to create not just a site but a community, which they did. The problem isn't with SoulPancake--it's the financial side of things.
In the original claim (which you can read here in PDF form), Think Brilliant alleges that it was promised, both orally and via email, an 18% stake in the SoulPancake site, plus an additional 3% in the company, SoulPancake LLC. Those papers, says Think Brilliant, simply never arrived. In addition, Think Brilliant says Wilson himself sent several defamatory emails to the company after the relationship began to go sour.
It gets worse, however. Think Brilliant also alleges that a SoulPancake employee engaged in the following misbehaviors:
"[...] surreptitiously hacked into [Think Brilliant's] database with an unauthorized "administrator" password, extracted confidential materials (including complete code bases), performed a SVNdump, performed illegal search queries of the entire database, and otherwise gained access to all of [Think Brilliant's] confidential and proprietary materials. [SoulPancake's] hacking into [Think Brilliant's] entire software database was intentional and has occurred on multiple occasions within the last two weeks."
On July 22nd, Wilson and SoulPancake responded (link opens a PDF), not just to deny the accusations but to file a counterclaim. The counterclaim states that the promised stake in SoulPancake was not, in fact, promised, but rather nothing more than "preliminary talks." It also denies any hacking, saying that a SoulPancake employee received a link from Hadar in an email that granted administrator access. That a SoulPancake employee had access to Think Brilliant materials unrelated to SoulPancake seems to have been the trigger for all this--what that employee found is the basis of the countersuit.
The counterclaim claims that SoulPancake had an exclusivity agreement with Think Brilliant. From the counterclaim:
From January 2010 through June 2010, SoulPancake funded all of Think Brilliant’s monthly expenses, including salaries and health insurance benefits for all five Think Brilliant employees, as well as office expenses and business taxes, in exchange for Think Brilliant’s agreement to work exclusively on SoulPancake.com. Unbeknownst to SoulPancake, however, Think Brilliant flagrantly breached its obligations and fraudulently diverted its resources to the development of a secret project, called 'Ziphook.'
In effect, Think Brilliant stole from SoulPancake by taking the money that it was being paid to work solely on SoulPancake.com and using it to fund the development of Ziphook, which Think Brilliant intended to market as its own.
The counterclaim asks for not only monetary damages, but a definitive sign that Think Brilliant is not entitled to any part of SoulPancake. It even asks for ownership of "Ziphook," as that project was, in the view of SoulPancake, funded by them.
It's difficult to make any sort of predictions about the outcome of the case, given how much of it is a he-said-she-said affair. Neither the claim nor the counterclaim include any documents showing any more detail into the alleged exclusivity agreement, though we know there are emails relating to it. The same goes for the promise of a share in SoulPancake--does the conversation on that subject constitute a contract or not? I have no idea, not without seeing the relevant emails.
Hadar did give a little (and only a little) insight into what Ziphook might be, telling FastCompany.com:
Ziphook is an upcoming software product that we're hoping to launch during 2010! Our fundamental goal with Ziphook is to bridge the business and social media worlds in an elegant and intuitive way. In a nutshell, we're aiming to help small businesses make sense out of some of the chaos. Anyone who is interested can signup for early access at Ziphook.com, and they'll be notified when we're ready.
It's an ugly case, and a shame that two true innovators like Wilson and Hadar are at each others' throats. Think Brilliant did a great job on SoulPancake, which is one of the more interesting social networking ideas on the Internet these days. We'll keep you updated on any developments.