Dental app startup drama: Two attack websites and a lawsuit
Here's what really happens when ex biz partners threaten to publish and be damned
A dental app entrepreneur and his former business consultant ended up in a playground war of character smears conducted via attack websites in each other’s names – and one even sent an associate with a warning to the other’s home where his wife and newborn child were present.
Dr Andrew Guise won £25,000 in damages for defamation and £3,000 for harassment from Rajeev Shah, operator of the Dental CPD Pro app (DCPD), following a defamation judgement at the High Court passed last week.
Noting how neither party was a completely “truthful and reliable witness”, Mr Justice Dingemans, sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division, remarked:
“It seems that it was the breakdown in their relationship and their respective actions since then which have caused them both to lose any reasonable insight into their own behaviour and actions.”
In 2013 Shah’s software exploits caught the eye of Guise, who had experience in fundraising, and the two agreed to work together on DCPD. Guise talked Shah out of using Crowdcube to raise funds for DCPD, telling him he was offering “mate's rates” as a fundraising consultant.
It was revealed that Shah’s model for DCPD was to build its userbase among dentists (the app was for recording attendance at Continual Professional Development courses), “then changing terms and conditions so that users would consent to information being provided to commercial CPD course providers, and then making money by providing that information to the course providers who could target advertisements to dentists likely to be interested in their courses.”
Shah and Guise’s business relationship rested on “an oral agreement [made] on 12 August 2013 at the public house,” according to the judge, along with an email the following morning which was agreed between the two, stating: “Just to confirm £5K plus 10 per cent of funds raised/sale price – unless funds raised with crowdcube where the funds raised fee is reduced to 5 per cent.” This email was to prove critical in the trial.
DCPD failed to attract the hoped level of investment. At least one potential investor, Bill Anthony, withdrew despite an initial indication that he and his associates might plough up to £125,000 into the app. As it was, just £70,000 was raised by the end of 2014 – all from members of DCPD’s own scientific advisory board, composed of “leading figures in the dental world”.
Guise asked Shah to pay him in November 2014. Shah offered to pay Guise £5,000; Guise was “very angry that his work had not been appreciated by Mr Shah.” The judge ruled that Guise asked for £45,000 “representing 90 days’ work at £500 per day.”
After the relationship between Shah and Guise broke down completely, Guise started contacting others associated with DCPD, telling them: “I am concerned that investors and partners may not have been given as clear a picture of the current status and capabilities of [Shah’s] company as they may expect.”
Having discovered that Guise intended to publicly release all emails between the two about DCPD, Shah then set up a website at “andrewguise.com” complete with redirects from .net, .info, .org, .co.uk and .wordpress.com. He then emailed Guise’s wife, a practising A&E doctor, sending her a link to the site that stated, “I'm hoping that together we can de-escalate the situation before it gets worse.” A poker-faced Mr Justice Dingemans remarked: “If Mr Shah had intended to de-escalate things, he failed spectacularly.”
Amongst other things on the site, Shah branded Guise’s business practices as a “scam” and “unethical”, “perpetrated or sought to perpetrate a confidence game or other fraudulent scheme, especially for making a quick profit,” adding: “My experience is that Andrew Guise should not be trusted in matters of finance and that Andrew Guise should not be trusted with financial information.”
The visit by the associate and the rival attack site
Shah was also found to have sent an accomplice to Guise’s home in January 2015 to scare him into withdrawing legal proceedings. Guise’s wife answered the door to a man “of stocky build” who said “is Andrew here?” Guise spoke to the man, whom he alleged said “I'll be back. Think about your wife and baby.”
In a text to a friend straight afterwards Guise referred to this incident by saying: “That bastard Indian just sent a big n***er to my door to intimidate us.” A police report by Guise described the man as “a black male... 6 foot 3 inches, 18-20 stone.” Though Shah denied involvement, the judge ruled otherwise.
Guise retaliated by putting up a rival attack site, rajeevshahdental.com, where he labelled his former partner as “Untrustworthy Dental Entrepreneur Rajeev Shah CEO Dental CPD Pro”, and included the paragraph:
His stated strategy with regard to consumers and partners is described by himself as a 'Trojan Horse'. By offering something for free consumers and partners will become reliant on his service. As consumers are reliant on the tech he will change the terms and conditions to include payment for basic services and allow himself to use your personal data as freely as he likes... I'm not saying this is illegal people should be aware of the risks they take when giving their personal data to a corporate, particularly when its at the depth that will be seen in personal development plans. Do you really want the entire industry to know your personal objectives?
“Publishing websites about each other does not show either of Mr Shah or Dr Guise in a good light,” commented the judge.
Finding that Shah had made “serious[ly] defamatory statements” about Guise, and that Guise’s actions majorly reduced the damages he would otherwise have received from Shah, Mr Justice Dingemans granted injunctions to stop both Guise and Shah republishing their attack websites.
The judge also ruled that Shah had harassed Guise by sending the "unknown male" to Guise’s house, which, combined with the attack website, meant Shah's actions cleared the legal threshold for the awarding of damages. Both men were also found to have broken the Data Protection Act. ®