Home » Ozy Media went from buzzy to belly-up. Its founder, Carlos Watson, is now on trial

Ozy Media went from buzzy to belly-up. Its founder, Carlos Watson, is now on trial

by The Grio

NEW YORK (AP) — For nearly a decade, Ozy Media projected an image of new-media success.

The company boasted big-name interviews, an Emmy-winning TV show, a buzzy music and ideas festival and impressive numbers to show prospective investors — until it imploded in 2021 amid doubts about its audience size, viability and basic integrity.

Those doubts are now at the center of a federal criminal trial. Founder Carlos Watson and Ozy are fighting charges of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Even after numerous other public and court reckonings for Silicon Valley companies that went from ballyhooed to belly-up, it’s hard to forget the moment in Ozy’s downfall when co-founder Samir Rao impersonated a YouTube executive to talk up the company to prospective investors.

Watson’s and Ozy’s lawyers blame any misrepresentations solely on Rao, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and to identity theft. The defense also has claimed that prosecutors are casting commonplace entrepreneurial puffery as a crime and singling out Watson, a Black founder in a tech world where African American executives have been disproportionately few.

“I am not now and never have been a ‘con man,’” he declared when indicted last year.

Prosecutors and Rao, their star witness, say Ozy shredded the line between hopeful hype and bald-faced deceit.

“We told so many lies to so many different people,” Rao testified after recounting how a teetering company concocted rosy financials in a desperate bid to lure investors and stay in business.

The hope was to enable “a diverse audience, to consume, hopefully, a different, more meaningful kind of content,” he said. But “survival within the bonds of decency, fairness, truth, it morphed into survival at all costs and by any means necessary.”

‘The new and the next’

Ozy was founded in 2012 on a Millennial-friendly premise of providing a fresh, sophisticated-but-not-stuffy take on…

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