You may have heard about Harsh Dalal, a 19-year old entrepreneur from Singapore Polytechnic responsible for creating Team Labs, which is a US$25 million tech startup. An interview on CNA in January this year revealed that he was a CEO of the business (which has 120 employees globally) who’s also juggling classes, homework and, soon, National Service.
From creating his first successful app at age 13 (a mobile phone screen recorder) to heading a multi-million dollar company at 19, this Generation Z tech entrepreneur soon made his way to the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in April this year. Not surprising, considering the company’s funding amount, impressive team resume, and globally-influential clients.
It all sounds very impressive, especially given his age. But then all of that was proven to be false.
When Tech in Asia did some digging into Team Labs, it discovered that many of the claims were unsubstantiated: from the funding to the employees and even its customer base. Forbes also did their own digging, and promptly removed him from their 30 Under 30 listing. What gives?
Dissecting the discrepancies
There were many claims made by Team Labs, these include:
Team Labs claims to have raised US$9.8 million in Series A funding when Dalal was just 17. He claims that the fundraise happened online with a US investment firm, according to the CNA article, and that the senior executive became his mentor. According to Dalal, they used to talk frequently until the mentor died from Covid-19 in early May.
According to an official press release from Team Labs in 2019 uncovered by Tech in Asia, the funds were from “sovereign wealth fund Korea Investment Corporation, Startup Capital Ventures, and Grand Canyon Capital.” However, Dalal asserts that SCV and KIC have not invested in the startup (he said he was unsure where the information was from).
According to an independent investigation, the website for Grand Canyon Capital turned up a lot of broken links (those related to pages like News, Funding, Portfolio, and Contact). The homepage claims to have funded Uber, Deliveroo, AirBnB and of course, TeamLabs – it’s also claimed to have 11 successful exits without naming the companies. The company claims to have been established in 2008 in New York City but their ICANN domain registration reveals that “grandcanyon.capital” was registered in 2020, and their Twitter page has no activity.
While the CNA article states that Team Labs has 120 employees, a check on the company’s LinkedIn listed just 5 employees (as of 13 May) – and all go by the same name of ‘LinkedIn Member’ with no additional information apart from their job descriptions.
When Tech in Asia found Team Lab’s ‘Leadership’ page on the website, it yielded 8 founders – however, the ‘About’ segment has since been replaced with a generic mission statement. The website is being revamped and most of the pages have been taken down, including the employees and newsroom pages.
No mention of product reviews
The Team Labs website shows four software products, including its flagship Xenon, which lets users build software faster. According to Dalal, the software was developed in 2017 and today claims to have 750k ‘commits’, although there doesn’t seem to be a single review or mention on any tech-related sites, according to a Reddit user.
That said, all of Team Labs’ products are in a ‘closed beta’ which means that nobody can have access to them currently. Also, all of the products developed already have established players, like Silicon, which is basically equivalent to Slack.
Cannot verify partnerships
Team Labs’ homepage claims they’ve been partnered with Google, Coca-Cola, and Hilton. When Tech in Asia asked Dalal to connect to someone at Google for verification, he cited that he didn’t have permission from clients to share any details.
CNA has since removed mentions of these companies in their Editor’s note at the end of their article:
It’s all the VC fund’s doing
After all the discrepancies were discovered, Dalal told Tech in Asia that all the startup’s numbers – from the employees to finances and users – were all conveyed from Grand Canyon Capital, their investor (see above).
He adds that while he was responsible for building the tech behind the products when he turned 16, Dalal maintains he doesn’t have any business acumen or understanding of the corporate world and its intricacies. He said Grand Canyon Capital was the entity responsible for everything else, including incorporating the company and managing it day-to-day.
What’s the future hold for Dalal?
Dalal has maintained that Team Labs is a legitimate company, even though none of the team members or investors were contactable for verification.
Perhaps it wasn’t a fluke that these large claims have inflated the company’s valuation to US$25 million. Whether you look at Dalal as someone who deliberately deceived people or was just a victim of the system, it has to be said that he’s still done more at this stage in life than most people his age.
Remember that he started out with a bunch of friends and created their first successful app at only 13, and managed to hold out at Team Labs despite all his original founders (friends) leaving. Now that Dalal is getting ready for NS, he’ll have to pass the mantle to someone else (he also mentions that the company is undergoing a ‘role shuffle’). Only time will tell – well 2 years at least – what this ambitious Gen Z will do next or what the future holds for Team Labs.