Social media posts from former affiliates and workers in late-February alleged that Quebec-based snack maker Sizzle Popcorn failed to pay commissions on the sale of its popcorn and merchandise generated during live streams, and seemed to struggle to pay or follow up on commitments to pay part-time workers promoting its brand and signing affiliates to sell its products.
Sizzle Popcorn was officially founded in 2020, but prior to its launch CEO Dev Sevy was operating another company revolving around popcorn called Sizzle Your Events, which provided small-scale catering—or as Sevy describes it—”a concessions rental machine experience” to events in and around Quebec.
Issues with Sizzle Popcorn came to light at the end of February when four former employees—Chloe Donald, Napoellis, SenilePanda, and Veronica–spoke out on Twitter claiming that Sevy took advantage of his workers, was often late in paying them, and would ghost them when they would inquire about pay. Many say he still owes them money, and there are even more people that did work for the company (such as artists and other social media and partnership managers) who have not spoken up, they say.
The Esports Advocate has spoken to multiple sources over the last several weeks to try to understand how this small operation out of Quebec convinced so many people to agree to multiple virtual handshake agreements (no contracts) over social media platforms and Discord.
Several people TEA spoke to during March acknowledged that the company only owed around $1K USD to affiliates, but it seemed to struggle to pay them. When affiliates and former workers finally grew tired of waiting for payments, many of them couldn’t produce proof because Sevy–they claim–had deleted his side of the conversations on various platforms (which many didn’t capture). Veronica told us that “Dev didn’t believe in contracts,” so no one—affiliates or workers—were ever provided any type of contract in writing. There were also a number of other accusations including unshipped orders, unfulfilled refunds, and a focus on an NFT project that took attention away from other parts of the business.
TEA reached out to Sizzle Popcorn CEO Dev Sevy prior to the publication of this story but he has not responded as of this writing.
From what information we can piece together, Sizzle Popcorn generally recruited from its affiliate program, moving willing community members into work roles such as handling partnerships, social media, and business development. A majority of the time, those working closely with the company received little compensation (and sometimes no compensation at all), according to multiple sources TEA spoke to, despite putting time and effort into promoting the brand across their networks—most while maintaining full-time jobs elsewhere.
When part-timers were paid it was never very much, according to public statements and sources TEA spoke to. One person we spoke to—SenilePanda—said that when he did finally get the company to provide him compensation, it amounted to about $150 USD a month. Another worker, Napoellis noted in a Twitter post that some were making $400 a month while working 40 hours a week for Sizzle Popcorn.
Many of the former workers (who had various job titles but mainly focused on signing up affiliates to sell Sizzle Popcorn or related merchandise, or handle social media duties) told TEA that they worked to gain experience in the hopes of finding a better job in the future or because they believed in what the brand was doing and wanted to help it grow.
How it Worked
SenilePanda—one of the former workers that went public at the end of February— communicated with TEA multiple times in March. In an email on Tuesday, he explained how Sizzle Popcorn was set up, what affiliates were paid for sales, if people considered staff/employees received commissions, or if anyone was ever officially under contract.
According to information he provided, the commission rate was 10% of sale price (“…if someone sold a $10 item, they’d receive $1.00”), but the company offered a rate of 15% for the “more dedicated and proven team members (partners),” he told TEA. In addition, affiliates could (in theory—most never did) receive free products if approved by the company, and partners were allowed to host one free giveaway a month.
SenilePanda said that there had been some discussion that partnership managers should receive some sort of commission on sales of affiliates, but those conversations never really materialized into any sort of action: “It was mentioned that it may be a possibility in the future to activate but as far as I can recall, it was not in effect and there was no active plan to activate it.”
No one that worked for or with the company (partnership managers, affiliates, social media managers, artists, etc.) had a formal, written contract, according SenilePanda—the only thing he knew of that people signed was a non-disclosure agreement related to “flavor releases and privileged information.”
“That was one of the plans I had with Veronica to put together contacts for staff positions and our creator positions. Being a small company, and lacking a law degree between any of the staff members, it was difficult to find a way to get something drafted. It got put on the back burner then forgotten, quite frankly.”
Separately, Veronica confirmed much of the information that SenilePanda provided to TEA about commissions and the lack of written contracts across the board. She also told us that—at the time she was working there—there were about 60 affiliates working with the company.
Why Did So Many People Work For Sizzle Popcorn?
In a lengthy statement sent to TEA earlier this month, SenilePanda said that most of the people that were enticed to move into roles at Sizzle Popcorn did so to gain experience in the hopes of landing a similar job at a bigger company in the future, or because they were enthusiastic about the brand:
“You start with a smaller company, you work for pennies or even for free, just to gain that experience so you can go to a bigger company and have legitimate experience to present for a resume or pitch deck or whatever platform you chose to present yourself on. It’s highly competitive to get positions like partnership management, social media management, etc., with companies. Anything you can have on top of someone else is just an advantage to you, and people are hungry enough to get their foot in the door that they’ll accept little to no pay just to get it.”
Veronica told TEA in an interview earlier this month that Sevy was the one that brought up compensation when she was working as a community manager. But after initially offering to talk about pay, she she says that he repeatedly avoided talking about it for the rest of the time she worked there:
“I started working for them for free originally, and then he mentioned that it was hard to do a community manager manager job without compensation and that we could discuss that. It was his idea. But later when I tried to bring it up, that’s when he kind of ignored it for months. And that’s why when I brought awareness to everything [referring to her post on Twitter], I just wanted to get the story out there so that people could understand and it blew up way beyond what I thought it was going to. “
It is still unclear, as of this writing, just how many people are still owed money. Many of the affiliates and former workers have no proof that they even had an agreement with Sizzle Popcorn, or that they sold the company’s products.
Deal or No Deal
In a strange twist to this story, a content creator named Beachbum approached Sevy to buy the company at the end of February (as chronicled in this Twitter thread), but after several conversations and a refusal to take a $35K deal because he wanted it to include Sizzle’s NFT project, Beachbum decided against it. At around the same time he also reached out to Sizzle Popcorn affiliates in the hopes of bringing them back into the fold in the event that he bought the company.
In an interview earlier this month, Beachbum told TEA that he considered buying the company because he was looking to find a new business to operate that would allow him to spend more time with his family—he currently runs an electrical contracting company in a southwestern U.S. state (he asked that his location and real name not be published).
Despite the deal falling through, Beachbum ended up paying (around $1K total) to the people he was in contact with who were still owed money by Sizzle Popcorn (those who were able to provide some sort of proof—many couldn’t).
Lessons to be Learned
There has been a fair amount of criticism aimed at former workers who got involved in Sizzle Popcorn’s affiliate marketing efforts for working without some sort of agreement in writing, but it’s not uncommon for people to work for free. There is an ongoing debate about the value of working for no discernable monetary compensation, but many do it because they see value in gaining experience, receiving a product in lieu of actual money, or because they believe in a brand or company.
Justin M. Jacobson—an esports & entertainment attorney from the NY-based Law Offices of Justin M. Jacobson—tells TEA that it is important for anyone doing work online to protect themselves to avoid being taken advantage of.The best way to do that, he notes, is to have something in writing:
“This is an example where it is really important to get things in writing. Whatever the scope of what you’re doing is or the size of the deal, you just have to be aware and take it seriously. That means getting competent representation to represent you and to make sure you understand what you’re signing; that can be an attorney, an agent, a manager, anyone that deals with this kind of stuff on a regular basis.
“You also have to think about what happens when payment isn’t delivered. Is there something in the agreement that lets you just get out of it? Do they have to give you a notice for late payment? Once things start happening, you have to just be aware of what is going on-that if something’s happening for two, three, or four months, then there’s ‘probably’ an issue here that needs to be dealt with.
“No company that’s really doing things the right way should be owing you this much money for this amount of time. A month or two late, maybe that’s okay because sometimes things happen-but three – seven months-that’s when you have to start taking the situation seriously, getting more aggressive, and not taking a laissez faire approach where you accept that they’re going to take care of it.”
Looking back on his own situation with Sizzle Popcorn, SenilePanda offers some advice for people trying to get into a company to earn experience or just be a part of something they are excited about:
“My advice to every single person who is taking the time to read this, is to know your worth. Accept no less than you are worth. And if anyone tries to tell you otherwise about your worth, re-evaluate who you’re talking to.”
Editor’s note: A previous iteration of this article erroneously identified Sizzle Popcorn’s CEO as “Dev Levy” instead of his real name “Dev Sevy.” The article has been corrected with the proper spelling of his name. We apologize to both our readers and Dev Sevy for the error.