12 June 2016
by Adam Gartrell

Liberal candidate Chris Jermyn's missing millions after social media flop

Liberal candidate for McEwen, Chris Jermyn.

Chris Jermyn remains Liberal candidate following party meeting. It was supposed to be an epic reality competition that would reshape the social media landscape.

Instead it was an epic multi-million dollar failure overseen from start to finish by embattled Liberal candidate Chris Jermyn.

Announced to the Australian Stock Exchange by a company called Mooter Media in 2012, Shutterbug Millionaire was billed as "the search for the world's most incredible photo" – a global competition that would combine the suspense and excitement of reality TV with the interactivity and immediacy of the web.

The concept was simple: millions of people across the world would pay $1.49 to submit their greatest shots and the winner would take home $1 million. The creators were supposed to pocket many millions more.

Jermyn – the candidate who made headlines on May 28 when his attempt to ambush Bill Shorten at a campaign event backfired spectacularly – was at the helm of the project as CEO of Mooter partner company Hot Shot Media.

The competition would be powered by ImageSocial, Hot Shot's nascent whiz-bang photo-sharing platform.

In a presentation to US investors in April 2012, Jermyn predicted huge success: up to 40 million participants and 441 million photographs from across the US, Britain and Australia alone. And revenue of $24 million.

Jermyn made headlines when his attempt to ambush Bill Shorten at a campaign event backfired spectacularly.

"Shutterbug Millionaire is not an epic reality TV competition yet but we're going to make it feel like one," his presentation confidently declared.

The project secured $15 million in funding from American venture capital firm La Jolla Cove Investors.

Erin Heatherton walks in the 2013 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. She agreed to be a judge on Shutterbug Millionaire.

Then Jermyn got Australian-born celebrity photographer Russell James and Victoria's Secret model Erin Heatherton on board as judges.

In June 2012, the company started spending big on advertising. Billboards went up across Los Angeles, Chicago and New York – including an 80-foot monster marquee on Broadway. Company documents suggest the marketing campaign cost close to $2 million.

A rare misstep: Billionaire Richard Branson was Shutterbug Millionaire's "ambassador".

A few weeks later Jermyn made his biggest announcement yet: British billionaire Richard Branson would be Shutterbug's "ambassador".

"I encourage everyone to capture cherished moments and powerful perspectives and share them through this opportunity," Sir Richard said at the time.

"I encourage everyone to capture cherished moments and powerful perspectives and share them through this opportunity," Sir Richard said at the time.

In another statement to the ASX, Jermyn gushed: "It is inspiring to have someone of Sir Richard's calibre and universal recognition join us."

But then something went horribly wrong. Shutterbug Millionaire missed its launch date and Mooter went quiet until January 2013, when the company suddenly announced a trading halt. A few days later it went into voluntary administration.

The billboard in Times Square advertising Shutterbug Millionaire.

In its 2012-13 annual report, Mooter announced losses of almost $10 million – leaving it with just $15,000 of cash.

The company said it had substantially completed the development of Shutterbug Millionaire "but a lack of funding prevented the commercial launch from taking place as planned". It tried to secure capital from the San Francisco-based La Jolla but negotiations broke down.

So what went wrong? And where did the rest of the $15 million go?

Jermyn will not say, refusing to respond to Fairfax Media's repeated requests for comment. Former Mooter company secretary John F. Diddams and the La Jolla investors also failed to respond.

In May 2014, Jermyn was appointed to the Mooter Media board. In November that year he and his director Jacob Khouri – son of colourful Melbourne businessman Leo "The Gun" Khouri – were sent a letter informing them Mooter had breached a long list of ASX listing rules.

Jermyn left the company the following month to pursue his political career.

On his LinkedIn page Jermyn says he was Group Managing Director and CEO of Hot Shot Media from January 2009 to November 2012. He makes no mention of Shutterbug Millionaire.

Despite Jermyn's embarrassing performance at the May 28 Shorten event – where he clashed with journalists after failing to articulate the Coalition's health policy – the Liberal Party decided to keep him as its candidate.

Labor's Rob Mitchell currently holds the seat on a razor-thin 0.2 margin. The Coalition had hoped to pick it up – but insiders concede that's now unlikely.