Wyrmwood's CEO is pouring gasoline on his own PR crisis 👀🍿🧃
And holy shit, it's a trainwreck.
There is a heavy content warning for this post relating to SA, so definitely feel free to skip this one.
“I actually don’t care what the letter of the law is, because it's garbage nonsense.” - Doug Costello, CEO of Wyrmwood
We’re watching THE WORST PR decision a company has ever made, maybe ever currently play out in real-time. It’s like a masterclass in how to absolutely light your company on fire by pouring gasoline on your own PR crisis.
This is also not a story about how a brand is failing due to bad service (ahem, The RealReal and The CEH), but instead because of the people at its helm
Wyrmwood Gaming (no clicks for them!) is a well-known maker of very spendy (but beautiful) gaming furniture and accessories. They tried to launch a $3k standing desk but it proved far too expensive for people
“Well guys. I told ya I’d be back. Wyrmwood Gaming is a company that’s lacking moral standards, headed by a victim-blaming misogynist”
While Wyrmfood has some bizarre videos its Youtube account of its CEO speaking about a preference for OSHA violations and an HR-free workplace (more on that below), Wyrmwood’s products have received rave reviews across media and tabletop gamers.
However, two tweets were posted earlier this month accusing the company of some really troubling allegations. CBR has the alleged verbiage of the now-deleted tweets:
This week, a former Wyrmwood employee posted a video corroborating the earlier tweets.
In the video (skip to below to watch vs read a recap) - Andy Morocco describes how in early January of 2020, he and another employee had meetings with a supervisor to inform him of allegations that a colleague had sexually assaulted someone (not a Wyrmwood employee) in the media room of the Wyrmwood workshop after hours. Morocco claims that within an hour after his meeting, Wyrmwood’s CEO, Douglas Costello took him behind the shop and promptly fired him - for “creating shop drama.”
Morocco goes on to say “I was informed by remaining employees that they were being threatened with immediate termination if any of them were caught discussing what happened to me.”
“They have since then put in to design a concept that I created and prototyped- the hexagonal dice tray systems without any compensation for the intellectual property." The only communication Morocco’s had with the company is when Costello allegedly “took time out of his day to childishly call me a bad craftsman— while stealing my idea,” Morocco says in the video.
While Morocco wanted to pursue legal action against the company, COVID and a lack of funds prevented him from doing so, but he wanted to share his side of the story as it had been shared on Twitter. “Now that this tweet has made my story public, I came to find out through a leaked chat that Wyrmwood wants to deny to their business partners that this situation ever occurred.”
“Well guys. I told ya I’d be back. Wyrmwood Gaming is a company that’s lacking moral standards, headed by a victim-blaming misogynist”, Morocco continues. “They present themselves as the gaming community’s classy older brothers, meanwhile the products they make are being made in a backyard workshop with hobby tools for a fraction of the price they’re charging you. Wyrmwood is not your friend and they do not care about people.”
Wyrmwood of course came out with a response to these allegations and let. me. tell. you. It is a mess that’s going to go down in the annals of history on how to absolutely not handle a brand’s PR crisis.
The Wyrmwood published a video titled “Wyrmwood Responds To SA Allegations” which is filmed in the style of The Office. It’s 14 minutes of absolutely unhinged exchanges between Costello (their CEO), HR, their lawyer, and a few other employees talking about their perspectives on the situation.
Update (2/24): As of ~9:40 EST on Friday, Feb 24th, Wyrmwood made their video private. It can still be watched on the Wayback Machine. I’d like to think that with our TikTok recaps having collectively more views than their original video, we helped that decision be made. Alexa, play Taylor Swift’s Vigilante Shit.
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The video is jaw-droppingly inappropriate and most companies couldn’t have been waterboarded into filming something like this, MUCH LESS PROUDLY PUBLISHING IT ON THEIR OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL. It’s basically a grossly flippant mishandling of a very serious situation.
Amid weird zooms and zippy panning from one company head to another, Costello animatedly shares his perspective on the “big f*cking hot mess.” It also appears that their lawyer (who also appears in this video?!) is only now hearing about this entire situation for the first time… when the incident happened nearly three years ago. The lawyer is filmed breathing into a rolled-up statement of the situation while Costello can be heard saying off camera, “well, my hot take was well, this does not match anything that has ever occurred at this company sooo we probably should just not respond.”
HR then jumps in to claim that if he’d known the incident took place on company property, Costello would have absolutely called the police. The lawyer asks about when people found out the incident had taken place on company property. There’s again zany zooming to one employee that repeats the question back, then a zany zoom to another who asks Costello, “When did we find out…? That this allegedly happened here?”
Costello replies, “I found out TODAY.”
And yet. Wyrmwood’s accompanying written statement ends with: “CORRECTION: After further investigation, the CEO did indeed receive an email a week following the incident (January 13th), which noted the event was on company property. The CEO missed that detail, and was incorrect in stating that we were not notified of the location until the present day.”
Lmao. What. You guys edited and posted your own video, WHY WOULD YOU KEEP FOOTAGE IN OF YOUR CEO CLAIMING TO HAVE NOT KNOWN UNTIL “TODAY.” That does not make him look better, it actually makes him look either incomprehensibly ignorant or really, really, really dishonest.
The video is below if you can stomach it but some choice quotes include:
Costello: “A tweet went out which made some pretty serious allegations about the company. My understanding is the tweet basically said that at Wormwood, at some point, someone came forward… [gestures to indicate two people] this person accused this person of r*pe. The person that made the accusation- we fired that person and then protected the r*pist. My understanding is… that was the accusation, correct?”
HR: “That was the original accusation. Correct.”
Costello: “Okay. And my hot take was, well, this does not match anything that has ever occurred in this company. So we probably should just not respond. Why bring attention to this thing? And then a bunch of our partners, people we've worked with, started reaching out to us. It became a bigger thing.”
Costello: “Talk about a f*cking toxic mess. Okay? That is what we were dealing with… Both of these employees had engaged in toxic workplace behavior in the past. And now I've got a he said, she said, where the she is not even in the company. And it's just the two dudes slandering each other and trying to draw lines, and it's becoming and I'm like, as soon as I understood what was occurring, for me, it was a very simple call. This is all inappropriate.
It was inappropriate for this employee to go tell coworkers that this guy was a rapist. There's no police reports. There's no evidence, as far as I know. And B, this other guy, he could be a rapist, and he had engaged in toxic workplace behavior previously.
So for me, it was an easy call. I fired both of them immediately. I personally fired the accused r*pist. I f*cking personally walked him out of the building.”
HR: “And to be very clear, there was a third employee involved that did go straight to management, said, ‘hey, there's, like, this situation that I don't know if it's true or not, but I personally believe it… but I want to do the right thing. I want management to take care of it.’ He just flagged it to us, and he was not fired. He was just one of the people. That brought the situation to our attention and then did not walk around the shop trying to get people into camps. Like, people were arguing on the floor, just being drawn into one camp or another.”
Costello: ”When you're in a small company, you don't have dedicated HR, dedicated HR staff, and then shit like this can occur. And then what do you do?”
Early this morning Morocco posted a 36 minute response video to Wyrmwood’s statement. In contrast to the production of Wyrmwood’s video, Morocco sits in front of the camera with notes and refutes some of the points made by leadership— and he brings the receipts. Morocco reads a Discord message he sent to leadership asking to meet in a private area, so he could disclose the situation in a private space to maintain the victim’s privacy. He also reads the full email that he’d sent Costello immediately after his firing, restating his timeline and actions. Some notable quotes from the video are below. The name of the upper management person Morocco references has been swapped out for UM1:
“You claimed that I didn't go to management, and you specifically said that I didn't talk to my direct supervisor. That is a lie. On the morning of January the 8th, before I spoke with [UM1], after messaging him, I approached [my manager] to tell [him] I wasn't comfortable working near employee A. I wasn't comfortable with explaining why, but I did have a meeting with [UM1] to talk to [UM1] about it later in the day.
…Actually, from day one, I thought [UM1] was the HR manager. I had no idea, no clue that's how dysfunctional the HR department was at the time I was working there is that I didn't even know who actually ran it. So I was told to go to [UM1], so I went to [UM1].
But I did go to my direct supervisor first, and I told them, there's something I'm uncomfortable with and I'm going to go talk to somebody above you to get it handled properly. So saying that I was trying to handle it wrong. That's just the dispersions on my character, right? Like, you guys implying that I was unprofessional in the situation, and that's untrue. I tried my damnedest to be a professional, but employee A and employee D kept instigating issues with each other, and people kept coming to me about it, and I was in a hostile environment, and I tried to report it, and you guys fired me for that, and I gave you all the details.”
As for his previous disciplinary report, Morocco claims he’d only been spoken to once with a group of half a dozen other employees for smoking too much.
He ends his video with “I've done nothing but tell the truth here, and I've got the documentation to back it up. So, I don't know. I'm really disappointed by all this. I'm really disappointed about what happened back then. You guys just need to admit your wrongs and move forward better. A classy move would be a donation to RAINN. Just a heads up. That should have been in your video, that you were like, oh, you know what? We got 50 grand to Rain right now. Like, something like that, guys, do the right thing.”
We seriously hope customers speak with their wallets and frequent companies that don’t try and sweep sexual assaults under the rug. Here’s hoping that all involved, especially the victim get some sort of justice (even if it’s just the right people being held accountable), even if three years too late.
Update (2/24): Wyrmwood posted what’s now their second, and apparently last statement. It’s a weird attempt at an apology and it somehow makes things feel ickier.
Unfortunately, we don’t have high hopes given Costello has been proudly publishing videos about their chaotically unsafe, toxic work environment for years, apparently. In this Dec 2020 video Costello addresses a letter from 18 of his employees highlighting concerns about the company’s unsafe work environment and toxic culture. As Costello explains, he founded Wyrmwood to be weird and he wondered if it would stay weird as it scaled up. In the video he says, “The document I received yesterday answered my question...We’ve gotten to the point that weirdness has become a liability, does that make sense…The document as I read it, was sort of a repudiation of weirdness. It was a clarion call for the status quo.”
…As Costello continues, he states that the employee letter requested an establishment of HR, more middle management, more certainty, while also flagging Costello had bad morale. Costello declares, “that is enough for me to know that it is time to change, ok? Wyrmwood needs to evolve, it needs to change, it needs to crawl of its weird startup cocoon and metamorphize into what I see as a stale corporate butterfly…but as others see probably see as reassuring, structured career paths. Right? So like, that’s the thing is that my point of view is not necessarily aligned with everybody else’s point of view. The things I value, do not align with what other people value.”
“So I am not the person to make that transition into the stale, corporate butterfly. Because I think normal is a trap. Most people are mostly wrong, most of the time. I don’t believe in job descriptions, certainty or group decision-making, I really don’t and I don’t want to feign support for ideas I cannot get behind. And I am not going to be an obstacle for change. Therefore in that spirit, I hereby resign as CEO of Wyrmwood after this meeting.”
Clearly since then, Costello decided to come back and be reinstated as CEO. Ultimately his explanation for leaving in 2020 was certainly some foreshadowing of where and why Wyrmwood finds itself now:
“And lastly, it is literally impossible to not act. How can I not act? Okay, look at the optics of this heartless. CEO ignores people trying to do better. Right? It's like, hey, we want increased safety standards in an HR department and more clarity and what am I going to say? Pound sand? It's like no, you can't say pound sand. And the reason is, this is what's up. The reason is the legal liability. The legal liability. We now have a document that is basically stating there's large numbers of people in this company that think this is unsafe. Okay? And that there's HR issues. That document is there. So now pop quiz. How many people does it take to file a lawsuit? One person. And if that one person, oh, I'm hurt, or something bad happens, right? Well, they knew it was unsafe. Look at the document. We have 17 names. It is unsafe. There is no way I can get out of that, right? That is a legal no. So there's legally no way.”
Worth watching the below video for Costello fully explaining resigning as CEO rather than providing a safe and healthy workplace for his employees.
Unreal, we’ll see how that works out for Wyrmwood as this plays out.
P.S. We've reached out the Wyrmwood Gaming and Andy Morocco for comment and will update you if we hear back.