A handful of young entrepreneurs and creatives are looking for answers after participating in an "inspirational" video project, orchestrated by a man convicted of dishonesty, which never eventuated.
Several of the young Kiwis who were involved in Dommy Topia's project, "The 21 NZ", also opened their wallets to lend the self-proclaimed "idea maker" money for taxis, drinks and project costs.
Several of those involved say Topia claimed he was short of cash due to ongoing treatment for a brain tumour.
After recruiting around a dozen people to participate in the project, Topia conducted 10 video interviews and began to organise a project launch, scheduled to take place in January. However participants say he stopped contacting them about the project. They also claim Topia had failed to pay back loans and had not paid a videographer recruited for the project.
One woman involved in the project had only recently decided to speak out about her experience with Topia and said others were "embarrassed" they had "fallen for it".
When contacted by the Herald, Topia claimed he had "never conned anyone" out of any money.
Everything had been going smoothly, he said, until he got "real sick" and had to stop.
"I had people help me with money ... it has taken a while for that to come back to them but it will.
"I just need to get back to 100 per cent and I'll give back what people helped me with."
The Herald has learned that Topia was convicted of theft in April this year and sentenced to community work.
In 2015 he was convicted and fined for obtaining a document for pecuniary advantage.
The project's Instagram page markets the scheme as a piece of work that would bring "motivation" and "inspiration" to Kiwis.
"Candidly interviewing Inspirational, Motivated, Goal Driven, Career Focused, Health centralised Kiwis to share their story! #the21NZ #askanswerachieve," it reads.
One Auckland woman, Ruby Colle, got involved in Topia's project at the end of last year.
The 24-year-old founder of Select Management said she was initially excited when she was approached by Topia in December.
He told her the plan was to interview 21 women and 21 men about their business, blogging or creative success. Despite this, Colle was not aware of any interviews with men that actually eventuated.
He wanted to talk about the business she had set up and she saw the interview as a way to both promote her own business and to help young aspiring entrepreneurs.
"It is hard sometimes to be taken seriously, especially if you are quite young," Colle said.
She met Topia at a hotel in Auckland city to film the interview, which she said went smoothly and "seemed super professional".
Afterwards, the pair went out for a drink with two other women - one of whom Topia had interviewed before Colle.
"One of the other women offered to pay for his drink ... and then we sat down and talked about his cancer. He said he was going through treatment and all that kind of stuff."
After the drink, Topia asked Colle for some money for a taxi - claiming he had lost his wallet.
Assuming he was telling the truth, she handed over a $20 note.
Later that day, she was surprised when she received a text from Topia asking for more money. He said he still couldn't find his wallet and didn't have a way home.
She refused, and responded saying that she hoped he managed to get home.
Colle became increasingly wary of Topia as he continued to text message her in the coming weeks. He was "overly nice" she said, telling her she was an "incredible person" and trying to find out more about her life.
She pulled back on communication with him, but was still happy to be a part of his project. With her expertise in PR she began assisting him with planning the project's launch - bookmarked for January 21.
However, Topia cut contact with Colle in the New Year. She believed he had cut contact with others he had roped into the project, too.
Colle was frustrated about the time she had lost helping with the project but said others had ended up worse off, having lent Topia upwards of $100.
"There were quite a few people who gave at least $100."
"Up until now, no one has really spoken to anyone about it. We've all been quite embarrassed that we've all fallen for it."
A videographer involved in the project who had been promised around $1000 by Topia for his work had now lost hope he would be paid.
Dan Wood, who owns 91 Visual, said he last heard from the Aucklander in February.
"I've messaged, and messaged, and messaged him but didn't hear back," Wood said.
Wood took on the project late last year and filmed Topia's interviews with nine women.
He became embroiled in what he called an "endless stream of manipulation" from Topia, who also told him he had a brain tumour.
Wood said he was disappointed for the women involved that the project never came to be.
"I'm really, really sad to hear that he's done that to all of the girls. The project itself wasn't a bad idea," he said.
The last post on Topia's Instagram account @the21nz was on Boxing Day.
Topia told the Herald he needed to get back to work "as soon as possible" to fix everything.
He acknowledged he had yet to pay camera operators, but said this was due to his illness.