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The great unicorn retreat

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
Today we’re taking stock of what’s happening to a number of unicorns, both public and private. This is the third time we’ve sat down to document what feels like a wave of unicorn cuts, capped in this case by Airbnb’s decision to cut around a quarter of its global staff (25.3%, according to provided numbers).
Airbnb’s cuts follow recent excisions at Lime, Oyo, and others. Notably the cuts are not only landing amongst the best-known unicorns. Indeed, Crunchbase News (n.b. I was once its Editor in Chief) wrote a few weeks back that 36 unicorns had cut a known 8,416 jobs, according to a layoff tracker.
The numbers are now sharply higher if we only added in Airbnb’s cuts. However, looking at the same database this morning, cuts amongst late-stage startups since the prior count was assembled include reductions at Swiggy, Deliveroo, Sisense, Magic Leap, DesktopMetal, Cohesity, and others.
TechCrunch first covered a wave of unicorn layoffs towards the start of the year, when companies backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund were rapidly trying to curtail their costs and move closer to profitability. Suddenly their chief-backer, formerly the most aggressive pool of private capital in the world was on retreat, and it was time to batten the hatches.
Those cuts, however, felt less driven by a unicorn-wide issue and more led by quarters of overly indulgent self-aggrandizement by a number of business that ran further in the red than made sense.
The second wave of unicorn layoffs came in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Well-known companies like Bird, ZipRecruiter, GetAround, Sonder, TripActions, and others cut staff as the economy rapidly changed as cities and states asked regular folks to stay home.
That post, out towards the end of March, almost looks like we published it too early in retrospect. It came before Toast dramatically cut staff or BounceX’s own layoffs. In other words, the trend we were discussing was just getting started.
So let’s talk about what’s happened since our March 30 check-in on the state of unicorn employment, and why we’re now in what could be the third wave of unicorn cuts this year.
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