(GIF via First Round Capital)
On Wednesday, Feb. 7, an all-hands conference was called at Curalate’s offices at 2401 Walnut St.
At the rare 1 p.m. meeting — normally held Fridays at noon — with Curalate’s three other offices in New York, Seattle and London dialed in through conferencing apps, CEO Apu Gupta told the company a decision was made to let 14 staffers go. Employees were to return to their desks. If they were among those let go, they’d receive an email. A flurry of Slack DMs and text messages ensued among staffers as they awaited the news.
The layoffs, according to a staffer who requested anonymity, hit most departments across three of the company’s offices. In Philly, five staffers were cut. The six staffers at the smaller London beachhead, opened in 2017 in a bid to reach the European market, were spared.
Gupta, who founded Curalate with CTO Nick Shiftan in 2011, confirmed the layoffs to Technical.ly. All told, Gupta said, Curalate’s staff is now down to about 110. That’s down from around 160 in June of last year.
“This was obviously an emotional, challenging decision,” CEO Gupta told Technical.ly. “I’ve had the experience of being both being laid off and fired. I know all too well what this feels like and I can relate to it. For that reason, it was extremely important that we figure out how to be as thoughtful about the process as possible.”
The layoffs, Gupta said, have to do with a trend spotted in 2017 by the maker of a visual marketing platform for brands such as David’s Bridal, Lindt, Chobani and Urban Outfitters: business grew the most among smaller companies.
“We saw business from small brands double, which points to a significant opportunity,” Gupta said. While Curalate continues to serve the big-name brands, Gupta said, it has also seen an uptick in interest from emerging businesses setting up shop online. That means, he said, needing a different approach to clients.
“A lot of this is a reflection of a changing composition in the kind of skills that are going to be required to serve the clients we work with,” Gupta said. “As you serve smaller organizations, you move from a higher-touch model to a lower-touch one. That has benefits for all of your clients. As our software becomes essentially easier to use, it ultimately makes it easier to use even for the larger companies.”
But, still, there’s the question of profitability.
Curalate, a venture-backed company that in 2016 raised a $27.5 million Series C round led by NEA, has raised $40 million total from institutional investors such as First Round Capital and MentorTech Ventures. It has long been counted as one of Philly’s top success stories. Gupta seems confident that 2018 can be the banner year for the company.
“We’re trying to build a business that can last,” the cofounder said. “To build a successful business it begins with a healthy one and a profitable one. We are now in this great position to be profitable this year. [The layoffs] were a strategic decision that allow us to extend this lead and insure we’re a long-term sustainable company.”
The layoff round is reminiscent of the one carried out by software company RJMetrics almost two years ago to the date, when it let go of 25 staffers, mostly in sales. At the time, CEO Bob Moore said it was a staff realignment, not a sign of trouble. Six months later, the company was sold to West Coast firm Magento and spun off into the company we now know as Stitch.
The layoff round also follows some notable departures, including one of its earliest employees:
- Brendan Lowry, member of the founding team and former marketing director, who left in June last year
- Scott Casey, former chief financial officer, who left in January and joined New York startup BigID
- Andy O’dore, product design lead, who left the company in December 2017 and now works as product designer for Facebook
“The vibe is generally not good at Curalate,” said a staffer at the Center City company. “[Our burn rate] has become a bit too high. It’s pretty well known that attrition is going to go up shortly. There’s been some turnover in the last few months and it’s kind of an open secret among employees.”
The company has been offering support to those laid off through its investors networks.
“These are high-caliber folks that would be a great addition to any team,” the CEO said. “Our People team is helping them put their best foot forward.”
Despite the feeling described by the staffer, Gupta said there were no more layoffs being considered.
“We’ve committed to not do this again, and we won’t need to,” the exec said.-30-
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