pipelinepipelineauthorBiz CarsonNoneDo you know what's going on in the venture capital and startup world? Get the Pipeline newsletter every Saturday.021fce003e
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
People

What it feels like to be laid off on Zoom during this crisis

Hundreds of tech employees are getting laid off amid the coronavirus outbreak — but now it's all happening over Zoom.

A woman looking at blank computer screen

With so many people working at home, many people getting laid off right now are hearing the news via video chat.

Photo: Yifei Fang/Getty Images

On Tuesday morning, around 100 TripActions customer support and customer success team members dialed into a Zoom call. Many joined the call happily smiling, expecting another team meeting or bonding activity amid the new work from home culture. Instead, according to people on the call Protocol spoke with, their boss launched into a spiel about the economy and coronavirus.

Then she announced that everyone on the call was being laid off.

"People were crying and people were panicking," said one employee who was abruptly let go on the videoconference. "It was like 100 different videos of just chaos."

The workers on that call represent around one-third of the people TripActions laid off on Tuesday. The company confirmed it let go of nearly 300 workers, around a quarter of the total staff, with layoffs hitting customer support, recruiting and sales the hardest, according to several current and former employees Protocol spoke with. "While we were fortunate to have recently raised funding and secured debt financing, we are taking appropriate steps in our business to ensure we are here for our customers and their travelers long into the future," TripActions said in a statement. "We've cut back on all nonessential spend and made the very difficult decision to reduce our global workforce in line with the current climate."

As the travel sector sinks, travel-related startups have laid off hundreds, from 34 employees at corporate travel company Lola to over 400 at Sonder, a hotel alternative that offers furnished apartments. And it's not just travel companies affected. Startups across industries, from cannabis to car sales, are laying off staff, and CEOs like Shift's George Arison are warning fellow founders to take action now.

But having everyone working from home has meant that all of the layoffs and staff cuts are happening virtually — and companies are grappling with how to deliver the message. Under normal circumstances, these hard meetings would happen in person, but amid the COVID-19 crisis, the best companies can do is video chat.

Though it's not clear there's a better way to deliver such awful news, the format caused TripActions employees pain. "Why would you get everyone on a Zoom and deliver that announcement?" the same laid-off employee said. "I'd invested so much in that place, and I feel so fucked over. That's why it's so frustrating. We didn't follow any of our company values today."

TripActions did all of its conversations over Zoom in groups, sorted by department or team, followed up by individual conversations with managers, the company said. Still, it was messy, according to several people Protocol spoke to on the condition of anonymity because company policies and severance packages prohibit speaking about company information to the press.

Employees who joined the calls late were confused about what was happening and whether they'd just lost their jobs. In the customer support chat, administrators had muted all employee videos, silencing any cries or expressions of anger at the layoffs. Workers surreally watched as everyone realized what was happening and began processing in their separate Zoom squares, some soundlessly crying.

TripActions says it's paying affected employees' salaries through April 1. They'll maintain health care coverage through April and will be covered with company-paid COBRA health insurance coverage through June. The company is also offering a minimum of three weeks salary.

TripActions employees Protocol spoke with felt blindsided as they joined the calls, despite the sector movement toward layoffs. The company had seemed flush, having previously raised around $480 million in venture capital from blue chip investors like Ben Horowitz at Andreessen Horowtiz and Lightspeed, according to PitchBook. In February, it also reportedly closed a $500 million debt facility to build out its corporate travel card, according to TechCrunch.

Founded in 2014 by Ariel Cohen and Ilan Twig, TripActions' main pitch was to be a better travel-booking platform for corporate travel, including a program that incentivized road warriors to choose cheaper hotels. In the wake of coronavirus, its chief revenue officer, Carlos Delatorre, told Protocol last week that the startup had been shifting its pitches to highlight things like its ability to track travelers in a snapshot around the globe. "You might think because of coronavirus and the resulting travel restrictions in place that the last thing organizations would be thinking about is corporate travel management, but it's quite the opposite," Delatorre told Protocol in an email.

That interest didn't quite translate into bookings, according to a current employee. TripActions' main revenue source came from corporate travel bookings, an area that has been hit hard in the wake of the spread of coronavirus as many companies have banned employees from corporate travel. The company's customer list online includes Lime, Yelp and Lyft — all companies headquartered in California, which faces a statewide shelter-in-place order.

Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.

In an all-hands meeting last week, the company's CEO Cohen told employees that TripActions was facing uncertainty like a lot of startups and would have to cut costs. But the multiple current and former employees said that based on the tone of the meeting and what was discussed, they walked away from that meeting under the impression that layoffs would not be imminent.

By Tuesday, around a quarter of the company was gone.

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

Citizen’s plan to keep people safe (and beat COVID-19) with an app

Citizen CEO Andrew Frame talks privacy, safety, coronavirus and the future of the neighborhood watch.

Citizen added COVID-19 tracking to its app over the summer — but its bigger plans got derailed.

Photo: Citizen

Citizen is an app built on the idea that transparency is a good thing. It's the place users — more than 7 million of them, in 28 cities with many more to come soon — can find out when there's a crime, a protest or an incident of any kind nearby. (Just yesterday, it alerted me, along with 17,900 residents of Washington, D.C., that it was about to get very windy. It did indeed get windy.) Users can stream or upload video of what's going on, locals can chat about the latest incidents and everyone's a little safer at the end of the day knowing what's happening in their city.

At least, that's how CEO Andrew Frame sees it. Critics of Citizen say the app is creating hordes of voyeurs, incentivizing people to run into dangerous situations just to grab a video, and encouraging racial profiling and other problematic behaviors all under the guise of whatever "safety" means. They say the app promotes paranoia, alerting users to things that they don't actually need to know about. (That the app was originally called "Vigilante" doesn't help its case.)

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

Why the CEO of GoFundMe is calling out Congress on coronavirus

GoFundMe has seen millions of Americans asking for help to put food on the table and pay the bills. Tim Cadogan thinks Congress should help fix that.

"They need help with rent. They need help to get food. They need help with basic bills," GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan said. "That's what people need help with to get through this period."

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Tim Cadogan started his first day as CEO of GoFundMe about two weeks before the pandemic wrecked the world. He knew he was joining a company that tried to help people make extra money. He didn't know his company would become a lifeline for millions of Americans who couldn't pay their bills or put food on the table.

And so after a year in which millions of people have asked for help from strangers on GoFundMe, and at least $600 million has been raised (that number could be as much as $1 billion or more now, but GoFundMe didn't provide fundraising data past August) just for coronavirus-related financial crises, Cadogan has had enough. On Thursday, he wrote an open letter to Congress calling for a massive federal aid package aimed at addressing people's fundamental needs. In an unusual call for federal action from a tech CEO, Cadogan wrote that GoFundMe should not and can never replace generous Congressional aid for people who are truly struggling.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories