Workplace

Move fast and break your company: Lessons from the tech darlings of the pandemic

Hopin laid off more than 130 workers after hiring 800 people in just over a year. Here’s why employees might bounce back faster than employers.

Row of people with boxes.

Hopin is just the latest in a string of companies to confront that the pandemic may have unexpectedly maxed out years’ worth of demand for its services, just like Peloton and even Netflix.

Illustration: SurfUpVector/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

The calendar invite asks you to meet with your boss’ boss later that day. The subject line: “Company restructure.” You’ve only been there six months and you’re hitting all your goals, but the first thought that crosses your mind is the right one. It’s your turn to lose your job.

These are the thoughts that passed through the minds of some of the hundreds of people laid off at virtual events platform Hopin two weeks ago, at Peloton and Purple Innovation in early February and at Rev.com and Better.com last year. Pandemic darlings are losing their luster as overeager investors and company founders reckon with the fact that a decade’s worth of growth in a couple of years means these companies have very little room left to run.

Hopin is just the latest in a string of companies to confront that the pandemic may have unexpectedly maxed out years’ worth of demand for its services, just like Peloton and even Netflix. But the people laid off from the virtual events startup this month are also reaping from the same silver lining ex-Peloton workers discovered after their layoffs; when hiring managers hear someone lost a job at a known and respected tech company, they are going to come for the talent, often with objectively better salary and benefits than the job that’s just been lost. The Hopin layoffs are a parable of two tech company story arcs beginning to collide: Pandemic stars reckoning with a world moving on and an out-of-control scramble for readily available tech hires.

Employers take note: If there’s ever a good moment to lay someone off, this might be it.

As far as layoffs go, Hopin’s were not marred by the same careless and frenetic energy that made Better.com’s and Peloton’s (though to a lesser degree) so infamous. While some of the workers who spoke with Protocol were shocked and blindsided, the severance packages were generally satisfying — three months of pay and insurance, laptops, a few other benefits — and the reasoning made some amount of sense. Hopin grew too fast and too quickly for a pandemic world that is already starting to change.

“Following unprecedented growth and several acquisitions, we reorganized to align with our goals for greater efficiency and sustainable growth. Unfortunately, that has meant saying goodbye to approximately 138 (12%) of our full-time employees in addition to some of our contractors and third party support,” the company wrote in a statement to Protocol.

One laid-off employee explained to Protocol that he felt like Hopin’s layoffs are a lesson for other companies on how to handle a situation that will always be difficult. While some of his former co-workers were frustrated that they’d been laid off despite having had a longer tenure than some who were kept on, he still believed the layoffs went more smoothly than they have at other companies over the last few months.

“When you look at Better.com and you look at Peloton, and you look at the instances that did not go well, I think Hopin tried to go over and above. This is never an easy situation; you always have grumblings with somebody, you are going to have that naturally,” he said.

When the pandemic began, Hopin had just eight employees. It added about 800 over the last year and a half as it tried to claim the virtual events space, including several people who joined in the last six months and spoke to Protocol about the abrupt end to their short time at the company.

All of them described the layoffs as a complete shock (all were granted anonymity because of non-disclosure agreements signed with the company). One former employee was hired about six months ago for a team that was overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of work. When she started the job, she almost immediately began receiving regular positive and encouraging feedback. The company seemed desperate for her help.

When she got the calendar invite two weeks ago asking her to meet a manager she’d never spoken with, her first thought was that she was about to be fired. Her immediate second thought was that actually, she was about to be promoted. “I was like no, there’s no way, maybe I’m getting a promotion with the restructuring. I came into the position with management experience, that’s honestly kind of what I thought was going to happen. I was definitely blindsided by it,” she said.

The former employees all told Protocol that the layoffs were a prescient reminder about the risks of working for early-stage startups. The woman who thought she might be promoted has hesitated to rush into a new job at any similar startup despite a flood of offers. “When it comes to finding a new position I want to make sure that the next company is a stable company, really that’s most important. I’ve worked in startups my whole career, and I love it,” she said. “But this is the second time I've gotten laid off in my career, due to really just bad forecasting. I don’t want to continue going through this.”

One former employee joined the company in late 2021 and remembered asking about Hopin’s long-term prospects in his interviews, wondering if the product would still be valuable after the pandemic. The answers at the time? In less than a year and a half, the company had acquired at least five startups (including Attendify and Boomest) as part of an effort to diversify revenue streams beyond just virtual events, something this worker thought was part of an effort to ensure against pandemic collapse.

“The pandemic companies — it is something I had thought about,” he said. But he also still believes it’s a risk worth taking for a job like the one he had.

This same employee, though he’d only been at the company for a few months, immediately landed a more senior role at a more mature startup less than a week after he was laid off. He had planned to take some time before applying to jobs, but instead was overwhelmed by dozens of calls and interviews within hours of posting about the layoffs on LinkedIn.

“The market is crazy. I got equity in the new company. I got more money,” he said. And his former co-workers are already also sharing they’ve accepted new offers in a Slack group created for the laid-off workers.

“It was less than a week that I was on the market,” he said. “And I’ll say [Hopin was] very generous; they went over and above what I would have expected, by far.”

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