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Six conversations that bring nuance to tech's layoff wave

·4 min read

This cycle of tech layoffs has been consistent yet highly nuanced. No two layoffs are the same, both when comparing two separate companies which happened to have cut a fifth of staff in the same hour or when highlighting that the same entity has cut staff twice in a short time span.

On Equity, a podcast that I co-host alongside Alex Wilhelm and Mary Ann Azevedo, we've been talking through the barrage of bad news on a thrice-weekly basis. We're lovers of text — obviously — but sometimes emotion shows best through voice, and that's why I wanted to suggest some recent shows below that may answer some of your big questions.

So, without further ado, here's six podcast episodes about the downturn with a specific focus on how to think about layoffs:

1. Failure is a choose-your-own adventure for startups

There’s the argument that startup tensions are inevitable and common, so should we spotlight every time something bubbles to the surface, especially at the cost of an underrepresented founder who may just be doing their best? There’s also an argument that the business is messy, so we should report on the issues as we hear about them; and there’s the narrative of the female takedown story, in which people believe that women are targeted by the press more than men due to unreasonably high standards.

In this episode we discussed our own definitions of failure in the past (Theranos and WeWork), current examples of rising tensions and what this means for early-stage startups and historically overlooked founders. There have been more layoffs recently, some notable valuation cuts and the implosion of Fast to weigh against 2021’s strident startup optimism. That makes this the perfect time to dig into the topic of failure and how to cover it from a startup perspective.

2. When do layoffs matter? Trick question — always

In this Friday episode, we get into a ton of news but the conversation about layoffs starts at 22:10. In the discussion, we chat through Backstage Capital cutting a majority of staff and ask a bigger question about the weight of layoffs.

3. We think founders need a quick Heart to Heart about the market

In one of my favorite Equity episodes of the year, we bring on Josh Ogundu, the founder and CEO of Campfire, formerly known as Heart to Heart. Ogundu told us what he’s rethinking, the importance of honesty and what to do before considering a layoff. The episode's strength is in the on-the-ground perspective from an early-stage founder who recently raised — and who isn't afraid to disagree with conventional venture wisdom.

4. We’re entering an era of, um, creative accounting in startups

When I speak to recently laid off employees, I often hear the same sentiment said in different ways: We're having a lot of whiplash. It's fair: Many of the newly crowned unicorns with fresh capital are now turning back and trimming staff time and time again. So where did the money go? And wasn't there 20 years of extension in the works? In this episode, we talk about how some of that disconnect is born, thanks to some creative accounting measures in startups.

5. It’s a boom! It’s a bubble? It’s a correction.

In one of our first episodes about the 2022 correction, Alex and I spoke about Hopin's round of layoffs after its buzzy rise. We talked through Hopin’s meteoric rise and why we called them the fastest growth story of the era, comparable or better than what Slack and other well-known growth stories managed during their own ascent. What we didn't know at the time, of course, is that Hopin would conduct yet another round of layoffs and part ways with key senior executives. But, as this episode ages, it's proof that it is hardly the only startup that rode COVID-19’s economic disruptions to new heights and is now facing a tough fall.

6. OK, don’t fear: The long shots are still getting venture funding

Of course I'm going to end on a high. In this Wednesday episode, we explore how founders hold two ideas in their heads: Both that there is an economic downturn, but also that things are looking up for many industries? Like I said, layoffs are nuanced and bad news for one doesn't mean that an entire sector is no longer venture-worthy. In fact, there are comeback stories in the works as we speak and as far as long shots go, we're still seeing them land key funding.

Equity drops every Monday at 7 a.m. PDT and Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.