IBM confirms layoffs are happening, but won’t provide details

IBM confirmed reports from over night that it is conducting layoffs, but wouldn’t provide details related to location, departments or number of employees involved. The company framed it in terms of replacing people with more needed skills as it tries to regroup under new CEO Arvind Krishna.

IBM’s work in a highly competitive marketplace requires flexibility to constantly remix to high-value skills, and our workforce decisions are made in the long-term interests of our business,” an IBM spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy says he’s hearing the layoffs are hitting across the business. “I’m hearing it’s a balancing act between business units. IBM is moving as many resources as it can to the cloud. Essentially, you lay off some of the people without the skills you need and who can’t be re-educated and you bring in people with certain skill sets. So not a net reduction in headcount,” Moorhead said.

It’s worth noting that IBM used a similar argument back in 2015 when it reportedly had layoffs. While there is no official number, Bloomberg is reporting that today’s number is in the thousands.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says that IBM is in a tough spot. “The bets of the past have not paid off. IBM Cloud as IaaS is gone, Watson did not deliver and Blockchain is too slow to keep thousands of consultants occupied,” he said.

Mueller adds that the company could also be feeling the impact of having workers at home instead of in the field. “Enterprises do not know and have not learnt how to do large software projects remotely. […] And for now enterprises are slowing down on projects as they are busy with reopening plans,” he said.

The news comes against the backdrop of companies large and small laying off large numbers of employees as the pandemic takes its toll on the workforce. IBM was probably due for a workforce reduction, regardless of the current macro situation as Krishna tries to right the financial ship.

The company has struggled in recent years, and with the acquisition of Red Hat for $34 billion in 2018, it is hoping to find its way as a more open hybrid cloud option. It apparently wants to focus on skills that can help them get there.

The company indicated that it would continue to subsidize medical expenses for laid off employees through June 2021, so there is that.


By Ron Miller

Sales startup People.ai lays off 18% of staff, raises debt round amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Another startup has turned to downsizing and fund raising to help weather the uncertainty around the economy amid the global coronavirus health pandemic. People.ai, a predictive sales startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Iconic, Lightspeed and other investors and last year valued at around $500 million, has laid off around 30 people, working out to about 18% of staff, TechCrunch has learned and confirmed.

Alongside that, the company has quietly raised a debt round in the “tens of millions of dollars” to make strategic investments in new products and potentially other moves.

Oleg Rogynskyy, the founder and CEO, said the layoffs were made not because business has slowed down, but to help the company shore up for whatever may lie ahead.

“We still have several years of runway with what we’ve raised,” he noted (it has raised just under $100 million in equity to date). “But no one knows the length of the downturn, so we wanted to make sure we could sustain the business through it.”

Specifically, the company is reducing its international footprint — now, big European customers that it already has on its books will now be handled from its US offices rather than local outposts — and it is narrowing its scope to focus more on the core verticals that make up the majority of its current customer base.

He gave as an example the financial sector. “We create huge value for financial services industry but have moved the functionality for them out to next year so that we can focus on our currently served industries,” he said.

People.ai’s software tracks the full scope of communication touch points between sales teams and customers, supposedly negating the tedious manual process of activity logging for SDRs. The company’s machine learning tech is also meant to generate the average best way to close a deal – educating customer success teams about where salespeople may be deviating from a proven strategy.

People.ai is one of a number of well-funded tech startups that is making hard choices on business strategy, costs and staffing in the current climate.

Layoffs.fyi, which has been tallying those losing their jobs in the tech industry in the wake of the Coronavirus (it’s based primarily on public reports with a view to providing lists of people for hire), says that as of today, there have been nearly 25,000 people laid off from 258 tech startups and other companies. With companies like Opendoor laying off some 600 people earlier this week, the numbers are ratcheting up quickly: just seven days ago, the number was just over 16,000.

In that context, People.ai cutting 30 may be a smaller increment in the bigger picture (even if for the individuals impacted, it’s just as harsh of an outcome). But it also underscores one of the key business themes of the moment.

Some businesses are getting directly hit by the pandemic — for example, house sales and transportation have all but halted, leaving companies in those categories scrambling to figure out how to get through the coming weeks and months and prepare for a potentially long haul of life and consumer and business behaviour not looking like it did before January.

But other businesses like People.ai, which provides predictive sales tools to help salespeople do their jobs better, is (for now at least) falling into that category of IT is still in demand, perhaps even more than ever in a shrinking economy. In People.ai’s case, software to help salespeople have better sales conversations and ultimately conversions at a time when many customers might not be as quick to buy things, is an idea that sells right now (so to speak).

Rogynskyy noted that more than 90% of customers that are up for renewal this quarter have either renewed or expanded their contracts, and it has been adding on new large customers in recent weeks and months.

The company has also just closed a round of debt funding in the “tens of millions” of dollars to use for strategic investments.

It’s not disclosing the lender right now, but it opted for debt in part because it still has most of its most recent round — $60 million raised in May 2019 led by Iconic — in the bank. Although investors would have been willing to invest in another equity round, given that the company is in a healthy position right now, Rogynskyy said he preferred the debt option to have the money without the dilution that equity rounds bring.

The money will be used for strategic purposes and considering how to develop the product in the current climate. For example, with most people now working from home, and that looking to be a new kind of “normal” in office life (if not all the time, at least more of the time), that presents a new opportunity to develop products tailored for these remote workers.

There have been some M&A moves in tech in the last couple of weeks, and from what we understand People.ai has been approached as well as a possible buyer, target and partner. All of that for now is not something the company is considering, Rogynskyy said. “We’re focused on our own future growth and health and making sure we are here for a long time.”


By Ingrid Lunden

TripActions reportedly lays off hundreds amid COVID-19 travel freeze

The coronavirus demand crunch has taken another bite: Palo Alto-based corporate travel-focused unicorn, TripActions, reportedly laid off hundreds of staff yesterday.

Per this post on Blind — written by someone with a verified TripActions email address — the company fired 350 people. Business Insider reported the same figure yesterday. While the Wall Street Journal said the layoffs amount to between one-quarter to one-fifth of the startup’s total staff, citing a person familiar with the situation.

In an email to CrunchBase News TripActions confirmed it has axed jobs in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis — saying it has “cut back on all non-essential spend”. Although it did not confirm exactly how many employees it has fired.

“[We] made the very difficult decision to reduce our global workforce in line with the current climate,” TripActions wrote in the statement. “We look forward to when the strength of the global economy and business travel inevitably return and we can hire back our colleagues to rejoin us in our mission to make business travel effortless for our customers and users.”

“This global health crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes, and our hearts go out to everyone impacted around the world, including our own customers, partners, suppliers and employees,” it added. “The coronavirus has had [a] wide-reaching effect on the global economy. Every business has been impacted including TripActions. 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.”

Per the post on Blind, TripActions is providing one week of severance to sacked staff and medical cover until end of month. “With [the coronavirus pandemic] going on you think they would do better,” the OP wrote. The layoffs were made by Zoom call, they also said.

We’ve reached out to TripActions for comment.

Travel startups are facing an unprecedented nuclear winter as demand has fallen off a cliff globally — with little prospect of a substantial change to the freeze on most business travel in the coming months as rates of COVID-19 infections continue to grow exponentially outside China.

However TripActions is one of the highest valued and best financed of such startups — securing a $500M credit facility for a new corporate product only last month, when we noted Crunchbase had more than $480M in tracked equity funding for the company, including a $250M Series D TripActions raised in June from investors including a16z, Group 11, Lightspeed and Zeev Ventures.

Ahead of making the layoffs the company had already paused all hiring, per one former technical sourcer for the company writing on LinkedIn.


By Natasha Lomas

Rackspace announces it has laid off 200 workers

Rackspace, the hosted private cloud vendor, let go around 200 workers or 3 percent of its worldwide workforce of 6600 employees this week. The company says that it’s part of a recalibration where it is trying to find workers who are better suited to their current business approach.

A Rackspace spokesperson told TechCrunch that it is “a stable and profitable company.” In fact, it hired 1500 employees in 2018 and currently has 200 job openings. “We continue to invest in our business based on market opportunity and our customers’ needs – we take actions on an ongoing basis in some areas where we are over-invested and hire in areas where we are under invested,” a company spokesperson explained.

The company, which went public in 2008 and private again for $4.3 billion in 2016, has struggled in a cloud market dominated by giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Google, but according to Synergy Research, a firm that keeps close watch on the cloud market, it is one of the top 3 companies in the Hosted Private Cloud category.

It’s worth noting that the top company in this category is IBM and Rackspace could be a good target for Big Blue if it wanted to use its checkbook to get a boost in marketshare. IBM is in third or fourth place in the cloud infrastructure market, depending on whose numbers you look at, but it could move the needle a bit by buying a company like Rackspace. Neither company is suggesting this, however, and IBM bought Red Hat at the end of last year for $34 billion, making it less likely it will be in a spending mood this year.

For now the layoffs appear to be a company tweaking its workforce to meet current market conditions, but whatever the reason, it’s never a happy day when people lose their jobs.


By Ron Miller