Pat Brien | May 18, 2022
While employment booms across industries, with employers adding even more jobs than anticipated in April – 28,000 above the Dow Jones estimate – the tech sector is showing serious signs of a downturn. Industry upswing stars include leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing.
So why is tech tanking?
Obviously, there are no prizes for anybody who has the correct answer. Lockdowns led to increasing numbers of consumers spending their time and their money online. The online world provided not only the best escape from a dreadful reality, but also a practical way to answer fundamental needs, like getting the shopping done.
Of course, that’s the simple version. Lockdowns affected everything, including the broader interests and investments of companies. Here we’ll look at companies that are either all out tech, or heavily invested enough at a core-offering level to be included.
The Great Resignation has left employers trying to find the best strategies to attract and retain new talent—often by throwing money at the problem—while tech is tightening its belt and layoffs in the industry are fast becoming an alarming trend.
Naysayers now include the Stock Exchange—given that, over the last three trading sessions, Big Tech has lost over $1 trillion in value.
Let’s take a look.
Metaverse Crashing to Earth?
Issues in the real world appear to have come full circle and kicked the metaverse in the purse, right where it hurts. On May 4th, Insider revealed a Meta internal memo stating that Facebook is freezing hiring and scaling back new talent acquisition across the company. Citing “challenges” that caused it to “miss revenue targets”.
Facebook’s global head of recruiting, Miranda Kalinowski, said—in a separate memo—that the company’s engineering team would be the first among those impacted. Facebook did freeze hiring at the beginning of the pandemic, but this was a sensible move, designed to give the company time to adjust and put new processes in place for health-aware onboarding.
This latest hiring freeze, on the other hand, is all about “our business needs and in light of the expense guidance given for this earnings period”—helped along by its Reality Labs division losing $2.9 billion in the first quarter.
Curse of the metaverse? Or barely a bump in the road? Speaking of which…
Uber Hiring U-Turn
Uber is to slam the brakes on hiring after a “seismic shift” in investor sentiment, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced to employees in an email obtained by CNBC. Uber also plans to cut back on marketing and incentives spend. From this point forward, “We will be even more hardcore about costs across the board.”
He continued: “We have made a ton of progress in terms of profitability, setting a target for $5 billion in Adjusted EBITDA in 2024, but the goalposts have changed. Now it’s about free cash flow. We can and should get there fast.” Just like their drivers.
During the pandemic, Uber leaned heavily on its food delivery service Eats. After the lifting of COVID restrictions, revenue for Uber rose to 6.9 billion in the first quarter. The downside? A $5.9 billion loss during the COVID period, due to a slump in its equity investments.
Either way, Uber says: “We will be deliberate about when and where we add headcount.”
The original Robin Hood (or even Kevin Costner, if you prefer), was knocked spectacularly off balance at least once in his career. Likewise, retail brokerage Robinhood has announced it’s cutting 9% of a reported total of 3,800 employees. Shares fell more than 5% in extended trading after the announcement.
Rapid expansion last year somehow led to “duplicate roles and job functions”. Unfortunately, two heads were apparently not better than one and “these reductions to Robinhood’s staff is the right decision to improve efficiency, increase our velocity, and ensure that we are responsive to the changing needs of our customers,” according to CEO Vlad Tenev.
He added: “While the decision to undertake this action wasn’t easy, it is a deliberate step to ensure we are able to continue delivering on our strategic goals and furthering our mission to democratize finance.”
Peloton in a Spin
Unable to bear the idea of running to stand still, Peloton cut around 20% of its corporate workforce – an estimated 2,800 people – and replaced its CEO, hoping a new lean look will impress investors and rejig its business for some muscular growth in the near future.
The announcement, which came earlier this month, followed rumors that the company could soon become the target of a takeover. However, the makeover news quelled much of that excitement, if not all of it. Many feel that Peloton will not escape that fate.
No matter how fast they peddle. Sorry, pedal.
A Wall Street darling during the pandemic, the news in response to the announcement came with headlines like: “The Rise and Fall of Peloton” and phrases like “crash and burn”.
Still – no pain, no gain.
Terrible puns about the indoor-exercise success story aside, Barry McCarthy, former chief financial officer of Netflix and Spotify, is now the new president and CEO, while founder and former CEO, John Foley, is executive chairman of the board.
Most of the news since the announcement has been an exercise in things not working out: big borrowing, price slashing, stalled product production, and falling stocks – if people in high places are sweating right now, they appear determined to take the strain.
This despite a May 10 announcement that it had lost $757 million in the first three months of the year.
Peloton is going downhill, not even standing still, according to many key observers—but everybody remains fascinated by those spinning wheels. And the company could get back in shape.
Cameo Yells “Cut!”
Cameo became a star after coming up with the novel idea of letting people pay their favorite actors, artists, athletes and celebrities to send them personalized video greetings. A crazy idea that hit big with the public, the company was valued at around $1 billion last year after gaining the attention of investors such as Amazon, Google, and UTA.
This month, it announced it was cutting approximately 25% of its workforce—87 members of staff in real terms, announcing a need to “right-size” the business after a pandemic-related reversal of fortunes.
Hit the reverse button back to 2020 and we see Cameo claiming the generation of around $100 million in gross revenue—4.5 times up on the previous year. Unfortunately, one-season-only shooting stars include high-flyers such as chief product officer, Nundu Janakiram, SVP of marketing, Emily Boschwitz, and chief technology officer, Rob Post.
Co-Founder and CEO, Steven Galanis, told Variety: “To support both fan and talent demand during the pandemic lockdowns, Cameo’s headcount exploded from just over 100 to nearly 400. We hired a lot of people quickly, and market conditions have rapidly changed since then. Accordingly, we have right-sized the business to best reflect the new realities.”
Some of the biggest stars in the world have found themselves on the cutting room floor, so this shouldn’t be the end of the story for anybody’s career.
Contrasts and Questions
Contrasting the above with the rest of the economy is startling. In the world outside tech, employers are eagerly seeking new ways to attract and retain talent. The Great Resignation/Great Reshuffle continues to have a massive impact across industries: rising labor costs, inflation, and resignations are leaving hiring teams everywhere struggling to find their feet on continuously shifting ground.
Of the industry upswing stars highlighted at the start of this article, leisure and hospitality has had the biggest bounce back success, with job growth at 78,000. Does this signal that people are returning to their pre-pandemic habits, or that more people are learning to appreciate the “get up, get out there” lifestyle more than they did before it became prohibited?
The tech industry skyrocketed during the pandemic and other industries suffered, so now the tables are turning. This is clear, so the real question is: How does it all balance out? If the issue can be readily identified, the tech industry can steer its way back to normalcy, right?
This isn’t Boom and Bust, it’s Boom and Gloom.
Or is it?
Facing the Future vs. Facing Forward
As is often pointed out, tech industry trends are notoriously hard to track and analyze, because the business models are so specific to what they do and offer. Having said that, Ned Davis Research’s Veneta Dimitrova did analyze available data, including reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and concluded: “There doesn’t seem to be any leading tendency from that industry for overall employment growth.”
Then there’s inflation and the tightening of purse strings across the country. Amazon takes a hit in that respect. Back to the metaverse and we need to factor in Apple’s iPhone privacy changes, which impacted ad targeting—a potential $10 billion revenue hit—which is not to be sniffed at by anybody in this universe or, indeed, the metaverse.
If it was easy, we’d all be visionaries and business leaders, right?
Still, this places hiring teams in a bizarre world where everything is shifting with relentless speed, realities are either red hot or stone cold depending on needs, and each reality poses its own set of problems to be solved.
Ultimately, hiring managers with good recruiters on hand are always in a strong position. As mentioned in other articles, using experienced recruiters as talent advisors at the planning stages, rather than internal vendors to be issued tasks after the fact, could prove a winning strategy moving forward.
Of course, that depends on which direction you think forward is.