Boom and Gloom: The Technology Downturn

3D rendering of a female robot looking sad and crying against a dark background.

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.

Let’s take a look.

Business woman sits at her desk in a bright office, wearing a Virtual Reality headset with her hands up, touching thin air.
“This looks great! But I can’t find my keyboard.”

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…

Man with a mobile phone watches as his Uber driver arrives.
“I can’t believe they still have to use real drivers.”

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.”

Animation showing Robin Hood in forest, holding bow loaded with arrow.
“Is it aim and fire or fire and aim? Tsk.”

Robinhood’s Aim

The original Robin Hood (Kevin Costner to you), 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.”

Woman using an indoor exercise bike with digital montior.
“I wish they’d make a real bike with a TV attached.”

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.

Peloton is going downhill, according to many key observers, but everybody remains fascinated by those spinning wheels. And they could get back in shape.

A male and female model step out of a limousine onto a red carpet.
“Vanity, vanity, all is… Ohh, nice dress!”

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. NEXT!

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.

Good move, Netflix.”

Raising the Question? 82% of Professionals Say They Deserve a Raise Next Year

A new research study from Ladders reveals that 82% of high-earning professionals surveyed believe they deserve a raise next year, but only 25% asked for one in the past year — which raises interesting questions about raises, promotions, and how professionals go about getting them.

With the Great Recession a decade in the rearview mirror, America’s top professionals are feeling more confident in their abilities, and their worthiness for additional compensation. But they still aren’t asking for it.

82% of respondents agreed that they deserved a raise next year, while only 25% had asked for a raise in the past 12 months. Nonetheless, approximately two-thirds of survey participants indicated that they had received a raise in the past year.

Almost half of respondents settled for a meager raise of 3% or less in the past year, while only 8% reported a 15% or greater increase from their employer.

Promotions are coming much faster in the modern era, with almost a quarter of respondents indicating they had been promoted with less than 12 months on the job. An additional 23% indicated it took them leaving their employer to get promoted.

Ladders professionals responded to the following:

“I deserve a raise next year”:

Strongly agree45%
Agree37%
Neutral18%
Disagree 0%
Strongly disagree 0%

“I asked for a raise in the past year”:

Yes 25%
No 75%

“I received a raise in the past year”:

Yes 65%
No 35%

“My most recent raise was”:

0%-3%49%
4%-6%20%
7%-9%7%
10%-15%12%
Greater than 15%8%
Other4%

“I deserve a promotion next year”:

Strongly agree25%
Agree25%
Neutral43%
Disagree4%
Strongly disagree3%

“For my most recent promotion, I was promoted after __ months on the job”:

Less than 12 months24%
13-24 months22%
25-36 months11%
37-48 months5%
4 years or longer15%
I changed companies to get my promotion23%

Methodology
Ladders, Inc. research study conducted October 20th to October 27th, 2019 among the members of the Ladders professional community. 1,233 responses were recorded. Gender distribution was 75% male, 25% female. Average annual compensation of respondents was $148,000.