My phone vibrated on Thursday during my ritual morning walk in the now bracing air of Chicago, a city my husband and I moved to last year for jobs at Stripe, a payment processing company. and e-commerce.
When I looked at my lock screen, I saw the subject line “Emily, your role at Stripe”. I immediately knew I had lost my job, along with apparently 14% of our company’s global workforce. The cuts were of course deep and sudden, but not entirely unexpected given the state of the economy and the job cuts in the tech sector in recent months.
As I rode the elevator to my 19th floor apartment in the South Loop, I went through the full spectrum of emotions and landed somewhere between relief and anger. I have experienced layoffs before, in 2020 in a previous role due to the severe economic contraction during COVID-19. However, I was on the other side, as a manager who let people go and wished them well.
This time I felt relieved to be on this side with a soft landing, knowing how dreadful it will be for those left to pick up the pieces. I felt angry at – I still don’t know who – the huge miscalculation of growth that allowed things to come to this.
As one of the leaders of Stripe’s Technical Services organization, not only was my own role eliminated, but several members of my team were also terminated. It was weird to be in both worlds: a bit like Schrödinger’s layoff cat.
Over the next few hours, I ran through a checklist of “last day” tasks – including saying goodbye to my client contacts and quickly and furiously typing “Thank you, keep in touch!” emails to the circle of Stripe employees I wanted to keep close to my network, while watching my access to systems and tools disappear one by one.
External emails started bouncing after about an hour, my desktop icons were clickable at noon, and by the end of the day I couldn’t use my company provided laptop. I learned the names of other affected people little by little, each familiar one making my guts snap like a rubber band – the lives of so many talented and deserving people were changed forever. In the fog of the turmoil, one thing was clear: this was an upheaval.
And yet, it was the right decision.
With this downsizing, Stripe joins a cohort of tech companies that have taken drastic measures in recent months to batten down the hatches and increase operational efficiency through brute force. The stock market bull run of the past decade and easy access to capital has led to a glut of tech companies that have seemingly invented everything unnecessary and useful – from Uber for life’s inconveniences to jumping jacks. forward like PlanGrid, an app that digitizes building information.
In the midst of our modern roaring twenties, even the crème de la crème of leaders made critical mistakes and let organizational bloat seep through the cracks of low interest rates. In a letter to employees, Stripe CEO Patrick Collison wrote, “We made two very important mistakes. … We were far too optimistic about the near-term growth of the Internet economy in 2022. … We have increased operating costs too quickly.
It is heartening to see the responsibility of a powerful and important business leader, but selfishly, as a Stripe shareholder, this downsizing reaffirms my optimism in the company and for my own personal actions. As a private company, Stripe has been the darling of Silicon Valley for years, but in recent months it has gone the way of the markets with a 28% reduction in its internal valuation. With the abrupt halt to successful initial public offerings this year and an equally desolate landscape of private funding, Stripe, like most terminally ill unicorns, could easily have been painted into a corner.
As an insider for nearly two years, I can attest that operational efficiency has become increasingly antithetical to innovation. This downsizing is forcing every part of Stripe to get down to business and let go of the nonsense to deliver valuable products and services that truly make the world a better place. With a large and growing share of global businesses being run on Stripe, this is ultimately a very good thing for humanity.
I certainly do not want to diminish the harm and uncertainty that this downsizing will have on the more than 1,000 employees and their families. But, when I say the creme de la creme has hit the streets, I mean this: the next generation of CEOs, senators, teachers, founders, and benefactors have been thrust into their next chapter. All will land on their feet, but most will fall upside down, kicking up dirt as they chart new paths for the global economy. And in a place like Chicago, a rising city in the world as a hotbed of tech talent, I couldn’t be more excited to see what those of us ex-Stripes in Chicago do with our new divergent paths.
I sure hope I am one of them.
Emily Tsitrian is between jobs. She lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. She is the author of “Make Me the Boss: Surviving as a Millennial Manager in the Corporate World.”
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