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

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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 — big European customers that it already has on its books will now be handled from its U.S. 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 behavior 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 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 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.”