On Thursday, my phone vibrated during my ritual morning walk in the now-crisp air of Chicago, a city my husband and I moved to last year for a job at Stripe, a company that deals with payment processing and e-commerce.
When I looked at my lock screen, I saw the subject line “Emily, your role at Stripe.” Immediately I knew I’d lost my job, as had apparently 14% of our company’s global workforce. The cuts, of course, were deep and sudden, although not entirely unexpected given the state of the economy and the shedding of jobs in the technology sector these past few months.
As I rode the elevator back up to my 19th floor apartment in the South Loop, I cycled through the full spectrum of emotion and landed somewhere between relief and anger. I’ve been through layoffs before, in 2020 at a previous role as a result of the sharp economic contraction during COVID-19. However, I was on the other side, as the manager who was letting people go and wishing them well.
This time, I felt relief at being on this side of it with a soft landing, knowing how dreadful it will feel for those left to pick up the pieces. I felt anger at — I still don’t know who — the massive miscalculation of growth that let things get to this point.
As one of the leaders in Stripe’s technical services organization, not only was my own role eliminated, but several members of my team were let go as well. It was bizarre to be in both worlds: a bit of a Schrodinger’s cat of the layoff.
Over the next few hours, I executed a checklist of “last day” tasks — including saying goodbye to my customer contacts and typing fast-and-furious “Thank you, stay in touch!” emails to the circle of Stripe employees I wanted to keep close in my network, all while watching my access to systems and tools disappear one by one.
External emails started bouncing back after about an hour, my desktop icons were unclickable by noon, and by the end of the day, I could no longer use my company-issued laptop. I learned names of others affected bit by bit, each familiar one snapping my gut like a rubber band — the lives of so many talented and deserving people altered forever. In the haze of the turmoil, one thing was clear: This was a shakeup.
And yet — it was the right decision.
With this reduction in force, Stripe joins a cohort of tech companies that have taken drastic action these past few months to batten down the hatches and drive operational efficiency by brute force. The past decade’s stock market bull run and easy access to capital had led to a glut of tech companies that have seemingly invented everything useless and useful — from Uber for the inconveniences of living to leaps forward like PlanGrid, an app that digitizes construction information.
In the midst of our modern Roaring ’20s, even the cream of the crop of leaders made critical mistakes and allowed organizational bloat to seep in through the low-interest-rate cracks. In a letter to employees, Stripe CEO Patrick Collison wrote: “We made two very consequential mistakes. … We were too much optimism about the internet economy’s near-term growth in 2022. … We grew operating costs too quickly.”
It is heartening to see accountability from a powerful and important business leader, but selfishly, as a shareholder in Stripe, this staff reduction reaffirms my bullishness in the company and for my own personal stock. As a privately owned 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 internal valuation. With the screeching halt of blockbuster initial public offerings this year and a similarly desolate landscape of private funding, Stripe, like most late-stage unicorns, could easily have been painted into a corner.
As an insider for nearly the last two years, I can attest that the operating efficiency had grown antithetical to innovation. This staff reduction is forcing each part of Stripe to get down to brass tacks and jettison the nonsense to deliver valuable products and services that genuinely make the world more prosperous. With a sizable and growing portion of the world’s businesses being run on Stripe, this is ultimately a very good thing for humankind.
I certainly don’t want to diminish the harm and uncertainty this staff reduction will have on the more than 1,000 employees and their families. But, when I say that the cream of the crop has hit the streets, I mean this: The next generation of CEOs, senators, teachers, founders and do-gooders have been abruptly thrust into their next chapter. All will land on their feet, but most will fall in reverse, kicking up dirt as they blaze new paths forward for the global economy. And in a place like Chicago, an up-and-comer in the world as a hotbed of tech talent, I couldn’t be more eager to see what those of us ex-Stripes in Chicago do with our new divergent paths.
I sure hope I’m 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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