Layoffs have struck the startup world swiftly, hurting hospitality and travel startups, as well as recruitment and scooter companies. New data shows that some of those layoffs, brought on by COVID-19, might be disproportionately impacting satellite campuses.
By nature, satellite offices are secondary to a startup’s headquarters. Opening smaller offices is a strategic move when a company gets a fresh round of funding or wants to expand to a new market. We’ve seen satellite offices pop up in cities like Portland, Phoenix or Austin, which has satellite offices for Apple, Facebook and Oracle, for example.
While most layoffs are coming from companies whose headquarters are located in the main entrepreneurial hubs of the Bay area and New York, the actual staff members are located in the satellite cities, according to data from Layoffs.fyi, a tracker created by former Y Combinator grad Roger Lee.
Toast, based in Boston, laid off 1,300 employees, or 50% of its entire staff. Per Layoffs.fyi data, 12% of those layoffs were in Omaha, and another 10% were in Chicago.
These numbers are only a fraction of the total layoffs across the country, as Layoffs.fyi’s data set only includes publicly disclosed actions and tips. But even if the data is just serving as an anecdotal snapshot, it’s an important one to note.
What the data means
Once the economy does recover to a new normal, it’s unclear whether HQ cities or satellite cities will be in a better position to bounce back. We caught up with some investors in Boston, a top startup hub that has recently faced its own flurry of layoffs, to hear their thoughts.
According to Lily Lyman, a partner at Boston-based venture capital firm Underscore, satellite offices are often where a company might locate the sales, customer success and business development staff. Logistically, those roles are the most vulnerable as consumer activity slows. For a lot of businesses, there are no sales and deals to be done right now.
“[These roles are getting] disproportionately affected in [reduction of forces] as companies expect a slowdown on the commercial side,” Lyman said. “While a logical decision to extend the cash runway, it does come with the risk that this withdrawal can damage relationships with customers that may be hard to recover.”
Not everyone sees cuts hitting satellite offices the hardest. Michael Skok, another partner at Underscore, said that “in some cases, we’ve seen that satellite offices are established in emerging markets which come with cost savings, so these offices may actually be more protected in these times.” In other words, if you’re cutting costs, San Francisco employee expenses might be higher than Denver employee expenses by sheer nature of the former having exorbitantly high living costs. Revolution Ventures, which invests in startups in emerging tech scenes, said it has not heard about satellite office layoffs from its portfolio as of recently.
And finally, to put it crassly, layoffs in a non-HQ city might quell some of the negative signaling that founders and venture capitalists are trying so hard to avoid (well, most of them at least). Slimming down operations is becoming a proactive response, not a reactive strategy as the pandemic continues to evolve.
Today’s data reminds us that layoffs are rarely an isolated occurrence, and staff cuts appear to be landing harder on less robust tech ecosystems.