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The other unseen cost of the pandemic



By the numbers, the coronavirus has been no small cost for startups.

Some 536 have laid off roughly 70,587 employees since the pandemic hit the U.S. full force, according to, a site that tracks those metrics. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have forced revenues to effectively zero at travel and leisure companies and pushed startups with weaker balance sheets into a corner.

The likes of Airbnb, Ola, Uber, and Toast have each laid off upwards of 1,000 employees since early March.

But here’s another long-tail “cost” (or perhaps necessary rejiggering) to watch out for, even as early signs indicate that the pace of layoffs in the sector has slowed and some hard-hit companies are, surprisingly, beginning to see some revenue streams returning: What happens when companies that have distinguished and prided themselves on a community-driven culture compared to their corporate, capitalism-driven predecessors lay off and create disillusioned workers?

Epitomizing that thought: On Friday, the New York Times wrote of the layoffs at multi-unicorn Airbnb with a headline that says it all: Airbnb Was Like a Family, Until the Layoffs Started. Indeed, a quarter of its workforce, some 1,900, were laid off and reminded that, in the end, a job was a job. And in an “unusual public show of dissent” during a virtual employee Q&A session with CEO Brian Chesky, workers, referring to layoffs on Airbnb’s safety team, wrote in: “Safety was never a priority!”

Now former workers are facing a dissonance between a so-called inclusive culture and layoffs, out either creating their own startups or joining new companies. It’s unclear the extent to which this revelation shifts the culture of startup land, and it’s hard, for me, to imagine that the “community-based” culture that it has defined itself by will go away any time soon, but it’s not hard to think skepticism is on the rise.

The edtech boom continues: Coursera, the online learning platform that sources classes from university instructors, raised $130 million as part of its Series F round led by NEA. Existing investors including Kleiner Parkins, Seek Group, Learn Capital, SuRo Capital Corp, and G Squared also participated in the round that values the startup at about $2.5 billion, per the Information

Investors are flocking to education technology companies that are experiencing a boom in users, as companies and schools alike seek out a new way to educate in the pandemic, and consumers are finding new, socially distanced hobbies.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda

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