Tech blog e27 restructures, more than 50% of team laid off

Visual of e27 portal. January 2016

Singapore-based technology and startup news portal E27 has engaged instituted restructuring that has resulted in more than half of its 40 plus employees leaving the company, several of the staff who had been laid off confirmed.

The layoffs, which happened last week, and ‘came without any notice’, are linked to the portal’s failure to close an additional round of funding by December 2015, some of the ex-employees e27, who declined to be named alleged.

Incepted in 2006 and led by founders Mohan Belani (CEO) and Thaddeus Koh (COO), the media portal which operates on the basis of content, events and an online marketplace, is best known for its Echelon conferences across Asia. The conference brand is supported by a news site sharing digital content, and the portal had also recently launched an online marketplace for services focused on startup ventures.

e27’s parent firm, Optimatic, had raised US$650,000 in a bridge round last year, and at that time had said that that a follow-on round was on the cards.

“We were given to understand that the funding will come in December 2015, and then it was extended to March 2016. I am not sure if the company is anywhere close to this investment round – if that had been the case, the layoffs should not have happened. The editorial department saw the heaviest cull,” a reporter who had been with the portal told DEALSTREETASIA.

Another ex-27 staffer said the layoffs were across all the teams – editorial, business development, product, marketing & events. The third ex-employee this portal spoke to claimed that that e27’s editorial team has been reduced to three reporters on staff from what was formerly 11 writers. DEALSTREETASIA has not been able to verify these figures independently.

Responding to a detailed set of questions, Mohan Belani said: “The region and ecosystem is evolving and we are taking steps to evolve with it. The restructuring is part of the process. This will allow us to remain focused and lean and tackle the new challenges head on. The restructuring is also company wide, and does not affect any particular team.

Belani added, “Our core focus, to connect Asia’s tech ecosystem, has not changed and we will be focused on that mission in the near to long term future.”

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The e27 co-founder and chief executive did not respond to questions on the number of employees the company let go, and also declined to provide details on the status of its funding round.

Prior to the bridge round in 2015, e27 had raised capital in a venture round worth $615,000 in February 2013, from investors 8capita PartnersArdent CapitalB Dash Ventures, and Pinehurst Advisors.

This restructuring comes amidst increasing competition among technoloy-focused media in Asia. Tech In Asia, E27’s main competitor in the events and media space, accelerated its Techlist unit in Y Combinator, as well as closed a $4 million Series C investment from a syndicate that included Eduardo Saverin, Facebook’s co-founder.

This comes amidst larger market shocks and volatility in the  on to Southeast Asia. It is feared that investor unease in those larger markets could make it harder for startups in Southeast Asia to raise funding and maintain their desired valuations. And, for media companies, those conditions could create a tougher climate for drumming up interest in events, sponsorship and other services that pay the bills.

To date, e27 has made no comment or provided updates as to the status of this funding exercise. This cut leaves e27 with fewer resources to commit to their events and editorial operations.

While e27 has established a modest degree of branding and mindshare – particularly in the events space with its Echelon conference brand – it has diluted the event brand wth the use of satellite conferences, one of the ex-staffers quoted above alleged.

Its content platform has also evolved to become more of a publishing platform, with the syndication of content from publications like Geektime and organisations like the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Meanwhile, its primary competitor Tech in Asia has focused on hosting conference brands that tend towards being highly curated and hosted in major hubs like Tokyo, Singapore and Jakarta, while positioning itself as a startup community platform with extensive content.

Disclosure: DEALSTREETASIA competes with e27 across India and Southeast Asia. Since the layoffs, DEALSTREETASIA has hired an ex-reporter from e-27. This reporter’s comments are not used in the story.  Shiwen Yap, the correspondent who filed the above story, had worked with e27  in the past, but has been with DEALSTREETASIA since December 2014. 

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.