Home / Companies / Start-ups /  Brainly fires almost entire India team as growth slows

Prosus-backed edtech firm Brainly, an online community learning platform, is said to have fired a portion of its employees globally including around 30 people in India, according to three people aware of the development.

“Almost the entire India team was fired over a Google Meet (video platform) call on October 28. Each department was called separately; total of around 30 people have been laid off…Only five people from the India team have been retained," one of the persons said on the condition of anonymity.

At least 50% of the impacted people were women, hired barely 2-3 months ago, keeping diversity in mind. The five retained have been working from home and working since last five years, a second person added.

The India team had around 35 people, with most of them operating out of its UB City office location in Bengaluru.

While the global lay off number could not be ascertained, the company had over 860 employees till September, as per networking website LinkedIn. Responding to emailed queries after press time, the company stated that no region besides India was impacted. "We decided to stop offering paid plans to users of Brainly.in and its entire community will use Brainly for free. This is unrelated to our global business," the firm said in a response to VCCircle.

The layoffs at the Poland-based edtech startup have been across departments including customer support, product, marketing, tutors and in-house academic team, legal and technical divisions. One person was retained from legal, human resources and finance departments to finish the paperwork, another person confirmed.

“Most of the fired employees were hired around 2-5 months ago. We were called on Google Meet during the Diwali week. Our global CEO Michał (Borkowski) said the company has changed its strategy to moving its focus back to the US and India is a very slow market. Our fax, emails, etc were cut off immediately. We were so shocked…I realize that Indian startups seem way better in handling this (layoffs)," said an impacted former employee, who has undergone such a layoff for the second time.

An email to the communications team and to Borkowski, Co-founder and CEO, Brainly, did not elicit any response till press time.

Later, Brainly's communications team responded to queries to say, "Those were the roles within the Brainly.in team focused on developing new paid plans. Before this information went public, we had offered departure packages to all 25 people whose roles were affected."

When contacted, Narasimha Jayakumar, Managing Director of Brainly India said India remains one of the largest markets for Brainly but declined to divulge any details on the pink slips handed out, as he is not authorized to do so. Jayakumar remains part of the India business as on today. "Members of the Brainly.in team will now work on the new goals, supporting further growth in India," the company added in its statement.

Another former employee, who did not want to be named, said, “Just two weeks ago, we were informed about having an 18-month runway… The company has been working on a cut-copy-paste of US product KnowledgeBase, a monetized tutoring platform, which was supposed to be launched in the next 2 weeks.

Technically, no severance has been given but we will receive a 3-month salary in tranches… Bonus and variable pay was part of the salaries..," said the employee.

In December 2020, Brainly had raised $80 million in a Series D round led by existing investor Learn Capital with participation from Prosus NV (investment arm of South African conglomerate Naspers), General Catalyst Partners, Runa Capital and MantaRay among others.

Founded in 2009, Brainly is a knowledge-sharing community that claims to have around 300 million students and experts on its platform to help students and parents towards solve homework questions and individual learning beyond school curriculum.

Around 2019, the company was reportedly valued at $180 million in its Series C round of funding when it raised $30 million.

In India, Brainly claimed to be catering to around 55 million users every month. Besides India, it has large learning communities across Indonesia, Brazil, US, Russia and Latin America. The platforms help students in doubt solving and resolve their queries in core academic subjects like Maths, Science, Social Studies, and languages like Hindi, English, etc.

Students are exposed to top educators, high-quality content and an exhaustive knowledge reserve encompassing state board and NCERT books, textbooks, exam preparation content, video-based lessons and other resources, free of cost. Till recently, Brainly had plans to launch other tutoring features on the platform for a more personalized and interactive learning experience.

Over the past few months, startups, especially in the edtech space in India, including one of the largest global edtech giants Tiger Global-backed Byju's, have been at the centre of the layoff storm.

Heavily impacted by the post Covid return of physical education, several edtech players have announced their retrenchment plans. Last month, Byju's announced it would need to let go off around 2,500 employees accounting for 5% of its workforce over the next six months, as it aims to become profitable by March 2023.

Mid-October, Eight Roads Ventures-backed FrontRow laid off about 130 people (75%) from its workforce, while previously Vedantu, WhiteHat Jr (now acquired by Byju's) and other startups such as logistics firm FarEye, used-cars service provider Cars24, Meesho, OkCredit and several others have laid off or retrenched over 15,000 employees as part of the startup ecosystem.

As early as last week, business-to-business unicorn Udaan is said to be terminating up to 350 employees since June.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beena Parmar

Been Parmar is a financial journalist based in Mumbai. She has reported on the banking and finance sector for over 10 years. She now writes on the alternative investment ecosystem from India - private equity, venture capital and especially startups. She loves to read about politics, society and humane stories.
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