About 900 employees of real estate company Better.com were asked to attend a Zoom call on Wednesday. But rather than offering a holiday message to workers, CEO Vishal Garg delivered a 3-minute speech informing attendees they were "terminated effectively immediately."
Videos of the Zoom call have been posted on social media networks and YouTube, with a source familiar with the company verifying the authenticity of the recordings. In the video, Garg sits at a white table, wearing a business-casual outfit of slacks, a shirt and a blue vest, and tells the workers that the "challenging decision" is his — and that it's the second time he's had to lay off workers.
"The last time I did it, I cried," Garg confides to the fired employees. "This time I hope to be stronger."
The Zoom call is sparking outrage on social media, with users decrying Garg's mass video layoff as "crass" and criticizing its timing just weeks before the holidays. On LinkedIn, fired Better.com workers are asking for leads on new jobs, while also expressing surprise at the sudden terminations.
In the video, Garg says the layoffs impact 15% of Better.com's workforce, but he misspoke, according to the person familiar with the company, who said about 9% of employees are affected. Officials at Better.com didn't respond to requests for comment.
The layoffs may also have come as a surprise given that Better.com had received $750 million in funding just days before Garg fired the employees. The cash infusion is due to Better.com's plan to go public through a so-called Special Purpose Acquisition Company, or SPAC, with a blank-check company known as Aurora and funds provided by investor SoftBank, according to TechCrunch.
Meanwhile, Better.com is seeing a backlash on company review sites like Glassdoor.com and Trustpilot.com, with some people citing the company's "bad leadership." People who identified themselves as former employees on Glassdoor singled out the Zoom call and management as problematic.
Garg sent out an email an hour before the meeting — "no background just an ominous invitation," one Glassdoor reviewer said, giving the company three stars out of five. "How long did the meeting last? Well, it was suppose to be 15 mins, Vishal did it in 5 mins and in laughable fashion."
Meanwhile, videos posted on social media of Garg's mass firing have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, with this one on Twitter receiving more than 500,000 views as of Tuesday morning. (Content warning: video includes profanity, with a viewer swearing at Garg when he announces the layoffs.)
Layoffs came "out of nowhere"
In a video on YouTube, one worker said the layoffs came "out of nowhere." Christian Chapman, a former trainer at Better.com, noted that he and others were told "with a quick little video that basically said, 'I don't want to do this — you're laid off.' And then everything shut down and so that was my world yesterday."
Chapman noted wryly that he worked up the courage to call his wife. "That's just the news you want to hear right before Christmas is, 'Hey, honey, I got laid off, don't have any income.'"
Founded in 2016, Better.com is backed by the likes of Japanese investment company SoftBank and the financial services firms Goldman Sachs and Ally. The company sells mortgage services online, promising to help buyers find a rate within seconds and get approved for a mortgage within minutes.
Garg hinted on the call that business conditions had changed in the past year. "I wish we were thriving as enthusiastically as we were at the beginning of the year," he said. "That's not the case."
He signed off by wishing the fired employee "the best of luck" in their next career moves.
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