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What The Layoff of 29 Employees Tells Us About The Future of Medium

  • 7 min read

It’s a big number. Large-scale layoffs are never a good sign. Right or wrong?

It came as a surprise to employees.

On August 11th, Medium’s new CEO Tony Stubblebine shared a letter with his entire Medium staff.

In this letter, he explained the reasoning behind letting 29 employees go.

Additionally, Tony gave a peek behind the scenes of Medium as a company:

“I know the word disruption doesn’t do justice to what you are feeling today. I am sorry.” Tony Stubblebine

I’m sure the layoffs were a very tough call.

Is 29 people a big number?

In a kick-off-interview with Sinem Guenel on YouTube, he shared, that Medium has around 100 employees.

If you put 29 people into perspective… then Tony laid off 30% of his staff.

I think it’s a big number for a company of the size of Medium.

Who was laid off?

Employees from operations, marketing, design, and creator relations.

Beloved Amy Shearn, formerly Editor of Creators Hub and Medium’s own publication Human Parts, is one of them.

Side note: You can connect with her by going here. She’s writing on Substack now.

Why did Tony fire 29 employees?

Here’s Tony’s statement:

“Medium has a reputation as a company that has tried a lot of experimental approaches. Experimenting is part of who we are. (…) But today is the downside of experimenting. We’ve found ourselves bigger than we need to be for the focused mission ahead.

Was it the first time that Medium let employees go?

Worth mentioning that it’s not the first time for Medium…

In March 2021, Medium’s founder and former CEO Ev Williams, cut in-house editorial operations.

“Everyone at the meeting was surprised,” said a Medium source to Axios

Back then, Ev explained that Medium wants to help the individual writer more rather than publications.

What happened the last time when Medium let employees go?

Following Ev’s decision, more and more big and wonderful publications closed their doors.

  • Medium’s flagship publication P.S. I Love You was the first to close its doors. Medium pulled the plug on funding. The editors chose it wasn’t worth their time to continue.
  • Then Modern Parent closed as well.
  • A few months later, Tom Kuegler announced he’ll shut down his independent pub The Post Grad Survival Guide for all submissions.
  • The independent pub World Traveler’s Blog closed as well.

Additionally, Medium publications such as Forge, a Medium publication on personal development, shut their doors.

What will happen this time?

What will happen this time?
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The heart and soul of every company or brand are its employees.

Let’s have a look at who those people are that Tony let go of.

Marketing

I’m a little biased because I’m a Brand Manager, but for me, marketers are very important for every business. They can analyze the data from the market, find creative ways to increase sales (attract more paying members to Medium), and can help Medium grow.

Side note: Medium Product Lead Breana Jones is doing a great job in sharing information, listening, and commenting.

She gave me valuable feedback on my popular story It’s The End Of Medium As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) although I didn’t mention her:

Operations

This can be everything. I hope it’s NOT Arthur from Medium’s Help Desk!

I sent an email lately and he didn’t answer anymore.

Design

Last year, Medium acquired Projector as a competitor of Canva to bring Medium to the next level.

Ev Williams shared:

I truly look forward to integrating our teams and expertise to bring Medium to the next level.

Did Medium let people from Projector go?

If so, what happened to the statement:

“…leveraging Projector technologies and expertise to build world-class creator tools and reader experiences” Trevor O’ Brien, former CEO, now Chief Product Officer at Medium, said to TechCrunch

I’d love to see real-time collaborations on Medium with my students and followers and a good newsletter feature.

Creator Relations

I started my career as a Communications Consultant so again I’m a little biased. However, the Creator Relations team is all about building relationships and trust with the creators.

I don’t see WHY people in this specific area of expertise had to go.

Product Lead Breana Jones recently shared that Medium wants to rebuild trust.

I’d love to have a person at Medium I could reach out to as a creator!

Side note: In the roundtable discussion as part of Sinem Guenel's “Beyond Medium Boot Camp” Tony said that every employer is looking for good communicators.

What will the future bring?

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How the future will actually look is unclear.

Last year, Ev Williams shared Medium wants to expand beyond words and…

  • to innovate on the core Medium experience
  • build amazing tools for creators

Based on the recent lay-offs, experiments, changes in directions… I wouldn’t be surprised if soon there will come another abrupt change of course.

Potential future scenarios

From watching all interviews on YouTube (including the latest roundtable discussion) these are my predictions — some of these changes are already happening right now:

  • Tony (as the face of the company) will raise the bar in regard to quality.
  • Tony will change the curation system and there will be less curation. He thinks Medium curates too much.
  • Tony will help experts to grow a following and spread their message.
  • Tony wants to help writers by paying them for external views and offering more rewards.
  • Tony wants to experiment in partnership with the community.

Just Do More to succeed on Medium

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Last but not least, Coach Tony (as many of us still call him) believes in our potential.

While a lot of writers are scratching their heads on how to succeed on Medium, in his latest post Tony shares the following lesson:

If you’ve tried all of the easy hacks and shortcuts and aren’t getting the results you want, then try working harder than anyone else thinks is worthwhile.

This reminds me of famous vlogger Casey Neistat.

Once, he tattooed on his forearm:

DO MORE!

Final Thoughts

As most of the paying Medium members who are having their stake in the company, I’m curious to see the direction this all will go.

29 people is a big number. Layoffs on a big scale are never a good sign for a business.

Downsizing human resources doesn’t send the best message about Medium’s ethics, core values, strategy, and business growth.

My heart goes out to the people who had to or have to leave the company.

It’s a “difficult moment” in the history of Medium but it’s gonna be a (very long) “difficult period” in the lives of those who lost their jobs.

I’m curious. What do you think?

© Kristina God

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