Answers.com Layoffs: The Pain & The Hope
It was a very emotional day at Answers.com, as roughly 2/3 of the Jerusalem employees were let go. I was impressed by how people handled themselves. It was a day filled not with anger but with dark humor, nostalgia, friendship and support.
TechCrunch covered this with Answers.com Gets Gutted By Its New Owner: Massive Layoffs, CEO And CTO Out and then Business Insider made it more colorful with Ready, Aim, Fire Everybody.
The narrative is Big Evil Capitalists Gone Wild, which is always a fun story. But not always the truth. Here’s another version. [Note: this is all my unofficial interpretation]
Answers.com has gone through a remarkable 12-year roller coaster ride frequently reinventing itself. What began as a free alt-click Windows reference tool became an enterprise product, then a subscription-based consumer tool, and then an advertiser supported reference website. Now it’s a community-based Q&A site.
The new owners are exclusively focusing on quality content and community. They’re throwing out the old. That includes old projects like 1-Click Answers and Reference Answers. It also includes people. Senior management was mostly spared in past Answers.com layoffs. Not this time.
They’re shifting the focus from technology company to content & community company. The company was founded by technological geniuses who always had a bias towards great technology. Engineering is now a support function. It’s a means, not an ends.
They’re shifting the balance of power from Jerusalem (where the company was founded and where engineering sits) to New York (where the community team is headquartered) and St. Louis (where the acquiring company resides). This is painful to me. That doesn’t make it wrong.
TechCrunch closed their article with “Answers Corporation’s brand new owner effectively gutted the company, raising doubts about its long-term viability.” I strongly disagree. Answers.com took an unsentimental look at all the good and the bad from the company’s first twelve years, and ruthlessly cut everything it felt distracted from its core mission of a great community creating great content.
I wish great things to all former Answers.com employees. You’re all great people and I wish you great happiness and success. And I wish the same for Answers.com and its current employees. When you recover from the shock and the survivor’s guilt I hope you remember that this is not Answers.com’s first pivot. You still have a great (albeit smaller) team, and you should still have a very bright future.