The tech sector has a history of overhiring in the boom times and making massive cuts when the market turns. The spate of layoffs this year is (almost) reminiscent of the dot-com meltdown, for those of us old enough to remember. Already this year, Meta, Twitter, Coinbase, Shopify, Salesforce, Robinhood, Snap, Stripe, Instacart, Affirm and now Amazon have collectively announced tens of thousands of layoffs. According to Layoffs.fyi, the tech industry overall has nixed at least 120,000 jobs in 2022. Yet despite the gloom, a subset of retail-tech companies is continuing to hire—with some even accelerating their recruitment as the current economic environment proves a tailwind to their business.
With inflation, operational challenges and labor shortages piling the pressure on retail margins, tech and solutions providers that help companies quickly access cost efficiencies or tap into new revenue streams are finding themselves in demand. Supply chain sharing innovator Quiet Platforms and e-commerce solutions companies ESW, Cart.com and Rokt are among the tech providers that are seemingly proving recession-proof thanks to their ability to help solve retailers’ current woes. I asked their leaders why they’re hiring when so many others are cutting, and how the shifting economic environment is affecting their tech-recruiting efforts.
Quiet Platforms – offering shared supply chain capabilities
Quiet Platforms helps retail companies drive scale efficiencies by sharing logistics assets and supply chain capabilities with others in the Quiet Platforms network. Shekar Natarajan, the company’s president, points to the retail industry’s built-in inefficiency when it comes to asset utilization, with infrastructure built to handle peak volumes, and the conundrum retailers face as e-commerce demand continues to grow.
“Freight container costs might have fallen, but as retailers continue to adjust to increasing e-commerce volumes that demand a nationwide and omnichannel capability, higher interest rates and ground-shipping costs are keeping margins under pressure,” says Natarajan. “We’re growing rapidly because our shared logistics model and nationwide fulfillment network help retailers and brands optimize their inventory positioning and ship more cost-effectively without having to make additional investments in building out their own supply chain infrastructure.”
ESW – supporting global DTC growth
Based in Dublin, Ireland, ESW helps retailers and brands expand their DTC businesses globally. Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, President and CEO of ESW Americas, says the company continues to thrive in the current environment because brands are seeking to grow their DTC e-commerce businesses in new international markets as their domestic sales slow.
“Our customer proposition remains very solid,” says Bousquet-Chavanne. “The great majority of consumer brands in the sectors where ESW trades—including luxury, fashion, footwear, personal care and electronics—are still building their DTC e-commerce capabilities for a more profitable and sustainable channel versus the large-scale marketplaces. We’re able to quickly onboard them to help capture the international DTC e-commerce opportunity and accelerate their DTC businesses.”
Cart.com – maximizing reach across every selling channel
Omair Tariq, CEO of Cart.com, says the company’s solutions help brands improve sales, margins and return on ad spend, enabling them to grow through this uncertain environment. “Right now, brands face an increasingly complex environment requiring them to sell in more places while simultaneously balancing compressed margins and cost efficiency,” Tariq notes. “Our software helps brands efficiently sell on over 2,000 channels, ensuring they show up where their customers are buying. Our analytics solution connects advertising spend to inventory in real time, ensuring brands are investing marketing dollars in the right places.”
Rokt – enabling access to new revenues
Elizabeth Buchanan, Rokt’s Chief Commercial Officer, explains, “Our technology unlocks meaningful additional revenue for e-commerce businesses.” The company helps retailers and others squeeze more ROI out of their ad spending. Rokt’s machine-learning technology ensures the ads companies present to their customers during a transaction are personally relevant and, therefore, more likely to prompt the desired action. Rokt’s tech also helps power the retail media networks that companies like Uber. UBER are building to leverage their apps, sites and other digital channels as advertising platforms to better target customers and drive incremental revenue.
Buchanan notes that Rokt was “built to be profitable from its inception 10 years ago” and that its strategy has set up the company to succeed no matter where we are in the business cycle. “We see this moment as a massive opportunity to get ahead,” she says. “Our growth rates, cash reserves and profitability are all incredibly strong and so we can aggressively move when we see opportunities for talent in the marketplace.”
New Economic Environment. New Recruitment Rules?
The executives I spoke with had differing opinions about how the shifting macro environment is affecting their ability to attract talent and build out their tech teams. The work-from-home dynamic seems to be a persistent consideration, particularly for top-end talent, with employers needing to be open-minded to taking the work to where the talent may be. That said, this group of executives is seeing more opportunity to differentiate with stability as well as growth.
Bousquet-Chavanne says the slowdown in the economic environment hasn’t affected ESW’s recruitment efforts just yet, but that he expects cycle time to improve and retention to become less challenging over the next year. “Will we totally shift back to an employer-driven market? I doubt it,” he says. “But the return-to-office dynamic should ease for the benefit of the business. I believe great talent benefits from working alongside peers and the rewards outweigh the costs.”
Quiet Platforms is operating with hubs in the Bay Area, Seattle, Pittsburgh and New York and recruiting with a remote-oriented work model for much of its team. “We feel we’ve got to offer flexibility and purpose to attract the best talent,” says Natarajan. “Despite the layoffs, the best talent will be in demand and is seeking value in both the working environment and the mission, purpose and impact of what we’re doing. We’ve been able to build an incredibly strong tech team over the past 12 months and we’re continuing to expand it. As demand for Quiet Platforms’ supply chain sharing model accelerates, we’re increasing our focus on commercial and product management talent,” he says.
At Cart.com, the recruiting dynamics have been similar and the CEO says the company has been able to attract stronger talent by embracing remote working. “Our model has allowed us to go from startup to scale-up very quickly in this market,” says Tariq. “We’ve welcomed a cross-section of retail and software veterans over the last few months and hundreds of other new employees. I think our culture and momentum have been big drivers, along with the flexibility that remote work has created in recruiting. Our leadership team, for example, is distributed across Texas, California, New York and everywhere in between. I’m not sure we would have been able to attract the same level of talent in a fully in-person environment.”
Rokt’s Buchanan notes that the company is hiring quickly and continues to focus on building an enviable and highly transparent workplace culture. “The changing economic environment has only benefited us and allowed us access to more and more top talent in tech,” she says. Rokt has onboarded over 150 new employees so far this year and is actively hiring for 75 roles, almost half of which are R&D. The company began requiring staff to return to the office three days a week over a year ago, and Buchanan says that “hasn’t been a deterrent in our hiring. We’ve actually found that our people really want to be back in the office and thrive in an in-person environment. We’re finding there is a reinforcing selection bias, where our back-in-office strategy is attracting the best talent—those who want to accelerate their career and be seen and heard by not being 100% remote.”
Silver Linings in the Clouds
While the tech sector at large may be facing challenges—with frothy funding and valuations in the rearview mirror and investors far less willing to commit funds to companies with uncertain future revenue streams—the retail-tech subsector is home to some strong companies that are continuing to recruit top talent to support their rapid growth.
These companies are helping solve some of retailers’ and brands’ most pressing challenges with solutions that support supply chain efficiency and help companies tap into additive revenue streams, accelerate their international and channel expansion, and optimize their ad spend ROI. I suppose it’s unsurprising that efficiency is always a solid value proposition and that the retail-tech players with that focus are the best placed to thrive and attract talent in these challenging times.