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Innovation Economy

Hiring is still happening, but it’s hardly business as usual

Employees of the Boston startup Jobble, a marketplace for temporary positions, led by CEO Zack Smith (front, left) and senior marketing manager Julia Ryder (center).
Employees of the Boston startup Jobble, a marketplace for temporary positions, led by CEO Zack Smith (front, left) and senior marketing manager Julia Ryder (center).

The Layoff List sounds like exactly the sort of roster you don’t want to be on right now.

But the list is an effort by Cambridge-based Drafted to helpthe recently unemployed find new opportunities. It’s one of several unusual dynamics that are rippling through a job market that went from red hot to stone cold in a matter of weeks, when the coronavirus reached the United States.

First, job openings do still exist — both full-time and temporary “gig” labor. But some employers have never hired a candidate without meeting them face-to-face, which is making them hesitate when it comes to sending out offer letters. And candidates worry that a position being advertised one day may simply vanish the next.

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Alignable, a Boston startup that helps small businesses refer customers to one another, has seven jobs posted on its website, including design and marketing roles. But CEO Eric Groves says that “we’re not willing to commit to a hire until we meet them in person, so that has delayed the process for sure.” Why the reticence? In a small company, he says, sussing out whether a candidate fits with the company culture “is everything.”

Sridhar Iyengar, the CEO of Elemental Machines, a Cambridge startup, says his company has three open engineering jobs, but Elemental has not yet hired a full-timer without meeting them in person. But Iyengar has done so at previous startups when hiring employees in Asia, and he says that he’d “unequivocally” do it now for the right candidate. Elemental sells a system that enables scientists to remotely monitor lab equipment and experiments when they aren’t there.

The meat delivery company ButcherBox, in Brighton, is hiring for a handful of roles in project management and customer support, and CEO Michael Salguero says that he has hired people without meeting them: “Kind of have to in these conditions,” he says via e-mail. “We are certainly being opportunistic with our hiring at this point, because we are thriving while other businesses are not.”

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ButcherBox offers subscription plans that include boxes of grass-feed beef, organic chicken, and pork — but demand for the service is so high that there is a wait list for new members.

Klaviyo, a Boston startup that sells marketing software, says that 14 new employees started earlier this month in Boston and London, some of whom were hired based only on video interviews. There were about 20 jobs listed on Klaviyo’s site last week, from accounting to customer support to engineering.

At TripAdvisor, the travel-planning site based in Needham, there were just seven jobs listed at the company’s headquarters as oflast week. Spokesman Brian Hoyt describes them as “critical roles” at a moment when hiring at the company is largely on hold. But Hoyt also cautions that everything hiring-related is “subject to change in the weeks ahead as we continue to assess our needs.” (The company laid off 200 employees in January in a pre-coronavirus cost-cutting move, leaving it with about 3,600 people globally.)

Jobble is a Boston startup that has seen its business change radically in 2020: It was founded to help trade show organizers and party planners hire temporary labor. But in March, “the events world completely shut down,” says CEO Zack Smith. Those postings have been replaced with other kinds of temporary labor, such as light industrial work, in warehouses, and in grocery stores.

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“Grocery and food used to be about 20 percent of the jobs we saw posted on Jobble,” says Smith. “Now it’s 75 percent to 80 percent.” He says there are about two million jobs listed on the Jobble platform. Among them are openings for cashiers, landscapers, prep cooks, and warehouse assistants — though not very many in the Boston area. Jobble itself has 32 employees, and the company has committed to not laying off any employees, says vice president of marketing Lauren Kurkul.

In more typical times, Drafted sells software to tech companies that helps them leverage their employee base to make referrals to job candidates they know — and provide feedback on candidates being considered.

Last fall, the company began testing an e-mail list for its customers that served up news and unverified rumors about companies that were laying off employees, as a kind of “tip line” on where recruiters and HR people should be hunting for their next hire. That idea evolved into the Layoff List, which “started exploding in late February,” says Drafted CEO Vinayak Ranade.

And in addition to the e-mail list, Drafted set up an affiliated website, the Layoff Network, that tries to make matches between people who have been pink-slipped and more than 250 companies that are still looking to hire, Ranade says. That site launched in early April, after “our entire developer team pulled all-nighters for about ten days straight,” Ranade says.

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While Drafted typically charges employers to use its software, theLayoff Network site is free for everyone to use. There’s no business model — only a goal to be helpful to those recently laid off. Ranade says his hope is that “when things start turning around, we hope people will remember us and buy into our core business.”

His company has 10 employees, and it has “stopped hiring for now,” Ranade says. “Our objective is to try to get through this phase as unscathed as possible.” Drafted has raised about $6 million from investors.

Ranade says that he is an optimist by nature, but that he “would not be surprised if we see 20 percent cuts across most of the startups in Boston, especially companies with big sales and marketing teams.” But 20 percent is Ranade’s best-case number. His pessimistic number? 40 percent. One prediction is pretty safe: the Layoff List will see plenty of action over the next few months.


Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.