Waze, the Google-owned navigation and mapping service, will lay off 5 percent of its global workforce, or about 30 people out of 555 total employees, the company’s CEO said in an email to employees. Waze will also close several of its offices in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions as it seeks to refocus its business on certain markets.
Waze said the layoffs were partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has emptied roadways around the world and sent many cities into lockdown. As shelter-in-place and working from home become the new norm, fewer people are using Waze for their daily navigation needs. Fewer eyeballs on the app means less advertising revenue for the company.
Waze, which was acquired by Google in 2013 for a reported $1.1 billion, has seen a dip in both monthly active users, or the number of customers using the app each month, and driven kilometers, the metric by which the company measures how far its customers drive while using Waze.
In April, Waze laid out in a blog post just how severely some of those numbers are falling. Globally, Waze customers drove 60 percent fewer miles in March, when lockdowns started going into effect, as compared to February. Italy specifically saw the biggest drop at 90 percent. The US was also down by about 60 percent.
But as the pandemic stretched on, those figures got worse. Waze says that at one point during the lockdown, global weekly driven kilometers were down 70 percent. Since June, Waze has begun to see a recovery of driving as people returned to work in countries where restrictions have been lifted. Globally the company says it’s back to pre-COVID driving levels.
Waze will “rethink priorities,” CEO Noam Bardin said in the email, “and we’ve decided to focus our resources on product improvements for our users, accelerate our investments in technical infrastructure, and refocus our sales and marketing efforts on a small number of high-value countries.”
Waze Carpool, the company’s two-year-old ride-share service, is also suffering. With more people working from home, fewer people are using Waze Carpool to share rides with co-workers or other neighbors who work along a similar route. As a result, Waze is shrinking the number of people who work on its standalone carpooling service. Earlier this year, Waze was on track to cross 1 million monthly carpool trips globally, and now the company is no where near that, a spokesperson said.
Of the 30 people receiving pink slips, most are from the company’s sales, marketing, and partnerships divisions. But this won’t be a permanent reduction in headcount: Waze says it plans to hire a commensurate number of people for its technology and engineering teams in the months to come.
Waze is also closing offices in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina, as it seeks to bring more focus in countries where its business is growing. That includes the US, the UK, France, Brazil, Canada, Italy, and Mexico.
Waze obviously isn’t the only technology company, or even transportation company, to be hit by layoffs during the pandemic. Uber, Lyft, Yelp, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Lime, Sonos, Glitch, and dozens of other companies have laid off workers during the pandemic. Tens of millions of people are still out of work as the nation’s unemployment remains at 8.4 percent (though the real figure is likely to be much higher).
Waze is aware that laying people off in the middle of a pandemic can be cruel. The company says it’s committed to providing those workers who are being laid off with a cushion, including severance, bonuses, and health insurance, into early 2021.
Here’s Waze CEO Noam Bardin entire note to staff:
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many cities and countries have enforced travel restrictions to curb the spread of the disease, so it’s no surprise that our users are driving less (or have stopped altogether), leading to a significant drop in kilometers driven (KMDs), Carpools, and Ad revenue.
This has forced us to rethink priorities and we’ve decided to focus our resources on product improvements for our users, accelerate our investments in technical infrastructure, and refocus our sales and marketing efforts on a small number of high-value countries. These investments ensure the long-term success of Waze and that we exit this pandemic stronger than we entered it.
I have always strived to maintain a transparent culture at Waze, so I want to share with you that in order to continue and accelerate our investment in Engineering and other technical positions, I have decided to close 30 roles in other parts of Waze. I’m sorry this email is coming over at such a late hour but I wanted to make sure we reached out to all impacted employees first.
At a high-level, these are the impacted areas:
Ads Sales Team: The Ads team will pare back and focus on the key markets that drive 93% of revenue and carry 95% of the KMDs we sell in. This means we will be closing the on-the-ground Sales offices in APAC (Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia) and smaller LATAM markets (Colombia, Argentina, Chile). We will continue servicing these countries via increased investments in Waze Local Starter, supported by our SMB teams in our main sales hubs.
Partnership Team: Uncertainty of back-to-work plans from our employer partners and with employees continuing to work from home means that we will be shrinking the Carpool Partnerships team. Our narrowed product focus also means we’ll reduce our product partnerships and private & public sector teams.
Marketing Team: The focus on fewer markets and adjustments in our partnership investments means that we will be reducing the size of the Marketing team.
Performance Marketing Team: We are making investments in Product to support our Growth efforts and are restructuring the Performance Marketing team to realign around these efforts.
Letting Wazers go is an extremely painful process for all of us. I want to make it clear that these reductions are being made due to the constraints created by the pandemic and to support investments in our focus areas, and not because of anyone’s actions or performance.
The leaving Wazers were a critical part of our growth up to now and it is important that we take care of those leaving as best we can. Our goal is to try and help as much as possible and ease this process for them. We’ve done our best to support those affected with a severance package that includes:
Career Transition: The Google Internal Mobility teams have been working with us and will help all impacted employees search for opportunities within Google.
Outplacement Services: We will be offering outplacement services to all impacted employees from the date of the notice through six month after employment.
Financial: Given the circumstances of the year, we have worked closely with the internal HR teams to ensure that everyone has been taken care of through early 2021 and will be eligible for year-end bonuses.
Healthcare: We are giving each impacted employee as many continued benefits as possible, in accordance with local law.
I ask that we all help in any way we can and support our colleagues, both in highlighting internal roles at Google that we may know about and external opportunities we may be aware of.
I want to thank all of the impacted team members — Waze has become what it is because of your contributions. These changes are happening due to a global pandemic, and none of this is your fault. We have no doubt that you will bring your talents to a new team and help them become even better, as you’ve done at Waze.