So Jason Calacanis has brought down the hammer on some employees at Mahalo, his “people-powered search” startup — and took the extraordinary step of returning to blogging momentarily to announce the news, after having made a big show of turning his back on it. In typical Jason fashion, he even included what is becoming a kind of blogosphere in-joke: The headline of his post is “Tough times; hard decisions,” a wording that Techmeme’s Gabe Rivera notes is becoming a recurring theme. And if you think Jason didn’t know that, then you don’t know Jason Calacanis.
The cuts at Mahalo aren’t really that surprising, given Jason’s widely-circulated email newsletter about how the downturn is going to hit startups hard (something Ashkan of WatchMojo thinks was a clear sign layoffs were coming at Mahalo). But how many people did he actually cut, and why? That’s a murky question indeed. Some reports said 30 per cent of the staff were shown the door, and Nick Carlson at Silicon Alley Insider said 11 out of 20 (or maybe 25), which is closer to 50 per cent. TechCrunch said 10 per cent, which is the number Jason uses.
But it’s worth wondering just who is included in those staffing numbers. It’s not clear, for example, whether they include the 20-odd people working in the Manila office in the Philippines, the ones Allen Stern of Centernetworks mentions in his post (complete with a photo, which now appears to have been removed from Flickr). Some sources say that the number of full-time paid employees has been cut by 50 per cent, leaving a small number along with unpaid volunteers and freelancers on contract.
Regardless of the number, is it enough to get Mahalo the kind of scale that will make it a viable search site? I think Ash has a point when he says that the company’s current strategy pretty much consists of trying to whip together links and a blurb about whatever is hot on Google Trends, and then hope that Google indexes it quickly and it shows up high in search results. Is that a viable strategy? I confess that I don’t really know.
Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch has posted the text of Jason’s email newsletter, despite the fact that the email specifically says “Do Not Reprint.” As Erick notes in a comment on his post: “He is the CEO of a startup that just went through a layoff today, and he emailed his thoughts on the matter to almost 9,000 people. This is not a private email.” Jason then steps in to ask that it be taken down, and threatens to send a DMCA takedown notice to TechCrunch’s ISP (something he has reportedly done to others in the past for similar reasons). Mike Arrington’s response is here.