This is the second round of layoffs by the conversational automation start-up which became a unicorn in February 2022 after raising $400 million
Conversational automation company Uniphore Technologies has joined the growing line of start-ups handing out pink slips to their employees. The Chennai and California-based company reportedly laid off 10 per cent of its almost 760-strong global workforce in mid-December 2022.
This is the second time the company has let go of people; it had fired around 35 employees in June 2022, a source familiar with the situation informed Outlook Start-Up.
Following that, Uniphore’s India operations comprised 227 employees in Bengaluru and 90 in Chennai, while its US office (excluding Canada) had 296. It also has operations in Europe, Israel, the Middle East and parts of Asia, which have been affected by the recent layoffs.
Talking on the condition of anonymity, the source revealed that almost the entire talent acquisition, marketing and employee engagement team in India as well as the partner program, operations business and workplace experience team in the US were asked to leave along with some product engineers. One employee from its three-person business in the Middle East too was fired.
“The Vietnam business has been shut and they are winding down the Singapore operations. Co-founder Ravi Saraogi, who is based in Singapore, is expected to move back to India soon,” the source said.
Founded by Umesh Sachdev and Saraogi in 2008, Uniphore raised $400 million in a Series E round at a valuation of $2.5 billion in February 2022. The funding round was led by American venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates and saw the participation of investors like March Capital, Sanabil Investments and Sorenson Capital Partners.
In August 2019, Uniphore raised $51 million in a Series C round led by March Capital Partners and with participation from Chiratae, Sistema Asia, CXO Fund, Iron Pillar and the Patni family.
The capital infusion in 2022 propelled the company into the unicorn club in a year when start-ups were struggling to raise funds as investors asked tough questions about their path to profitability. In a press statement, the company claimed that it planned to use the fresh funds to improve voice artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision and tonal emotion and to expand its business operations globally, specifically in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific.
However, the source claimed that the company made several missteps, including lavish expenditures like a sales kick-off event last year where over 200 employees across various divisions were flown into Mexico.
The biggest casualty was reportedly the company’s limited clientele, who did not appear confident about making payments given the long deployment cycles. This, coupled with a limited product portfolio, has made existing clients wary about technology implements as they are concerned that the global recessionary trends will soon impact India.
Uniphore launched Q for Sales which, it claimed, is an enterprise-level solution equipping sales organisations with an emotional intelligence (EQ) based solution to drive engaging customer interactions and outcomes. However, the source revealed that the company does not have a single paying customer for this software as a service product.
“The next round of layoff is likely to take place by April 2023 and will impact the team working on the Q for Sales product, which apparently has no paying customers, though I am unsure about its beta version,” the source noted, adding that consolidation in the sales team is also expected with those currently selling Uniphore’s U-Self Serve, U-Assist and U-Analyze product range selling the Q for Sales, since there are not many takers for U product series.
A major reason for customer reticence is apparently the long deployment cycle, ranging from two to six months. Many clients insist on paying only after the product implementation, which put a strain on the company’s financials.
Uniphore had also started a product called Beehive, reportedly shelved in December 2022 as part of the company’s cost-saving measures. Interestingly, the company has finalised the acquisition of UK-based voice technology company Redbox and is expected to announce this in January 2023.
An email sent to Sachdev was unanswered till the time of publishing this article.