INSIDE MEDIUM’S MELTDOWN: How an idealistic Silicon Valley founder raised $134 million to change journalism, then crashed into reality
By Julie Bort
Feb 10 2017
Four days into 2017, Medium’s employees came to work and were told that one-third of them, 50 people, were fired.
They were shocked. Their adored boss, billionaire CEO Ev Williams, best known as the cofounder of Twitter, seemed to care so deeply for each of them.
But he told the world about the layoff in a blog post even before all the people who lost their jobs were informed, a former employee tells Business Insider.
Some of them found out through industry buzz that they had lost their jobs, one person told us.
“It comes down to how dysfunctional the place was,” one former employee told Business Insider. This person said that before they were let go, Medium was a “dream job.”
Medium, a blogging and publishing site, gained instant fame when it was launched in 2012 because of its well-known founder. Williams said its mission was to fix what he viewed as the broken world of journalism and create a new model.
But this latest change in its business plan — the company’s second — burnt some people so badly that industry insiders have growing doubts about Williams’ business judgment and are starting to say the company is his vanity project.
In his post announcing the layoffs, Williams said the business model Medium had been pursuing, advertisement-driven media, was to blame for “misinformation,” and that Medium would no longer sell ads or help the publishers it hosted on its site with ad revenue, and therefore it no longer needed the people it had hired to work in those areas.
He was in search of a new business model.
As with the lack of communication with employees, some advertisers weren’t told in advance about the change of plans either, and they were upset.
And the move infuriated some of Medium’s publishers, who were not warned and had bet their livelihoods on Medium and the business model Williams was ditching. This model involved Medium cutting them a check every month — a guaranteed minimum payment — and helping them sell ads. That was over.
These people were now on their own to move to a new publishing platform if they so chose. For publications not backed by venture investments or rich owners who could afford to lose revenue, this meant a bleak future.
“I like Ev. He’s persnickety,” one publisher told Business Insider. “His ideas are interesting, and he does surprise me with his thinking. He likes people who make things, including writers. I did not think he would just pull the plug on publishing and start f—ing people. But instead he’s like, ‘Your contract is up in a while, and good luck. And I’m going to fire a bunch of people.'”
Business Insider interviewed six people from all aspects of Medium’s business, including former employees and customers. We sent Medium an exhaustive list with the information in this story. The company declined to comment, did not respond to multiple follow-up emails, and declined to make Williams available for an interview.