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This company just raised millions to make tech layoffs more humane

Continuum is a venture-backed bet on fractional work, and, better yet, that founders want to show humanity during moments of crisis. The company, launched by CEO Nolan Church in August 2020, started as a play to connect startups to part-time executive help. Now, it has expand to help struggling tech companies cut staff in a more humane, thoughtful way.

“If you really think about where these have gone wrong, all you have to do is look at Better.com,” said Church during an interview with TechCrunch. “The CEO talks about himself, does the mass firing on Zoom, no individual communication…a total disaster.” (No kidding). 

Instead Church thinks conducting layoffs is “really not that hard to get right” if a founder is focused on the right things. He’s talking from experience: The founder was the chief people officer at Carta when the company laid off 13% of the company in April 2020. During that cut, Carta CEO Henry Ward took ultimate ownership of the layoffs, a key messaging move that Church pointed out.

To take that lesson and scale it, Church is launching a new product, available today, that will connect leadership teams to an HR executive who will help craft a company communications plan, a diversity and impact analysis, and day-of support in conducting the layoffs.

Alongside layoff support, Continuum offers executive help on a variety of use cases, from compensation strategy to talent acquisitions. Think of it as a two-sided marketplace: Continuum brings together executives with experience from VC-backed companies, including leaders from Tesla, Plaid, Intercom, Snap, Carta and Twitch, and connects them with companies that need help with a specific challenge or pivot.

The company claims that within 48 hours, a customer will be matched with an executive who has previously solved that exact problem. All payments are handled by Continuum, including contracts, invoices, payouts and taxes of the part-time executive.

With the layoff product, each startup gets one hour of consultation for free, and then pricing is based on the size of a company’s current headcount. If there are between 20 to 100 full-time employees at a business, it costs a one-time $10,000 fee to cut any number of employees. If a startup is between 100 to 250 full-time employees, any workforce reduction will cost $20,000.

If a founder can’t afford to have employees, can they really manage a subscription that helps the inevitable workforce reduction go smoother? Buying yet another SaaS tool or consultant service may feel like a nice to have, versus a need to have, depending on how good Continuum's sales team is.

“We're talking about a very marginal cost to be able to maintain your brand, your reputation and your going-forward culture,” Church said. “If you run a layoff poorly, you still have a team that you have to re-motivate and orient on where the future is going for the company.” Future success, the founder thinks, is worth the “little bit of money” behind the investment.

The broader goal of Continuum also hinges on early-stage startups getting more comfortable with the idea of part-time executives. Church thinks that the recession will accelerate the trend of startups relying more on contractors, consultants, advisors and angel investors to be contributors to a company. Part-time workers help mitigate risk, fill in key gaps during crucial moments and cost less money to add on when a company is trying to focus on sustainable growth.

“I think it’s going to look like 60% full-time employees and 40% fractional employees, versus 95% full-time and 5% fractional today,” he said.

Additionally, the challenge with any marketplace is quality assurance, especially when demand scales. Right now, Continuum says less than 1% of executive applicants are accepted. Yet, if the layoff product sticks or fractional work becomes more popular, how can the company quickly find a set of highly qualified former executives to take on this gig?

Church pointed out that most executives and operators in the early-stage startup world have only lived through a bear market, at least while in a leadership role, and the same might be true for the talent that they attract. The company could find itself needing to train executives on how to be better about layoffs, and then let those executives train customers.

Despite the challenges, it’s Continuum’s ambitious end-to-end vision that helped the startup land a $12 million Series A led by Pelion Ventures with participation from Uncork Capital, Day One Ventures and angel investors including the CEOs of DoorDash, Divvy and Thumbtack.

The company declined to disclose valuation.

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