The future was bright for Amplero. The Seattle marketing tech startup entered 2020 with positive momentum and plans to nearly triple its revenue.
But then the COVID-19 outbreak brought the economy to a standstill. Amplero’s customer pipeline suddenly dried up. And now the company is shutting down.
Amplero will lay off 17 employees and wind down its business over the next few weeks, Amplero CEO Jamie Miller confirmed in a phone interview with GeekWire on Sunday.
Amplero spun out of Globys in 2016 with its AI-based marketing tools that help companies optimize customer interaction and loyalty. It raised about $25 million from investors including Greycroft Partners and Ignition Partners, including a $17.5 million Series B round in August 2017.
Many of Amplero’s customers come from industries such as retail, financial services, and travel — some of the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis. Companies are trimming their marketing budgets as they look to cut expenses.
Amplero let go of an additional five employees last month.
“We’re sort of the canary in the coal mine,” Miller said, hinting that there is trouble ahead for other marketing tech firms.
“I would bet that there are unfortunately a lot of startups in our situation that have found it almost impossible to create transactions in the marketplace,” he added.
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Layoffs are already hitting tech companies hard amid the COVID-19 outbreak and uncertain future. Leafly, an online cannabis brand based in Seattle, let 91 employees go last week, while AI writing startup Textio laid off 30 people. Co-working startup The Riveter and clothing rental service Armoire temporarily furloughed employees.
Applications for unemployment benefits in Washington state surged 843% last week. There were 133,478 Washington residents who applied for the program over that time period. That’s up more than nine times higher from the week prior.
Miller thinks the economy is months, not weeks, away from returning to any sort of normalcy.
“The idea that we could have done something reasonable to work a little bit leaner — I don’t see that happening,” he said. “The core of the problem is that the market has gone away and won’t be back for a while. Unless you are freshly financed or profitable, you’ve got to make sure you have the endurance to make it through whatever this period is.”
Amplero, a GeekWire Startup of the Year nominee in 2018, also had ongoing acquisition and fundraising conversations that quickly came to a halt once the economy slowed.
“Everything just shrunk all at once,” said Miller, a 25-year startup veteran. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”
Miller said the company will “return what we can to investors” and try to help its employees find new homes.
“I’m proud of almost every dimension of this business,” Miller said. “This is a very efficient company. I don’t know what else we could have done.”
Miller replaced founder Olly Downs as CEO in 2018. He was previously an entrepreneur-in-residence at Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs. Miller helped start the content and connected services business at Tesla competitor Faraday Future. Before that, he spent several years leading thePlatform, a video startup that Comcast acquired in 2016. Downs is now an executive at Zulily.