Game payment company Xsolla is reportedly planning to lay off 150 people for being “unengaged and unproductive.” CEO and founder, Aleksandr Agapitov later wrote on Twitter, “Work your fucking ass off or get your fucking ass out.”
It’s a big old mess made more complicated by the CEO’s continued follow-up remarks that both seem to backtrack and double down on the initial announcement. The only thing that’s rocksolid is that Agapitov sounds like a real shitty person to work for.
Xsolla is a payment company that pitches itself specifically to game developers and is used on platforms like Valve and Epic Game Store, as well as big gaming clients like Magic: The Gathering Arena. So how did its CEO go from obscure business figure to Bioshock villain?
A quick rundown:
- A bizarre email written by Agapitov notifying certain employees they were being laid off leaked on August 3. According to a translation by Game World Observer, the CEO said his “big data team” had analyzed their remote activity in chats, documents, and other software and determined they were “not always present.” “Many of you might be shocked, but I truly believe that Xsolla is not for you,” it read.
- In a follow-up to website App2Top he reportedly said that the choices were difficult ones, but that those being laid off would get compensation packages and help from HR finding new jobs.
- Meanwhile, the initial email exploded on social media because of the weird tone and the fact that the layoffs were based on spying on employees. While many employers are able to monitor communications of their employees—the ever-popular Slack stands for ‘searchable log of all conversation and knowledge’—most companies aren’t quite this egregious about that ability.
- On August 4, Game World Observer reported Agapitov held a press conference on his Facebook page to follow up on the fallout. There he reportedly said the cuts were due to slowing company growth and the need to slash payroll by 10%. To do that, he targeted employees with the “lowest performance metrics.”
- After the call Agapitov elaborated on Twitter, writing “Work your fucking ass off or get your fucking ass out.”
- According to Forbes Russia, however, some of the 150 employees might not be laid off after all.
- Agapitov went on to share a post from someone on Facebook praising his decision to lay off allegedly lazy workers. “A friend of mine from a large corporation says that according to his feelings only half of them are working—the rest are drinking coffee and lying in massage chairs, sometimes distracting themselves with work,” part of it read based on a translation by Kotaku. CEOs got to CEO, you know?
- In a long interview with Meduza published today, Agapitov said the idea to lay people off came from Silicon Valley. “The idea is not new, we have been discussing it for over a year. We looked at what Netflix, Harvard, and the Navy Seals have—they constantly remove the bottom 10% [in terms of efficiency] and thus constantly improve the quality of human capital,” he said based on a translation by Kotaku. He added that the company plans to do it again every six months if it’s not growing fast enough.
Agapitov did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There’s been some debate over whether what Xsollar did is even legal. A Russian HR expert told Game World Observer that using data and AI to surveil workers doesn’t violate employees’ rights in that country. Of course, for any potential Xsollar employees in the US or other countries, that could be different depending on the precise methods it actually used. Regardless, it’s important to remember that the apparent parasites leaching off Xsollar’s bottomline were still doing enough work for the company’s revenues to continue growing year after year. Agapitov just wanted them to generate even more profit. He sounds like a real cool dude.
Update - 10:55 a.m. ET, 8/9/21: In an email to Kotaku, Xsolla president Chris Hewish defended Agapitov’s harsh tweet as a reference to a “catchphrase thought to be attributed to a famous Russian entrepreneur named Evgeny Chichvarkin.”
As for the layoffs, Hewish said the people affected were either “redundant” or “not crucial” to the business. “We hired aggressively during the pandemic, and we are still growing and wanted to realign after two successful years based on our current goal trajectories,” he wrote. “Xsolla values all of our employees and their contributions to the company. All of our employees are compensated competitively for their respective positions.”