Esport News – Sources: Unrest at DOJO Madness amid layoffs and project closures
Esports data startup DOJO Madness is in a bad state, according to sources close to the situation that requested anonymity.
Up until August of this year, DOJO Madness had been working on three projects: intelligent gaming assistant Zack, SaaS data platform Shadow.gg, and esports data company Bayes. Zack has since been abandoned and around 20 employees have been laid off. Former employees’ notices ran out on October 1st, according to sources close to the situation.
The company – which counts serial esports entrepreneur Jens Hilgers amongst its co-founders – has struggled to raise money in funding rounds, sources have informed Esports Insider. The board is said to be unhappy with the company after it tried to raise funds at a lower valuation than its previous rounds.
Despite a three-month notice period being specified in some contracts, staff members had generally only been given a single month of notice in August. The company presented fully-written termination letters just a day after the board decided to shut down operations on the project.
DOJO Madness was founded in February 2015 by Markus Fuhrmann, Christian Gruber, and Hilgers.
Behind the scenes at DOJO Madness
One source, who requested anonymity, divulged to Esports Insider the C-level staff at DOJO Madness would make decisions that contradicted – or flat-out ignored – the rest of the employees. If you weren’t part of that exclusive club then you were “eligible to be treated like trash. They liked to preach openness and transparency all the time but never lived up to it.”
The red flags about incompetence and tribalism started around two years ago, according to multiple sources. “It always felt like it was us against them,” one said. The same source went on to explain the first major problem that occurred involving them at the Berlin-based company.
“As a team, we came to a consensus on how to do this particular project. At the start of the process, it was very rudimentary. It didn’t visually look great. One of the C-level guys sent out a mass email on a Friday at 3:00pm explaining that they were deleting everything related to that project. Eight developers were working on this product but the leader said it was not up to the visual standards that they wanted and under no circumstances will we continue to develop this as it looks right now.”
“The same day, everyone was walking down the hallway after this email was sent in,” the source continued. “Different people in different positions of power were angrily walking to the CEO and demanding action on this, saying it is absolutely unacceptable. A third of the company was shut down for half a day. They acknowledged that they owed us an apology but there was just dead silence, I was right there looking at them. They just sat there hiding from responsibility.”
This would only prove to be the tip of the iceberg when it came to project-specific issues, however. There was an initial layoff period where four product designers were laid off. Excuses were said to be made as to why these staff members were no longer required, without “any background research or communication” to find out their actual roles in the company. It was eventually put down to it being a “change to the business model” for a specific product.
One source explained that a C-level employee said, “now that we fired half the team, we’re breaking even because those people cost too much.”
DOJO Madness had three main products. Firing up to four people resulted in one product losing half of its workforce. Another layoff followed in the coming months, however, and actually resulted in an entire product being canned – though, this came only after an onslaught of alleged improper treatment of staff.
One of the product leads at the company regularly acted in a less-than-exemplary manner, sources said. “He would do so many fucked up things, from blatant sexist comments to arguing facts to telling a member of staff that another company would have nothing to gain from her moving there.”
The same person is said to display a constant bias against female employees, even seemingly refusing to remember their names after months of them working there. He’d refer to employees as “the redhead girl,” despite her being under employment at DOJO Madness for around six months at the time. He’d not learn the person’s name – or even their role – he’d simply refer to them by how they dressed or looked. He had no issue with remember the names of male employees, however.
“He was having a talk with the two women we had in marketing, he wanted some data – like how many people did something in a campaign,” explained one source. “One of them thought it wasn’t really relevant considering the task he had to do, and then he started aggressively screaming at her saying ‘I demand you to give me this data right now!’”
“He really hated product designers because they would speak their minds all the time – they have to, first of all, be critical thinkers and question everything they do along the way. He would just always shut it down and be very dismissive, very aggressive. He would take everything personally. Even if you’re in a meeting and you’re not the happiest or the most enthusiastic about his idea, you would get a talking to after the meeting. He did this to me multiple times. I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety and he once told me after a meeting that I wasn’t happy enough and I had to go home,” a source told ESI.
In the months leading up to the eventual mass layoff, the company held an event where all of the employees engaged in an activity together. A high-level staff member, during the event, explained how things were going at DOJO Madness and that it had money until February 2020. He talked about each product individually, speaking on their merits and potential downfalls.
The week after, the first layoff happened “on the spot,” a source close to the situation said. They said that the employee had a quarterly feedback meeting and at the end, they told him that he should “think about how you want to leave the company.”
A matter of days later, the CEO walked around the whole office and asked, “does everyone have time for a quick meeting?” A source explains that they were fired and were told that “the investors don’t like the product anymore, we have to let all of you go.”
Employees in all roles – from developers to designers – were given a month’s notice. They had to line up outside of the Human Resources office and wait to sign termination papers. “Someone from the finance department would escort you to your desk so you can clean it up and not steal anything,” explained one source.
From the details above, it’s apparent that the environment at DOJO Madness wasn’t the healthiest – and coupled with the knowledge that it’s down-scaling its operations – it’s hard to see longevity in the pipeline for the company.
Esports Insider reached out to DOJO Madness for comment but didn’t receive a response.
Based on conversations between Esports Insider and former DOJO Madness employees, this story includes information from sources who wished to remain anonymous but wanted to bring these allegations to light.
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