Zume, a startup supported by SoftBank, is undergoing significant changes as it lays off 360 employees, which accounts for approximately 50 percent of its workforce. The company has decided to close its robotic pizza business in order to shift its focus toward food packaging. This development adds to the series of setbacks faced by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, as several of its portfolio companies have recently announced layoffs and executive shake-ups. Just this week, Getaround, a car rental company backed by SoftBank, laid off around 150 employees, equivalent to one-quarter of its staff. Moreover, SoftBank has faced disappointing performances from major investments like Uber and WeWork, with the latter’s initial public offering being put on hold last year.
In 2018, SoftBank invested $375 million in Zume, granting the startup a valuation of $1 billion. Prior to this investment, Zume’s value was a mere $218 million, having raised a total of $71 million, according to Pitchbook data. Like other startups backed by SoftBank, Zume utilized the capital infusion to rapidly expand its operations and increase its workforce. However, in the past year, investor sentiment has shifted from a focus on “growth at any cost” to a more discerning emphasis on achieving profitability.
CNBC interviewed Zume CEO and founder Alex Garden, who acknowledged that the changes being implemented were challenging for the startup. Garden revealed that Zume is creating 100 new positions in its Source Packaging unit, allowing affected employees to reapply for these roles. Pizza Hut has already conducted limited tests with Zume’s round boxes. The startup’s packaging, protected by several patents, is made from sustainably harvested plant fiber and is industrially compostable.
Garden shared his initial impression of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, the visionary behind the $100 billion Vision Fund, stating that he found Son to be an inspiring figure. According to Garden, Son’s sole objective is to enhance people’s lives, which strongly resonated with Zume’s own vision and mission.
Raised in New York City by parents who are electrical engineers, Jill was easy prey for entry into the field of electrical engineering, where she worked on designing engine control systems for a number of large auto manufacturers. She developed an "interest" in robotics during this period of time and decided to fuel her interest by reporting on the topic.