SoftBank-Backed Zume Cuts 360 Jobs and Shuts Down Robotic Pizza Business to Prioritize Food Packaging

by | Jun 3, 2023 | General News

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.

Here is Garden’s full letter to staff:

Dear Zume Team Members,

Since Zume was founded nearly five years ago, we have been blessed with an opportunity to invent brave and innovative solutions intended to improve our global food system. Ours is a broad agenda including new methods to produce food, deliver it, and package it in increasingly sustainable ways. Today our mission is the same, and requires the same bold thinking, but with increased focus.

Our 2020 strategic plan is weighted to strongly support our growing Zume Source Packaging business and to increase our ability to provide companies around the world with sustainable alternatives to plastic. This focus, along with other changes to our priorities, means we must significantly modify the structure of our company.

As we move forward with this new strategy, many of the current roles at Zume no longer exist and we regret we must say goodbye to a number of our valued friends and fellow Zumers. These decisions were incredibly difficult, as we could not have reached our current success without the talents of these same people. We have done everything we reasonably can as a company to offer exit packages that will ease the transition of our impacted employees to the next phase in their careers.

Zume was founded on a clear mission to engineer a more sustainable food system. Our mission has not changed. We are still providing solutions which allow our partners to improve their sustainability and their margins at the same time.

How Zume is doing this:

In Zume Source Packaging we are doubling down on our market-leading innovations in compostable molded-fiber packaging. We will expand facilities and manufacturing capabilities in the USA, India and other global markets so that we can meet the tremendous demand for our products and solutions in this important space.

In Zume Forward Mobile we will continue to provide food production and delivery systems, which help restaurants and food brands improve the delivery process and bring food closer to their customers.

About Zume Pizza… With admiration and sadness, we are closing Zume Pizza today. Over the last four years this business has been our invention test bed and has been our inspiration for many of the growth businesses we have at Zume today.

Zume R&D. Zume will continue to invest in key R&D efforts across our portfolio.

I want to thank you all for your patience as we set our course for this year and beyond. After much discussion with leadership, our Board, and our Investors, we have a clear path to provide what the market wants and what the world needs – a more sustainable food future.

Please be sure to attend today’s All-Hands in-person in the specific room to which you were invited so that we can further discuss these changes.

With respect and compassion,


by: Jill Madison

by: Jill Madison

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.
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