Calm, San Francisco wellness unicorn, lays off 20% of staff

Calm, the meditation and relaxation tech startup featuring a medley of celebrity voices, has laid off a fifth of its staff. The company is headquartered in San Francisco and employs around 400 people, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The affected employees were laid off Thursday, a company spokesperson told SFGATE. Laid-off employees were notified in one-on-one meetings, according to a company-wide message.

“While some of you will be impacted, all of you will be affected,” Calm CEO David Ko said in the message Thursday. “I can assure you that this was not an easy decision, but it is especially difficult for a company like ours whose mission is focused on workplace mental health and wellness.”

Calm, like direct competitor Headspace and digital therapy services like BetterHelp and Talkspace, capitalized on the recent uptick in demand for mental health care and wellness — a demand that was only intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. But Calm’s big draw over its competitors was its reliance on mega-celebrities, from boy-bander turned pop dreamboat Harry Styles to actor Matthew McConaughey, to read “sleep stories” on the platform.

By 2020, it was valued at $2 billion — making it one of the largest unicorns in the mental health tech space. But it, too, has been forced to pare back as a more-constrained tech industry has seen demand drop after profits — and hiring — soared during the pandemic.

“We did not come to this decision lightly, but are confident that these changes will help us prioritize the future, focus on growth and become a more efficient organization,” Ko said.

A spokesperson did not provide additional details on laid-off employees’ severance packages.

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