Circles.Life denies allegations of toxic work culture, internal politics & recent layoff

They also denied that co-founder Abhishek Gupta's role has been reduced.

Julia Yee | July 11, 2023, 04:28 PM

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Circles.Life, the Singapore-based digital telco, has denied media reports of recent scandals in relation to their workplace culture and recent layoff.

News first broke when Campaign Asia  reported that the company had undergone another layoff, letting go about 20 to 30 staff members, mostly from its Singapore headquarters, after a layoff in May.

Days later, The Straits Times also heard from sources that the co-founder Abhishek Gupta had stepped down from the management team.

In a statement to Mothership, Circles.Life responded:

"The news in the media is untrue".

What was reported?

Circles.Life previously went through a round of layoffs in 2020.

Back then, a spokesperson for the company told The Business Times that less than five per cent of its global headcount had been made redundant.

"This is nothing out of the ordinary, given the fast-paced nature of the organisation. There are bound to be some changes along the way as we expand."

Sources revealed to Campaign Asia that the latest round of layoffs seem to be cost-cutting in nature.

Most of the company's financial woes were attributed to its cloud platform, Circles X.

Circles.Life co-founder Rameez Ansar said in a September 2022 interview that the company expects to draw half of its revenue from the Circles X platform business by 2023.

But the partnership deals they expected to secure have failed to close, leading to an alleged loss of confidence in Circles X and prompting the need for cost-cutting measures, reported Campaign Asia.

Employees complained about toxic work environment

According to recent Pigeonhole screenshots from a recent townhall obtained by Campaign Asia, disgruntled Circles.Life employees also voiced a sore lack of communication and work-life-balance within the organisation.

Some called for a greater transparency regarding layoffs.

Campaign Asia's sources said that there was a "complete communication breakdown from senior management about how the company plans to deal with diminishing manpower and the lack of clarity around layoffs."

One anonymous comment griped that the townhall presentation was "full of management consulting mumbo jumbo without real concrete actions".

Another indicated that the threat of being axed scared people into keeping mum about any discontent.

"Do the leaders think that we have the type of environment where people feel safe to flag issues or toxic behaviour? Note: a large number of people have just been removed..."

Other employees also called to question the unreasonable workload put upon the remaining workers.

Image via Campaign Asia.

Other alleged incidents included "aggressive behaviour such as table-slamming, alcohol-induced misconduct, and the imposition of unreasonable work demands and timelines", sources involved in the recent layoff told Campaign Asia.

When Mothership asked Circles.Life to confirm these Pigeonhole responses were indeed from Circles.Life employees, we did not receive a reply to this question.

Company politics

Campaign Asia also highlighted the departure of two senior hires.

Circles.Life's former chief financial officer Mak Chee Kiong left the company in February 2023, while former chief growth officer Nelson Allen left in June 2023.

When they first went onboard, their inductions supposedly signalled a shift in internal politics, with Allen's experience in Samsung, Microsoft, and Expedia, and Mak being the former Chief Finance Officer of Singtel’s digital life group. 

Allen was described to be one of the "visionary leaders" who will further fuel Circles.Life's global expansion, according to a press release published in February 2022.

Campaign Asia reported that Allen and Mak were forced out after existing senior employees felt threatened, adding that their  performance reviews merely said that they were "not a good cultural fit".

Circles.Life denies reported allegations

The company has, however, denied all allegations and the layoffs.

"We are a people-focused organisation and conduct frequent employee engagement feedback to proactively keep a pulse check of our employees’ satisfaction and well-being," Circles.Life told Campaign Asia.

"Additionally, we also work closely with any Circles employees who may need support for a career transition and continue to hire new talents whose purpose and values are aligned with our company’s vision."

In response to Mothership, a Circles.Life spokesperson assured that the levels of recruitment and employee turnover has been "consistent", and they are "going strong in recruitment and have a number of exciting roles publicly open across [their] geographies".

Circles.Life also revealed that the global headcount stands at over 600 as of the first half of 2023 and that is "marginally higher than the start of the year".

The spokesperson added that the company is "well capitalized (sic)" and will "continue to be focused on our business and progressing fast on the expansion of our footprint as you might have seen in the recent news".

Denies report about co-founder Abhishek Gupta stepping down

In the midst of all the drama, sources told The Straits Times (ST) that the start-up's co-founder Abhishek Gupta is stepping down from his management duties to assume a non-executive role.

This was, however, again denied by a Circles.Life spokesperson who told Mothership that Gupta "remains a co-founder and retains title since formation and is strongly vested in its business".

In the statement to Mothership, the spokesperson also concluded that "2023 is an exciting year" for them as the company continues to expand their business.

Top image via Circles.Life LinkedIn