Broad Ripple tech firm lays off a third of its workforce in cost-cutting move

Indianapolis-based Odyssey Media Group Inc. laid off 55 people across its local and New York offices last week in a cost-cutting move related to internal technology troubles, CEO Evan Burns confirmed Monday.

Odyssey employed roughly 160 people before the job cuts, which took place Feb. 1. Only 20 percent of the layoffs, or 11 cuts, came at its local office in Broad Ripple, which previously employed about 45 people.

BurnsEvan Burns

The development comes less than a year after the company raised $25 million in venture capital from a cohort of national investors, marking the largest VC haul for an Indiana-based company in 2016.

The business model and growth metrics that have attracted investors so far is still intact, Burns said. But a crucial technology platform revamp didn't go as planned last year, so the company opted to rein in costs until that's completed.

"Last year, as we continued to scale our audience, the original technology and infrastructure we built basically wasn't able to handle the load of how big the site was getting," Burns said. "We went from zero to 30 million monthly active users in less than two years."

He added: "The board of directors and management made a decision to cut back on costs until we could get this rebuilt and out, which will allow us to scale past this 18-25 age group that we're in right now."

Odyssey runs a popular millennial-focused website that crowdsources articles from mostly student writers, racking up tens of millions of page views in the process and selling those views to advertisers. Headlines on the site include "Four [Game of Thrones] Characters You'll Want as a Roommate" and "I Live Where You Vacation."

Most of the job cuts were in editorial, specifically the paid employees who edit content submitted by Odyssey's network of 15,000 freelance writers. The company also made changes to its technology leadership, Burns said.

He said some elements of the tech platform overhaul should be complete in the next few months, but that he couldn't peg a specific date for the completion of all components.

He said there's demand among readers and contributors for the site to produce content for people above the 18- to 25-year-old age range, and average website engagement, about eight minutes now, continues to swell.

"We need to have a foundation that can support a 30-story building, not a five-story building, and that's what we're working on right now," Burns said. "That should have happened last year, not this year."

The company in 2015 hashed out a deal with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to employ 114 Hoosiers by the end of 2017. Those targets were in exchange for up to $570,000 in conditional tax credits and up to $30,000 in training grants.

Companies can only claim those credits once the hires are made, and IEDC usually allows firms to obtain the maximum amount of credits if they meet their objections after the target date. Burns said he doesn't know if Odyssey can meet the 114-job target by this year, but signaled that he's optimistic in the long run.

"We went from having 1.5 million people on our site to about 30 million in 15 months," he said. "So that type of growth can totally fulfill employee growth numbers quite easily."

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