Edtech unicorn Udacity lays off 125 people in global strategy shift

Learning platform Udacity is to axe a big chunk of its workforce — which looks to be between a fifth and a quarter — as part of a global reorganization effort, according to VentureBeat.

It reports the company is cutting 125 staff from now through early 2019.

We’ve also heard from a source that around 100 Udacity staff have been laid off, with affected employees mostly in content, video and services.

We’ve reached out to the company for comment.

According to VentureBeat’s report the firm will close its office in São Paulo, Brazil, with the loss of 70 employees. The remaining cuts will come from departments in the US related to creating courses, it adds.

Two months ago we broke the news the company had quietly let go of 5% of its global workforce.

VentureBeat says now the layoffs will leave Udacity with 330 employees.

The edtech firm was one of the early providers of MOOCs, before low pass rates seemingly triggered a reprogramming of its business model, with Udacity refocusing on the tech space — offering so-called ‘nanodegrees’ in topics like AI and blockchain.

After that shift co-founder Sebastian Thrun stepped away as CEO, handing over to Vishal Makhijani. However the latest cuts come hard on the heels of a reversal of that, with VentureBeat noting Thrun took over day-to-day operations and the exec chairman role last month, following the departure of Makhijani.

Since then the board of directors and Thrun have voted to downsize portions of the company, it adds.

In another notable reversal this year, Udacity suspended a money back guarantee for people who completed a Plus tier nanocourse and couldn’t find a job, pressing pause around two years after it announced the guarantee.

Thrun told VentureBeat the guarantee remains on pause — with no decision yet taken whether to cancel it outright.

Update: A spokesperson has now sent the following statement, attributed to Thrun:

I founded Udacity so that everyone in the world could get a chance for an education. Today, we have 10 million registered students across more than 100 countries, 200 industry partnerships and strong revenue growth. Yet, for us to scale to the next level and take full advantage of the opportunity ahead, we need to realign our focus. To achieve this, the board and I have made the painful decision to part ways with 125 employees in the U.S. and Brazil over the next three months. We will increase our investments in growth areas like enterprise and career development. I am optimistic that Udacity is now set up to get to the next level of scale where more students can learn what they need to get the jobs they want to improve their lives.

Udacity’s Brazil office has also reached out to say it is not closing but rather downsizing staff by 50%, with 34 people being retained.

“Nothing changes for the students. The office based in São Paulo will remain serving the near 10,000 active students in the country,” added, Carlos Souza, director of Udacity Brazil, in a statement.

This report was updated with a correction after we originally stated that the money back program ran for a few months before being paused; Udacity told us it ran for more than two years 

TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec contributed to this report