Ironically, the social app IRL‘s users do not exist in real life.
An internal investigation by IRL’s board of directors found that 95% of the app’s reported 20 million users were “automated or from bots,” The Information first reported. So, after raising more than $200 million in venture capital, IRL is shutting down.
IRL was poised to become an event organizing alternative for Gen Z, who are using Facebook less and less. But after raising its SoftBank-led $170 million Series C round at a $1.17 billion valuation, the company’s internal troubles became more obvious.
Last year, IRL laid off 25% of its team, or around 25 employees. During the year prior, IRL had more than tripled its head count, so these cuts came as a surprise. In a note to employees, obtained by TechCrunch, former CEO and founder Abraham Shafi encouraged employees to “adapt” and “be disciplined,” citing that WhatsApp grew to 450 million users with a team of just 55.
“Becoming one of these iconic, impactful companies is akin to winning a gold medal in the Olympics. In fact, probably more challenging,” Shafi wrote in the memo, which was full of similarly outlandish analogies. “Like the Olympics, we know most people don’t want to be Olympians. In the same way, not everyone will want to walk the path we are walking. But for those that want to push their limits and find out what they are capable of, this culture is for you.”
In that same memo, Shafi said the company had “more than enough cash to last well into 2024.” An IRL employee told TechCrunch then that the company had more than $100 million in the bank. Though it’s unknown how much money IRL has left now, a company spokesperson told The Information that it would return its capital to shareholders.
Around the same time as these layoffs, IRL employees started doubting Shafi’s claim that the app had 20 million monthly active users; then the SEC began investigating whether IRL violated securities laws. By April, IRL’s board of directors suspended Shafi and appointed an acting CEO.
TechCrunch attempted to contact Shafi, as well as another IRL employee. Both of their IRL email addresses have been disabled.