India’s Fastest Unicorn Mensa Lays Off Employees

[Update: Mensa has claimed that the number of laid off employees is around 30, and only from the ILN division. “ILN is committed to providing the best content to its consumers and industry-leading services to its client partners,” a Mensa spokesperson said. “To enhance efficiency post integration, we restructured some teams that impacted a few positions. This activity affected less than 30 team members in ILN and there have been no layoffs in other parts of Mensa. We are fully dedicated to supporting those affected by providing each of them up to 3 months salary, extended health insurance and support in finding new roles,” they added. The original article follows.]

After the heady times of the last few years, all manner of startups are now coming crashing back to reality.

India’s fastest unicorn Mensa Brands has fired 200 employees across divisions, Moneycontrol reports. The bulks of the layoffs were at India Lifestyle Network (ILN) which runs brands like MensXP, iDiva and others. Mensa had acquired ILN in December 2022 from Times Internet. Mensa had 750-800 employees prior to the layoffs.

“Employees from ILN were called for a one-on-one session with the human resource (HR) executives and were asked to leave the very next day,” a source said. “While some employees were fortunate enough to get two months’ pay as compensation, a chunk of them were paid only one month’s salaries and asked to leave,” they added. The layoffs come after Mensa CEO Ananth Narayanan had reportedly assured employees that they wouldn’t be laid off when the acquisition talks were taking place.

Mensa had been founded in May 2021 by former Myntra CEO Ananth Narayanan, and had attained a $1 billion valuation just 6 months later. Mensa had thus become the fastest Indian startup to have become a unicorn, breaking the record of hiring app Apna, which had become a unicorn 21 months after being founded. Mensa hadn’t waited on its heels, and had quickly acquired at least 17 companies between October 2021 and December 2022.

Acquiring several companies is a model Mensa operates on. Mensa is a roll-up brand of brands, which runs several direct-to-consumer brands under a single umbrella. Mensa Brands utilizes its expertise in fields like SEO, digital marketing and branding to help all sub-brands grow, and is able to share costs and learnings across companies.

But as the post-Covid frenzy has abated, Mensa has also reportedly slowed down the pace of its acquisitions. It’s now gone ahead and fired nearly a quarter of its workforce. This is a story that’s now been repeated dozens of times — startups had grown a bit too rapidly for their own good over the last few years, and as the funding environment has cooled, are having to reassess and rationalize their operations. And as Mensa’s latest layoffs show, even record-breaking startups aren’t immune from the current funding slowdown.