Talent   //   April 18, 2023

Google laid them off, so they stuck together to form new initiatives

In January, Google laid off approximately 12,000 people, its largest layoff ever. Now other businesses are benefitting from an influx – and in some cases entire teams – of former Google talent.

Google paid employees during the full notification period and offered a severance package starting at 16 weeks’ salary, and six months of healthcare. That afforded people some time to decide what they wanted to do next. 

Jason Downie, Google’s former director of global client and agency solutions, data/tech, didn’t sit still for long. 

“I had the seven stages of grief every single day for a week after the layoffs,” said Downie. “But, pretty quickly, I was messaging people on LinkedIn and talking to my amazing colleagues. For me, the best way I could handle it was to just go right back in. I talked to my team and we commiserated our feelings.”

It wasn’t long before he teamed up with the folks at Making Science, a Spain-based digital marketing and data consultancy that is expanding to the U.S., which was founded by a former Google employee who left seven years ago. At the same time, Downie was considering how to capitalize on all this amazing talent being released at the same time.

“This is an historic opportunity,” said Downie. “You don’t get massive amounts of incredible talent and good people that all leave Google at the same time. It just doesn’t happen. People leave in dribs and drabs, but to have a full team of data and tech people doing things very important to Google and the industry, it just doesn’t happen.”

Downie got hired as CEO of the U.S. for Making Science in early April, and quickly got moving on hiring. He has hired eight former Google employees so far.  

“I texted my team after the layoffs and said ‘if you don’t want to work with me anymore, you better go run and hide, because I promise I will try to find a way to work with as many of you as possible as soon as I can,’” said Downie.

Downie isn’t alone in wanting to stick with former colleagues. Henry Kirk, an ex-Google manager also laid off in January, set out to start a new company with five former Google employees in just 52 days, aligning with when Google’s severance package ended. For him, it started as texting his team to see who else was affected and then for moral support. He asked who would be interested in building a startup. 

Between Downie and Kirk, it’s clear that there are benefits to sticking with a team that you know works well in an effort to make the most out of an unfortunate situation. 

Poaching former colleagues has long been a go-to move for senior execs leaving companies to set up new ventures or new departments at other firms. Some leaders have been known to fire whole departments and then rehire people they know they work well with, and will get the job done in the way they specifically want. But the scale of talented people who have lately left Google has opened up a wealth of opportunities for companies to seize on clusters of people, or whole former teams, in one go.

“It is not so common but is evidently happening,” said Steve Hyde, CEO and global talent lead at 360xec Executive Search, a senior executive headhunting business. “These talented people are used to working together, click and collaborate well and individually may have more limited options but collectively can potentially achieve greater success.”

That’s the case with Downie’s team. He says that he was able to navigate what his team at Google was good at, what they love, and what they’re excited and passionate about. Because of that, he knew who would be interested in the opportunity.

“This is an historic opportunity. You don’t get massive amounts of incredible talent and good people that all leave Google at the same time. It just doesn’t happen."
Jason Downie, US CEO of Making Science.

“It was pretty evident, working with the same people for a long time and knowing what they want to do with their careers and lives,” said Downie.

Two of the people he hired are Nick Tiano, now chief revenue officer at Making Science, and Mallory Bradford, chief customer officer at Making Science. 

“Initially, my plan was to take some time and really figure out what I wanted to do next from a career standpoint,” said Tiano, a former Google global data and tech lead who worked there for 10 years. “But the opportunity to work with these folks again is what drove me to get really interested in this.”

A big part of that is because he has a sense of psychological safety with the former Google employees.

“There’s many attributes of good teams and how they come together and what makes them perform well,” said Tiano. “For me, which I’ve found true for every team I’ve worked with, is the idea of psychological safety. If you have that, it makes everything else incrementally easier.”

Tiano had worked with Bradford at Google, where she was head of customer success: Google marketing platform. She worked at Google for over 12 years and it was a recommendation from her old boss that she take a call from Downie about this opportunity. 

“The best boss I ever had at Google reached out to me right after the layoff and said ‘Jason Downie is going to give you a call, take the call and listen to what he has to say because he’s someone I would go work for in a second, so seriously consider whatever he is telling you,’” said Bradford. “That’s how we got connected.”

She previously imagined that her next job after Google would be with another large company, but after creating a list of things she wanted in her new job after the layoff, she realized she wanted something that was growing.

“It wasn’t until things started to shift in the market where I realized big was no longer as attractive to me as something small where we have more control,” said Bradford. “It didn’t cross my mind that I would get the luxury of bringing over all of these fantastic people. We have the ability to bring along so many wonderful folks that will help us build something fantastic here. I never thought I would end up in this situation because how lucky is it to get to bring a bunch of great people with you somewhere?”

That’s not to say it will be a breeze. Downie will need to ensure his new hires mesh well with the team abroad, ensuring that they are mindful of Making Science’s values, rather than just imprinting everything from Google.

“That’s what I plan to foster as we form this team,” said Downie. “It’s integrating the Google culture into a new culture. We had our first team meeting last week and we didn’t talk about any business, we talked about each other, our hopes and dreams, where they come from, and that sort of stuff. I want to create a sense of not ex-Google, but one team, one dream.”

Henry Kirk, who managed a 30-person team at Google before he was laid off (along with most of the team), has set up a new company with former colleagues. He built his team at Google from the ground up and wanted to work with them again. A bunch of them got together and brainstormed an idea for a startup. Last week they unveiled it: Studio.init(0, a software design and development studio.

“I always thought of working at Google as like Google University,” said Kirk. “I knew that I would eventually want to leave and take all that knowledge and do something.”

“The advantage of working with people that you know and trust is that it makes it much easier and takes out the whole have to get to know the person, have to get to trust the person.”
Henry Kirk, partner at Studio.init().

“The severance was enough runway for me to survive a little bit to try to make this happen,” said Kirk, who worked on improving the iOS and Android experience on Google Apps for eight years. “We hustled to try to make it happen.”

But at the core of why it worked was the trust that these folks already had with one another.

“The advantage of working with people that you know and trust is that it makes it much easier and takes out the whole have to get to know the person, have to get to trust the person,” said Kirk. “Trust is really important in building out a team and an organization. We already had that. We didn’t have to worry about it.”

As the startup continues to grow, Kirk hopes to bring more people on board. Those interested must hit one of two pieces of criteria: they must be an ex-Googler, or they must have been impacted by a layoff. For example, they recently commissioned a salesperson who was laid off in the tech industry to help handle leads. 

“If you meet any of those criteria, we would be more than happy to create opportunities for you to help get you back on your feet,” said Kirk. “I was very fortunate that people were willing to help me, so I’m more than willing to help others that need that opportunity to be able to succeed.”