Gaurav Choudhary, TinyOwl co-founder who was held hostage for over two days in its Pune office, has confirmed to MediaNama that he is on his way to Mumbai. He declined to comment on how he was able to leave the TinyOwl Pune office. Earlier this morning, MediaNama had been denied the opportunity of speaking with Choudhary in person, by employees present at the office, who said: “We don’t want the media (here). We don’t want you to report what’s going on or write about our demands. As a journalist, you have to sit with us instead of asking Choudhary questions when we’re not around.”
TinyOwl, which had recently raised a fresh round of funding, is shutting offices in four of its six cities, and is laying off 112 people. An unconfirmed number of employees had also been laid off in September. Choudhary, who had gone to Pune to oversee the layoffs and the shutting of the Pune office, had been not allowed to leave the premises. He had called the police, claiming that he had been kidnapped, whereas the employees called local politicians to intervene on their behalf.
Harshvardhan Mandad, CEO of TinyOwl, has issued a statement, which doesn’t say anything about what happened in Pune:
“Hoping to move towards a viable business model from a sustainability perspective, we have unfortunately had to make some difficult decisions in recent times. We understand it’s a tough time for all concerned employees and empathize with each and everyone involved. However, there have been many speculations about us as a company not meeting our contractual obligations, which we would like to mention is completely untrue. We have always been an honest and upfront company, not meaning to keep anyone’s hard earned money blocked. Even in these difficult times, we have been completely honest with all including our employees. From a company standpoint, we assure all employees are being offered full and final settlements, and we are also trying to help secure new jobs for them in our capacity. We have also received other demands and are looking into each of them.”
The timeline of events at TinyOwl’s hostage situation:
30 October: Harshvardhan Mandad confirms closing its funding at about $7.7 million. He says its realignment has cut its costs by 43%, adding that the company is planning to move its order processing to a merchant app while keeping the call centre only for escalations and select restaurants. Its orders are 45% automated.
3 November: TinyOwl lays off another 112 employees in the sales function across Pune, Gurgaon, Chennai and Hyderabad. This is the second round of layoffs at TinyOwl this year, after it laid off around 160 employees in September. The company says it wants to focus on building a sustainable, profitable and scalable business. The shutdown will move operations in these cities to the e-sales platform “to support customer needs, supply and logistics.”
In Pune: Gaurav Chaudhury, one of TinyOwl’s 5 co-founders, is in Pune along with 2 admin staff to inform Pune employees about the layoff. By evening, employees from the present layoff as well as some from the September layoff are not satisfied with the company’s approach and demand that they be paid immediately. They also demand that the company mention on their resignation/termination paper the status of their employment for future purposes. Chaudhury cannot promise immediate payment and employees will not let him return to Mumbai, to TinyOwl’s headquarters.
4 November: After spending a night at office, the employees are dissatisfied and ask for a resolution, not having eaten the entire day. They will not let Chaudhary go on the second day either. Chaudhury calls the police for security after a heated argument between him and the employees. Local politicians have joined in the fight, directing the police on the employee situation. Both agree to let 3 employees stay back in office along with Chaudhury and his 2 admins and discuss the situation the next morning.
5 November: The office members deny MediaNama access to speak to Chaudhury and insist we do so in their presence.
Evening: Chaudhury leaves Pune office for Mumbai.