It was 3pm sharp when Kağan Sümer appeared as the only visible participant in the „all-hands meeting“ on Zoom on Friday June 11th. The CEO and co-founder of Gorillas Technologies – the fastest startup ever in Germany to reach unicorn status – called the meeting to troubleshoot the recent developments in his company.
Following the allegedly sudden layoff of the delivery rider Santiago on June 9 dozens of rider have blocked two warehouses of the delivery startup that emphasizes the speed of delivery – 10 minutes – as its unique selling proposition. After a blockade at one warehouse in Charlottenstrasse the protest continued at another hub in Torstraße 205 in Berlin-Mitte. Management was eventually forced to shut down operations for the day. The picket line continued the next day and caught the attention of local newspapers and regional television.
Kağan Sümer had to react and did it like only a startup CEO can handle such a situation: by calling an all-hands meeting where only he gets to speak.
While already streaming live he repeatedly asked someone off-screen if enough participants are online already.
„We’ll start when we reach 500 participants. Or shall we wait until 800?“
Sümer did everything to appear informal if not shirtsleeved (i mean literally). Apparently searching for the right words he told the audience on the „all-hands staff meeting“, that just one year ago he spent most of his days doing deliveries on his own bike: Riding longer and harder than everyone else.
What he didn’t bother to mention was that the company raised more than 330 million in two funding rounds between December 2020 and March 2021 and is currently valued 1 billion US-Dollar. A huge market-value for a bunch of friends that decided to change the perception of delivery riders in the gig economy.
At least that was the self-decription that Sümer evoked in his speech. The layoff of Santiago was based on substantial reasons and is not up for debate. What is – according to Sümer – up to debate instead is if everyone is keeping a positive attitude and focusing on the issue at hand: Riding.
„It has to be about riding and not about politics.“
His proverbial door – said Sümer – is always open for constructive feedback and as an act of goodwill he proposed – seemingly off the cuff – to visit every Gorilla warehouse with his bike to listen to the complaints of his employees. CEOs – so it seems – can’t help to make everything just about themselves.
I don’t find it too hard to believe that Sümer is sufficiently self-delusional to think that the whole situation is just a matter of misunderstandings and ungrateful employees. But on the other hand it’s really hard to tell who is thinking what behind the multicoloured veil of startup newspeak. The mundane reality behind the brave new world of gym membership perks and flexible working hours is that grocery bike delivery is a business with a violently narrow price margin and the promise of Gorillas to deliver within 10 minutes is putting immense pressure on the riders. The investors who pushed money into Gorillas are putting their bets on a hardcore game: Who will survive the price war on the streets of Berlin and other european cities? Winner takes it all (and afterwards worsens the working conditions …) I went into great detail about the inner logics of the platform economy in another post.
In the end Sümer and his inner circle might really believe that they came to change the world of gig economy for the better – which basically means to give fixed contracts with six months probation to delivery riders – but they might be forced to dance to the tune of global capital very soon. Global capital is searching for return on investment in times of asset price inflation and record low interest rates. And its seems to find it in the blind spots of contemporary labor law – more commonly know as tech startups. Of course the former delivery rider turned CEO Kağan Sümer won’t suffer too much from the things to come. He’ll keep it about riding and free entrepreneurship.
Thanks god that the Gorilla Workers Collective already began to take their fate into their own hands. The first General Assembly to form a workers council took place on June 3 in Berlin-Neukölln. The seemingly sudden solidarity for Santiago wasn’t a coincidence. It was the fruit of workers that finally stopped to buy the newspeak of their philanthropic founder friends and learned how to organize and fight for decent wages and good working conditions.