Tour and activities marketplace Zozi fired its CEO earlier this year, but employees were only just informed of this fact last week, when the ousted CEO – who hadn’t been in the office for months – crashed an emergency Town Hall meeting scheduled the day after the company announced a series of layoffs, affecting nearly 40 percent of staff.
Now the CEO, T.J. Sassani, has filed suit against the board and investors who have taken control of the company, alleging wrongful termination, among a number of other outrageous claims, including also breach of fiduciary duty, embezzlement on the part of a former exec, fraud, discrimination, harassment and a host of other violations.
Last Thursday, tour and activities marketplace and software maker Zozi confirmed to TechCrunch it had laid off a portion of its staff.
The layoffs, which we noted last week, had affected jobs across the board, including sales, marketing, operations and engineering.
The company at the time claimed 30 percent of staff were affected, but the real number is actually higher – closer to 40 percent, we’ve since learned, and confirmed with Zozi.
The company actually had around 106 employees ahead of the layoffs, which included a team of 35 engineers in Vancouver.
A spreadsheet with over 40 names was being passed around among the affected employees, as a means of helping each other find new jobs.
But the layoffs are only one facet of this company’s current struggles. Sassani is no longer with the company and really hasn’t been around for months. Many told us a member of the executive team, Steven Weidman, was acting CEO after the COO’s departure.
But when we contacted Zozi, we were told that Elon Boms, a long-time investor and board member, has been working with Weidman, to lead the company internally. The company now says Boms is acting CEO. Boms is also named in Sassani’s lawsuit.
Boms is a representative of KLP, the fund owned by Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock, of the billionaire Pritzker family, which is a majority shareholder in Zozi.
Boms tells us that last week’s layoffs were about refocusing Zozi on the part that’s growing – not the consumer marketplace, but the software-as-a-service product for businesses, Zozi Advance.
He confirmed Sassani’s departure and a new round of funding in a statement to TechCrunch ahead of the lawsuit’s filing:
“Earlier this year, the Board decided to part ways with our CEO, TJ Sassani, due to strategic differences. He brought us a long way as the Founding CEO, and we wish him the absolute best. As our acting CEO, I’ve just completed a restructure to double down and focus on our SaaS product which grew our revenue nearly 3x last year, and will comfortably 2x this year. March was another record-breaking sales month for Zozi.”
Following the filing, Zozi issued another statement:
Unfortunately our former CEO, TJ Sassani, has decided to pursue a lawsuit against the company regarding his termination in late January. Zozi denies all allegations of wrongful conduct and will take all actions necessary to defend itself and protect the company and its shareholders. The company will not comment further upon pending litigation.
Sassani, we heard from many people, hadn’t been around the office in recent months. Some staff was led to believe he was out fundraising – and Sassani’s lawsuit indicates this, as well.
Employees were not told in January when the board fired him, and only learned of it last week.
But many employees were already concerned that something odd was happening at Zozi. The CEO hadn’t shown up at the holiday party in December, for example, though he lived only blocks away. He didn’t even come after people called him to ask where he was.
“I knew that was a terrible sign that the CEO hadn’t been in the office in months and the COO apparently left the company unannounced,” noted one person who had recently been laid off. “There’s been no transparency about this situation,” they said.
“We were told that he was out fundraising. He met up with a group of employees that were affected by the layoff and was shocked that we weren’t informed that he was fired in December, shortly after raising $15 million, for not agreeing to a merger with our rival Peek,” they added.
Sassani had made those claims to a group he met with at a local bar, following Thursday’s layoffs. He also alluded to various health concerns – including serious illnesses – as being partly to blame for his absence at the company as well as the holiday party. Sassani also told the group he planned to fight back.