Bolt Nigeria Lays Off Nearly Half of Staff, Demonstrates Gig Economy Instability

Ride-hailing company, Bolt Nigeria, has laid off 22 of its 45 staff members, likely leaving nearly half of its workforce in the country on the edge of depression.

A source close to the matter revealed to the press that senior management and staff in Warri and Port Harcourt were among those affected.

Although, the company has not made an official announcement, it confirmed the development in responded to media queries, attributing the layoff to a restructuring process aimed at cutting costs and boosting efficiency and profitability.

“We have made the difficult decision to discontinue collaboration with 22 employees in Nigeria. This decision comes as we have been going through the process of restructuring a considerable number of customer support and operational processes in the country,” Bolt responded.

While the affected employees may likely struggle to come to terms with the sudden loss of their livelihoods, the move is a harsh reminder of the unstable nature of employment in the gig economy.

The Unstable Nature of the Gig Economy

The tech industry is a beacon of progress and disruption, with the images of ground-breaking ideas, rapid growth, and life-changing wealth remained enticing to ambitious minds.

However, beneath the beautiful surface lurks a harsh reality of job insecurity, especially in sectors such as Edutech and Fintech.

Locally, Nigeria’s startup scene boomed between 2015 and 2022, with over $2 billion invested in 383 startups, according to a 2022 statistics obtained by Arbiterz from Disrupt Africa.

However, this growth stalled in 2022 as global investment slowed after funding peaked in 2021 at $886 million, dropping to $563 million by year’s end.

Even, Tech giants, including Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Amazon, are not immune to the layoff wave.

In 2023, they contributed to a significant increase in tech industry job losses, with a total of 262,915 employees let go – 100,000 more than the year before.

The trend extends beyond these established players, with several Nigerian startups, including mobility platform Moove, Web3 company Nestcoin, crypto payment solution Lazerpay, and online food marketplace Vendease, experiencing significant layoffs.

Layoff vs. Shut Down: Why and When?

Beyond merely laying off staff, some African startups have also left Nigeria or scaled back their operations as a result of the economic downturn.

In December, Ugandan ride-hailing startup SafeBoda exited the country, citing the need for “significant investment at this challenging time in the global economic landscape.”

More surprisingly, SweepSouth, a South African cleaning platform, left Nigeria in November, just months after raising an $11 million pre-seed funding round.

Speaking on possible causes of lay offs in the gig economy, a Lagos-based tech education and recruitment organization, AltSchool Africa, suggested that layoffs are a common strategy for startups facing economic hardship.

Sultan Akintunde, the co-founder and head of tech at the organization, emphasizes that it is a roller-coaster ride for many startups, noting that contrary to belief, most startups don’t grow by a constant rise to billion-dollar status.

According to Sultan, downsizing is a necessary evil in downturns, especially when revenue dips and fundraising stalls.

Coping with Job Loss

The rise of the gig economy has brought flexibility and freedom to many workers, but it also comes with a harsh reality: the lack of job security.

The gig economy’s volatile nature, marked by sudden hiring and firing, makes it crucial for workers to be adaptable and resilient.

Experts stress the value of having a robust backup plan to cushion the blow of unexpected layoffs and stay ahead in a rapidly changing job market.

Arbiterz spoke with Aderonke Ogunleti, Managing Director of Gigs and Talents, about coping mechanisms after a layoff, particularly in a competitive industry.

Emphasizing the importance of upskilling, she noted that staying relevant in the industry and maintaining existing relationships can be a springboard to new heights.

“There’s no wrong time to upskill. Layoffs can serve as a reminder that workers need to update their skills and adapt to new challenges,” she said.

“It may also indicate that a worker has outgrown their position or become a threat to the organization. In some cases, layoffs can result from conflicts of interest or office politics, but they can also signal that a worker has overstayed their relevance.”

Aderonke also highlighted the importance of seeking support from loved ones, friends, or a professional counselor.

“In the long term, coping with layoffs in the gig economy requires a mindset shift. Rather than relying on a single income stream, it’s essential to diversify your earnings and develop a portfolio of skills to stay adaptable,” she advised.

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