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Fast, a bustling startup that has attracted more than $120 million in investment to help people shop online faster, is shutting down, according to the company’s chief executive, Domm Holland.
Fast had stood out in the crowded field of one-click payment startups after landing a $102 million injection in a fundraising round last year led by payments giant Stripe.
The company was embarking on its next fundraising round, attempting to bring fresh money to a valuation above $1 billion, also known as unicorn status in Silicon Valley, when it encountered problems.
Fast had hired hundreds of employees, including highly paid executives, but the startup’s product was generating little revenue, according to several former employees. The technical publication Information reported for the first time that Fast generated about $600,000 last year.
Several rank-and-file employees, whom the company has called “Fastronauts,” told NPR they’ve noticed Holland pouring large sums into deals aimed at creating marketing buzz, such as partnerships with sports teams. They wondered about the benefits.
“With Fast,” said a former employee who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. “It was like, ‘how fast can we set money on fire?'”
NPR published an investigation in February in which some close to Fast cast doubt on Holland’s decision-making, and others who knew him in his home country of Australia revealed lingering bitterness about of the downfall of his business there.
In a statement confirming Fast’s closure, Holland said he was grateful to employees and investors who shared his vision to improve the way shoppers buy things online.
“Sometimes the trailblazers don’t make it to the top of the mountain. But even in those situations, they’re blazing a trail for everyone else to follow,” Holland said, adding that the company has done so with its software. one-click payment. .
Affirm, a San Francisco consumer finance start-up, said it would expand job openings to the vast majority of Fast’s engineers “to advance our existing product,” a spokesperson for Fast said. the society. It is unclear how many engineers will accept the jobs.
The fast and bumpy ascent of Fast
Fast was founded in 2019 by Holland, former Uber executive Allison Barr Allen and Australian entrepreneur Joshua Abulafia.
But after about a year, Holland and Abulafia found themselves locked in a dispute over finances and the direction of the business. Abulafia was driven out, according to several former employees familiar with the situation. Abulafia was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
The initial turbulence did not slow Holland down. He zigzagged around Silicon Valley calling himself “fastest CEO in the world“, received glowing media attention and appeared on podcasts, touting its “frictionless” checkout button.
Fast aimed to bring the one-click checkout functionality now available on Amazon to the rest of the internet. Amazon’s patent on one-click payment expired five years ago, sparking a gold rush among companies like Fast to try to bring the tool to the rest of the web.
Paypal and Apple are among the biggest and most formidable players in the space. But Holland, a charismatic leader known for his hijinks like racing car stunts and skydiving, convinced Silicon Valley investors that his company would outpace smaller competitors like Bolt and Shopify.
But even as Holland sparked new excitement among tech investors, NPR’s survey found that the company’s payment product was spotty at best and not being used on all products by merchants who, according to the company, were its main partners.
Fast hired engineers in Nigeria to build an early version of Fast’s technology which was used to launch investors – before abruptly laying off those engineers. A handful told NPR that Holland takes credit for their work. Although it is not unusual for companies to hire offshore engineers when starting up, the experience has left some Nigerian engineers with negative feelings.
NPR also discovered that Holland’s former business, an Australian towing startup that ended in liquidation, went bankrupt following a dispute with the Australian government, and some family-owned towing companies claim that, collectively, they lost millions of dollars. Holland claims he tried to help these companies, but some saw Holland’s later success as unfair.
Some locals reportedly noticed Holland started calling himself “Domm” instead of “Dominic” once he moved to the United States and started Fast, and saw it as a way to escape his past. A Holland spokesperson flatly denied this and insisted he had long used the nickname.
$1 million offer to the Chainsmokers
Following the $102 million investment in Fast, several employees noticed company spending that some described to NPR as “frivolous” and “extravagant,” particularly when it came to attempting to get celebrity endorsements.
Emails reviewed by NPR showed how, under Holland’s guidance, Fast booked American electronic duo The Chainsmokers to play an event at a January 16 retail conference in New York City. An employee with direct knowledge of the arrangement said Fast agreed to pay the band $1 million for the performance, a deal that included the artists making a promotional video with Holland. When NPR asked a spokesperson for Fast, they declined to provide information about the concert.
The event was eventually delayed due to the Omicron coronavirus outbreak. Representatives for the Chainsmokers attempted to confirm a new reservation, but emails were not returned, according to emails from the company.
“The band has received an offer and I would like to know if this event is still progressing according to our calls. I would appreciate if someone could get back to us with an answer,” wrote Mac Clark of Creative Artists Agency, who represents the band, February 1.
Clark declined to comment for this story.