Kahuna, a Silicon Valley company that provides businesses with ways to market to their users automatically and personally across mobile channels, made 18 layoffs today.
The cuts add to the jolts the company has already gone through recently: It made approximately a dozen layoffs in sales last November, and Adam Marchick, its CEO, stepped back earlier this month (the company has said it is looking for a new CEO).
These challenges come at a time of retrenchment among startups that have raised large amounts of cash over the past year. Venture investors, who see a declining stock market, fear we could be entering another tech-funding downturn. They’re urging startups to slash burn rates to ensure they get through to the other side without more funding. Kahuna has definitely been a hard-charger in terms of funding. It raised $45 million just seven months ago, for a total of $58 million raised since 2013.
Interim CEO Charles Hudson said that one of the reasons for the cuts is to ensure that the company can continue to make significant investments into the technology that will keep it competitive.
To Kahuna’s advantage, it plays in an industry that is seeing strong growth. Marketers everywhere are actively looking to buy technologies that can help them profile their customers and then market to them with the right messaging in the right place — even at the right time of day.
Kahuna has been one of the leaders breaking new ground there, especially with investments in machine learning technology to make better predictions about user preferences and needs. The company saw “500 percent growth” in revenue last year, the company’s CMO, Julie Ginches, said in a phone call with VentureBeat, though she wouldn’t offer any more specifics. Just last week, an executive of fast-growing food recommendation company Yummly, told VentureBeat that it uses Kahuna to push notifications to users at the specific times of day they’re most likely to be active.
Also today, the company announced it had hired Mihir Nanavati, its first SVP of Product. Nanavati worked previously at Tradeshift, Hightail, and Adobe Systems. Speaking with VentureBeat, Nanavati said he was excited about the company’s investments in machine learning and other technology to help marketers personalize their messaging. He said the company’s strategy is to be the “ExactTarget of the mobile era,” citing the Salesforce-owned company that previously dominated the industry for email marketing.
Nanavati said that Kahuna supports messaging across email, the mobile Web, apps, social, and other channels like Amazon Echo. He said Kahuna is more focused than ever on selling to enterprise customers.
Hudson, in a phone interview, called his plan a “rebalancing” strategy. Even as the company is making cuts in areas like marketing and sales, it has hired in technology, and its staff of 78 isn’t much different from where it was in December, he said.
To be sure, it’s not clear how much funding the company has left. A Fortune article two weeks ago vaguely said that Kahuna had “most” of that money still in the bank. When I asked Hudson whether he could be more precise — whether he could confirm, for example, if the company had at least “half” of its funding in the bank, he wouldn’t comment other than to say that Kahuna is “well capitalized.”
Hudson said the company is making investments in machine learning and predictive technologies, among other areas, to help it stay on the bleeding edge. A number of other “mobile marketing automation” companies have come on strong, including Appboy, FollowAnalytics, and Upsight, which have similar technologies.
VentureBeat has published extensive research on the mobile marketing automation industry (including research that is behind our paywall), and Kahuna has been listed as a strong player. We wrote a summary article here.
We’ll be discussing mobile marketing automation and predictive technologies, at our exclusive Mobile Summit on April 4-5 in Sausalito.