Someone very desperately wants TechCrunch to write about Path. Over the past few weeks, we’ve received over half a dozen tips about layoffs, visitors from China in the office, an Alibaba “partnership,” potential acquirers and more.
The funny thing is, none of these things seem to be true. For starters, the company outright denies it – on the record. Other sources also confirmed there were no layoffs, and not even incentives to get employees to depart on their own. And there’s no Alibaba partnership in the works, either.
And yet, the tips keep rolling in.
Fine, Path pot-stirrer. We’ll write about this. But maybe not in the way you had hoped.
The majority of the tips have to do with layoffs at Path. They paint a somewhat believable story of a startup that many already think of as struggling to find its niche. The numbers of those supposedly let go remain fairly consistent in between these emails, citing around a dozen – or just under – as having lost their jobs. Some are written by those who reportedly let go themselves, while others say they were “just having drinks” with some of the downsized staff.
The company, however, has strongly denied these claims, saying “there were no layoffs last week.” And to make sure it wasn’t an issue of semantics (i.e. “last week”), a spokesperson clarified on the phone that there were no layoffs period, nor was it a situation where “layoffs” was not the term they were using – like if employees were being offered “voluntary redundancy” but were not technically being laid off.
We also confirmed this with other sources from Path, who weren’t speaking on the record or making statements on behalf of the company.
The other major thread through this series of tips were allusions that Path was looking for an acquisition. One claimed Path was shopping itself to Asian-owned tech companies. Another mentioned foreign visitors from China in the office. A more recent one hinted vaguely at “an exciting partnership with Alibaba” – a name brought up in a good handful of these tips.
Again, the company goes on record to deny this, even when most businesses generally decline to comment on rumor and speculation. “We are not in talks with any foreign companies to be acquired,” the company says. “There is no partnership with Alibaba.”
But still not taking Path at its word alone – we ask around. And sure enough, we’re hearing there’s no Alibaba partnership. (Alibaba declined to comment.)
Still, every few days, it seems, the tips roll in. They’re detailed enough to give them that air of legitimacy – one even refers to a personal matter which we’re not going to repeat here, but know to be based in truth.
This Is A Serious Attempt To Manipulate The Press
The question now is why is this person (or persons) continuing to send these tips? Is this one single disgruntled employee with an ax to grind? Sure, that’s an easy enough theory – and one of the reasons we’ve declined thus far to publish anything on the matter, whether rumor-debunking or not. Just because someone makes a lot of noise, that doesn’t make it news.
But there’s another possibility as well. Perhaps someone involved with Path (or a competitor) – someone who would benefit from it finding an exit – is trying to get news of layoffs and “chats with potential acquirers” in the press. It positions the company as one ready to be bought. Reduced staff, interested investors, etc.
And Alibaba, after all, does have a U.S. investments team scoping out Silicon Valley startups, including mobile companies. Over the past year or so, Alibaba has made investments in American companies – it has done so in Kabam, Quixey, Lyft, Peel and Path competitor Tango, for example – not outright acquisitions. It was also rumored to be in discussions with Snapchat. So perhaps this devoted tipster(s) thinks Alibaba should be checking Path out, too?
If we had blindly republished the rumors, even as rumors, that’s exactly what would have happened: Path would have rocketed up on its potential acquirers’ radars.
So why publish at all? That was the debate. Maybe because the nature of these tips, thanks to that personal info one disclosed (referenced above), makes it sound like an inside job. And even if that’s not the case, it definitely smacks of someone who’s looking for more than just the usual giggles by anonymously sharing misinformation. The consistent nature of the tips, not to mention the barrage, indicate that there is a person or persons out there trying to manipulate the situation, possibly to their advantage in some way.
This sort of thing happens all the time – ever since this site installed a tips hotline, of course. Manipulation of the press via quiet sources and blind tips is old hat — but it’s become even more prevalent in this era of stories based on anonymous sources. It’s our job to tell the difference and do the due diligence. Still, the persistence and detail of the ‘Path campaign’ are somewhat atypical.
And hey, maybe potential Path investors or acquirers would want to know that, too.
Update: After publication, several tips arrived implicating a specific individual as the culprit, claiming they had an “ax to grind.”