Database startup Hadapt sheds about 25 percent of staff

Hadapt CEO Justin Borgman and former VP of marketing Scott Howser.
Hadapt CEO Justin Borgman and former VP of marketing Scott Howser.

Cambridge database startup Hadapt quietly laid off about a quarter of its employees in December and January. The majority of those let go appear to have been engineers, according to LinkedIn, and not surprisingly, many of them were quickly scooped up by other local tech companies, including HubSpot, Kinvey, and DataXu. The layoff also included employees in sales and marketing.

Hadapt has raised about $17 million to develop and market a data analytics product that integrates the SQL programming language and Hadoop, an open source framework designed for large-scale data processing. (I wrote about the company in 2011, when it was moving from Connecticut to Massachusetts.) The company last raised money in November 2012. Given how tough it is to recruit engineers in Boston, it’s definitely unusual to see a startup handing them pink slips.

Hadapt CEO Justin Borgman wouldn’t comment about the restructuring or how it will impact the company’s future strategy. Two employees laid off by the company said they were legally prohibited from discussing details of the cutbacks. But in an e-mail exchange with BetaBoston producer Dennis Keohane, Hadapt executive chairman Chris Lynch, who is also a partner at Atlas Venture, wrote:

As the pioneer of SQL on Hadoop, we have paved the way for mass adoption of Hadoop in the enterprise, for which we are extremely proud. The downside to this, of course, is we have opened the door to  a host of commercial and open source copycats.  2014 is a make-or-break year for Hadapt and will require razor keen execution, which is not for the faint of heart. Accordingly, we realigned our human capital investment with exactly what we want to achieve this year.

When I asked Lynch for details on the layoffs, his e-mailed reply was, “It’s our policy that we don’t live in the past, only in our bright future.” In a subsequent interview yesterday, Lynch said that the company “has embarked on a new direction to go deeper into the market as an analytics platform, and not just be SQL on Hadoop, which is no longer novel.” Lynch added the company has staked out a strong patent position, with three patents issued, and seven others filed.

Part of the exodus were Hadapt’s director of engineering Rob McDonald, now working at TrustLayers, and VP of marketing Scott Howser, now at Nutonian. (Howser and at least two other former Hadapt folks found jobs with other companies that Lynch has invested in.) Earlier, Hadapt’s chief data scientist, Mingsheng Hong, departed for Google in mid-2013, and CTO Philip Wickline split for an entrepeneur-in-residence gig at Matrix Partners at the end of 2012. About thirty employees remain at Hadapt, according to Lynch.

Here’s a video overview of Hadapt from 2012, and an update from last August.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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