June 7, 2022

Gorillas loses two HR heavyweights amid layoffs turmoil

It’s another blow to the speedy grocery company that laid off 300 staff members two weeks ago

Deena Fox

Gorillas’ global chief people officer Deena Fox is stepping down, and its vice president of human resources Linda van Velzen is also set to leave, according to the company. It has also closed nearly all job advertisements for HR roles, according to LinkedIn.

It’s the latest chapter in Gorillas’ people-related challenges. Just two weeks ago, the speedy grocery startup, valued at $2.1bn at its last fundraise in October 2020, laid off 320 employees across its nine offices to extend its runway amid the market downturn. 

Sources tell Sifted that the company is struggling to raise money. One source estimates that, at the end of May, the company had €300m in its bank account and was burning through €60m a month. 


People team departures

Both the chief people officer, Deena Fox, and the VP of HR, Linda van Velzen, joined Gorillas midway through 2021. Fox was based in New York — where Gorillas launched deliveries in May last year — while Van Velzen was based in Amsterdam.

Before joining Gorillas, Fox was the founder of Brightfox, an employee engagement platform. She was also chief people officer for US unicorns Oscar Health and Jet, as well as director of HR Amazon in North America — which made her a splash hire for the young grocery company. Van Velzen had worked as the VP of HR for restaurant chain Five Guys and as the HR lead for Heineken. 

Commenting on the departure of the two senior HR leaders, Gorillas said in a statement to Sifted: “As part of our new strategic shift that we announced two weeks ago and, in which we, among other things, are moving to become a more agile, collaborative and efficient organisation, we realised that we needed to strengthen our HR leadership focus in Europe, as it is here where most of our crew is based. With that new focus in mind, a few changes in our HR leadership team were needed.”

Gorillas told Sifted that it was hoped Fox would eventually relocate to Berlin to lead the company’s global people function. However, due to “family and other personal commitments in the US,” said Gorillas, she decided she could not move to Europe and proceeded to step down.

Carmen Benkö, Gorillas’ current chief of staff, has now taken on the role of vice president of people and will be responsible for the company’s HR strategy, employee experience, talent acquisition and HR tech management areas. 

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Gorillas confirmed that Van Velzen will “sadly be leaving the organisation”, adding: “As part of the reorganisation, Gorillas will now have a combined HR team working from the Global Headquarter in Berlin, engaged in designing and rolling out strategies across all our markets.”

Sifted sources in Berlin’s tech scene speculate that the departure of the senior HR staff could indicate that Gorillas has a potential buyer — and is anticipating combining some HQ functions.

Not the first HR rodeo

Cultural challenges have plagued Gorillas since its founding in March 2020. Last year, Sifted spoke to nine people within the company who accused it of negative HR practices, including arbitrary firings and exploitation of riders and warehouse workers. The company said at the time that it has a “culture of inclusion, employee care and dialogue” and always acts in accordance with the law of the countries it is present in. 

Gorillas isn’t the only speedy grocery company to suffer in recent weeks. Zapp, a British rival, is in talks to lay off 10% of its staff and Getir, one of the biggest players in the market with a $12bn valuation, has laid off 14% of its workforce, equivalent to 4,480 people. 

Freya Pratty is a reporter at Sifted. She tweets from @FPratty and writes our sustainability-focused newsletter — you can sign up here


Miriam Partington is Sifted’s DACH correspondent. She also covers future of work, coauthors Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter and tweets from @mparts_

Correction: A former version of this article stated that Gorillas had paused operations in New York. The company says it is continuing to operate in New York and has opened three new warehouses there recently.