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In leaked emails, Ozy CEO asks employees he laid off to return and shares ambitious comeback goals

October 6, 2021, 9:24 PM UTC
Updated October 7, 2021, 5:21 PM UTC

Three days after telling staff that Ozy Media was shutting down, co-founder and CEO Carlos Watson emailed employees on Monday requesting they come back to work, calling the decision to shut down “premature,” and outlining an ambitious slate of goals. 

“Last week was brutal and heartbreaking on so many levels,” Watson wrote in an email to employees. Two staffers, who asked not to be identified, shared the note with Fortune and another confirmed they had also received it. On Friday, Ozy Media’s board of directors announced that the company was shutting down after the New York Times reported that Ozy Media co-founder Samir Rao had impersonated a YouTube executive during a funding meeting with Goldman Sachs (the deal fell through). The article also called into question Ozy’s claims that its audience numbered the tens of millions of readers. Watson said Tuesday morning that after being put on leave last week, Rao has since been asked to step down.

Watson announced Monday that Ozy would be “open for business,” saying that while it would not be easy, he was committed to rebuilding. The email said that Watson believed there was a “credible path forward” to remain open and create value for consumers. Watson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Between 50 and 75 employees were employed at the company as of Oct. 1, according to reported numbers and Fortune’s conversations with employees. 

Looking ahead, Watson noted that Ozy’s newsletters would restart this week. He also says he expects to relaunch at least one TV show and a podcast season by the end of the year—though it is unclear whether employees will want to rejoin. Watson also wants to have at least one Ozy Fest next year. 

While most of Ozy’s advertisers are in “wait and see mode,” Watson said the company already has “key backing from a couple of anchor advertisers.” The Wall Street Journal reported that a number of advertisers, including Ford, Airbnb, Goldman Sachs and Target had paused their ad campaigns last week. 

Additionally, he noted that Ozy has engaged an outside company to verify audience and traffic data. Watson said he expects to get the first report in two weeks and plans to release data going forward on a monthly basis. Ozy Media claimed it reached 50 million monthly unique users in 2019 and Watson previously told Axios the company had 20 million subscribers to its newsletters, but news reports called these metrics a “mirage.” 

Watson told employees in the emails that Claire Lightfoot, an accounting supervisor, would be arranging follow-up conversations “later this week.” For those who opted not to return, final paychecks —including any accrued PTO—would be distributed on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. Severance and health care coverage would be discussed with full-time employees. 

Watson ended the emails: “Here’s to better days ahead.” But that path may prove difficult. Employees Fortune spoke with were not eager to return.

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