The higher you rise, the faster you fall. No clear differentiating factors, bad spending habits and a lack of revenue. Was Fast's downfall inevitable, and did its name foreshadow its swift demise?
Founded by Aussie Domm Holland only a couple of years ago, Fast’s growth was synonymous with its own name. With a head office in San Francisco, $120 million in investments from Stripe and Brian Sugar, and a valuation of $1 billion in 2020, it was primed to be bigger than Ben-Hur. But last week that all changed, when the business closed its doors on Friday following a lack of financial resources. “Sometimes trailblazers don’t make it all the way to the mountaintop,” said Domm Holland, the CEO and founder of Fast.
According to an email sent out to employees on Friday, the business was shutting for numerous reasons, namely that the business landscape has recently been ‘extremely challenging for high-growth tech companies’, Holland said. In a tweet sent out the same day, he expressed his responsibility for the start-up’s failure. “Start-ups fail for many reasons, of which Fast obviously was not immune,” he said. “But decisions made that lead to this outcome which I take responsibility for[.] But one thing I am 100 [percent] certain that we did right was hire truly incredible people.”
Fast was set to complete the next round of funding to bring its valuation over $1 billion, hiring hundreds of employees and showcasing its strength on social media. But this was all smoke and mirrors, with the businesses running out of money faster than they could make it. A report from The Information shared that Fast was burning through $10 million a month, but was only generating a fraction of that in revenue. In fact, the business only reported revenue of $600,000 in 2021, according to the report.
Fast’s solution for online shoppers was simple. A one-click checkout button that aimed to make the shopping process easier for everyone. Not that this technology or the idea was original or new. Amazon’s famous one-click checkout patent expired in 2017, meaning that other businesses could rush to the technology and make it their own. There is. no shortage of businesses that offer one-click checkout now, far from Amazon’s lion’s share in the game. Bolt, PayPal, Shop Pay and many others all have a slice of the pie, so Fast needed something that made them stand out. Apple’s pre-filled payment information acts as a quick step for shoppers to pay, and Google does the same for its Chrome users.
The CEO, Holland, aimed to make himself the standout from the pack. Dubbed the ‘fastest CEO in the world’, he was famous for splurging on events such as a Chainsmokers concert (which he apparently was willing to pay $1 million for), racecar driving and skydiving.
Holland has an interesting past with business, first buying the domain Qant.as for just $20 in 2010. “The domain name Qant.as could be snapped up by a competitor so damage to Qantas’s business could be in the millions of dollars,” he told The Australian in 2010. Holland even redirected the URL to Virgin Blue and ended up selling the domain for $1.3 million. While he refused to share the name of the person who bought it, the domain is now owned by Qantas Airways.
Next was the start-up Tow.com.au – a towing company that was dubbed the ‘Uber of towing’. While it landed an exclusive contract with the Queensland Police, it resulted in a $15 million dispute, ultimately leading Holland to shut down the company, allegedly telling his staff about the decision via SMS.
The development of Fast was just as troubling. There have been numerous allegations of Holland hiring Nigerian engineers to set up the early workings of Fast, only to allegedly underpay them, then firing them by booting them out of the Slack channels without warning. Domm was accused of taking credit for the engineer’s work, former staff said.
On the outside, Fast was a super-successful and speedily-growing company, with Holland sharing his success on social channels. In August 2021, he shared a video of himself doing doughnuts in Tampa, Florida, touting that it was now the ‘Fast-est city’.
Now the business has gone up in smoke, leaving the hundreds of employees without jobs. But Affirm, the public fintech company, is giving Fasts’ former engineers the chance to work with them – an idea supported by Holland on Twitter. “With Fast winding down, our agreement will enable the vast majority of our engineers to transition to roles at Affirm. I’m grateful to Affirm for their work to place many of our engineers in great roles quickly,” said Holland.
This was backed up by the team at Affirm, but do not plan to enter the one-click business. “While we do not have plans to get into the one-click checkout business, we look forward to welcoming many of Fast’s talented engineers to Affirm as we continue to advance our existing product roadmap in support of our mission to build honest financial products that improve lives,” the statement read.
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