How common is it for a startup to go through the trouble of doing some kind of photo collage featuring former employees that it really wants to dissociate itself from? Well, it’s not that common, nor is it normal.
And maybe it’s neither right nor wrong, but it would certainly come across as inappropriate and perhaps a tad unnecessary to many.
Well, it did happen that Cars45, the Nigerian e-commerce startup for used cars, put up a post across its social media pages on Tuesday, September 1, which read like an unusual disclaimer.
In the now-deleted post that went up on its Instagram and Twitter pages, Cars45 put together names and images of 11 ex-employees, some of whom are believed to have been among top management, stating that they are no longer part of the company.
Cars45’s disclaimer mentioned that the individuals had left the company as of August 25. The statement reads further: “They are not authorised to represent the company in any matter whatsoever. Anyone dealing with them on behalf of Cars45 is doing so at his own responsibility.”
It seemed off and odd, mostly because it’s not unheard of for companies to let employees go but quite strange for a firm to give ex-employees the ‘mugshot treatment’. Unless, of course, there is evidence that some of the former employees have been doing shady stuff with the company’s name.
At the time, it wasn’t clear if the said former employees were laid off or had resigned, nor was it known that something was amiss with past employees. But it was pretty clear that it was a PR fail and someone had made a boo-boo, seeing as the post has since been taken down. If anything, it gave the impression that there may have been some internal squabbles at Cars45.
In fact, WeeTracker tried to make contact with Etop Ikpe, the co-founder of Cars45 who has served as its CEO since 2016, and it was quite surprising to discover that he had stepped down from his position and left the company since two months ago.
Up until now, it wasn’t public knowledge that Ikpe had resigned from Cars45 in July. Ikpe would not comment on any issues concerning Cars45, though he made it known that he is now fully focused on launching a next venture which aims to solve automotive financing related issues. His LinkedIn profile also suggests that he has since moved on.
So, what’s really happening at Cars45?
Ikpe, who has some history with both Konga and the now-defunct Dealdey, teamed up with co-founders, Iyamu Mohammed, Sujay Tyle, and Peter Lindholm, to launch Cars45 in 2016.
Cars45 has developed into one of the most prominent platforms for the purchase, sale, and swapping of used cars in Nigeria. Beyond serving up classified ads as is the case with typical classifieds sites, Cars45 also handles technical inspection, valuation, and financing among other things.
In May 2017, Cars45 announced a USD 5 Mn Series A round led by its Berlin-based parent company, Frontier Cars Group (FCG); a company whose 27-year-old co-founder and erstwhile CEO, Tyle, is among the aforementioned co-founders of Cars45 (Tyle is understood to have quit FCG in August).
Last November, Naspers-backed OLX Group led a USD 400 Mn Series D round in FCG.
With a presence in Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya, it sure looks like Cars45 does have some solid backing and a good footing. But what the abrupt, unreported resignation of the co-founder/CEO and the unusual PR job from a day ago does is spark talk of a rift or mutiny within the company.
Cars45 did counter such insinuations when it revealed to WeeTracker that “there is no cause for alarm and Cars45 is still as united and strong as ever.” When questioned about why it was necessary to put up the now-withdrawn notification distancing the company from the departed employees, Cars45 said:
“The employees left on their own accord and we deemed it fit to inform our customers because we value transparency. It was simply our responsibility to let our customers know this change as they have been known with the business and without any communication from us, customers might still approach them for business regarding Cars45. Hence, we thought it best to let our customers know they are no longer representing Cars45 and the business as a whole.”
The company’s take on the matter does sound like a plausible explanation but it’s a little odd that so many resignations seem to be happening at the same time. And the fact that this appears to have happened shortly after the exit of the startup’s long-standing CEO creates more room for questions.
Were the departures amicable or conflict-laden? Is Ikpe looking to poach those ex-employees of Cars45 for his new automobile venture? Well, the answers to those questions have a way of getting out.
Correction: This article was updated at 15:13 WAT on September 2 to reflect that Sujay Tyle is no longer the CEO of FCG having stepped down from the role and exited the company in August 2020.