How Outdoor Voices, a Start-Up Darling, Imploded

The company declined to comment on the laid-off employees.

The shake-up has highlighted the generational friction that can arise between idealistic start-up founders, the employees they hire and the seasoned executives their companies often need for success. And it has added to questions about the viability of money-losing e-commerce start-ups, which have amassed piles of venture capital in recent years as they try to disrupt the markets for everything from toothbrushes to watches. In recent months, as investors have become more skeptical, the valuations of a number of these cash-burning “direct to consumer” businesses, like the online mattress company Casper Sleep, have plummeted.

This account of Outdoor Voices’ struggles is based on documents and interviews with 15 current and former employees, investors and people close to the board, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company matters.

“As a young founder, I know my strengths, and I was excited to bring in experienced retail leaders to scale,” Ms. Haney said in a statement. “But in doing so, I was no longer able to lead this company in line with the values and vision that guided me early on.”

“I’m heartbroken, but have learned a lot,” she added. A spokeswoman, Michelle Wellington, said Ms. Haney could not comment further because she had signed agreements that prevented her from speaking about the company’s financial situation or its operations.

Peter Boyce II, a partner at General Catalyst who sits on Outdoor Voices’ board, said the company, like other direct-to-consumer companies, has been grappling with heightened consumer expectations around discounting during the holidays and rising marketing costs on Facebook and Instagram.

“It’s part of the evolution of these businesses,” he said. “There becomes a more sustainable, thoughtful growth rate that makes sense as companies get bigger and bigger, and that’s part of a recalibration taking place in the broader environment.”

Mr. Boyce, who said he also spoke on behalf of major investors, said Ms. Haney had been involved with the board’s search for an “operational partner” for her for about a year and a half, as well as its last fund-raising effort.

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