This CEO posted a crying selfie on LinkedIn and it did not go over well

Braden Wallake, a CEO, went viral for sharing an emotional picture on LinkedIn. Picture: Pixabay

Braden Wallake, a CEO, went viral for sharing an emotional picture on LinkedIn. Picture: Pixabay

Published Aug 12, 2022


If he had thought about it longer, Braden Wallake might not have posted a picture of himself crying on LinkedIn.

But Wallake, the 32-year-old chief executive of HyperSocial, a marketing start-up, had just laid off employees for the first time, he said in an interview with The Washington Post.

He had tried to avoid making his small team smaller. He had cut his pay check and made other business adjustments. In the end, though, he decided to let two of his 17 employees go.

"This will be the most vulnerable thing I'll ever share," he began in a long post paired with a photo of himself with tears visible. Wallake wanted to own his mistakes, he said, and reach out to other business owners who might be "feeling the pain" behind their tough decisions. He wanted them to feel less alone.

"I just want people to see," he wrote, "that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and does not care when he/she have to lay people off."

The post quickly went viral on LinkedIn and beyond, with many accusing Wallake of being insensitive and "cringe." With more than 68,000 workers in tech laid off in 2022, many read Wallake's post as privileging the chief executive's pain over that of the employees being let go.

"This does come across as tone-deaf, self-indulgent and a tad inauthentic," one commenter said. "Maybe you could have made the post about the people your decisions have impacted, rather than about yourself?"

"If my boss had posted a picture of themselves crying about having to lay me off with zero apologies, I would be (angry)," said another.

But comments and messages of support also trickled in from fellow executives and others who praised him for showing vulnerability and humanity.

"Thank you for having shared that and having restored my faith in the business world again," one direct message read.

"When I see this post - I see a guy who is literally just trying his best," said one commenter. "This guy cares about his employees - he decided to process some of this online. Could he have tagged the employees and said how great they were - sure, but did he expect this post to blow up like this? Probably not."

Wallake did not. Once he realised what was happening, he reached out to the two employees affected to show them the post and let them know that it was not meant to make his "tough journey" seem worse than theirs.

He shared about the job opportunities the post was already generating. Both are still taking time to think about their next steps, he said.

As cracks form in the economy, tech start-ups have been among the first and hardest hit, with widespread lay-offs racking the industry in recent months.

The industry has served as a sort of canary in the coal mine for slowing growth, with executives such as Tesla's Elon Musk and Google's Sundar Pichai among those voicing recession fears.

Other executives have made headlines for their approach to lay-offs. Vishal Garg, chief executive of online mortgage company, sparked ire after he laid off 900 employees in December in a Zoom call lasting less than three minutes.

"If you're on this call, you're part of the unlucky group that's being laid off," Garg announced over Zoom, according to reporting from National Mortgage Professional. "Your employment here is terminated effective immediately."

Days later, Garg penned a letter apologising to his staff, acknowledging he had "embarrassed" them.

"I own the decision to do the lay-offs, but in communicating it, I blundered the execution," Garg wrote. "I realise that the way I communicated this news made a difficult situation worse."

Wallake said he knows that the public has an image of wealthy executives that "are doing lay-offs just to pad their own pockets." He lives in a van with his girlfriend, who is also his business partner, and their dog, Roscoe. In his LinkedIn profile, he notes that he's a "5x college dropout."

In some ways, Wallake said, his post was meant to push back against the idea that chief executives are supposed to "be brave."

"Being a business owner and letting people go, I know it's not fun on the other end," he continued, "but we're human, too, and we feel like we're losing a friend."

The Washington Post