The Fall of Babylon Is a Warning for AI Unicorns

9 months ago 59

Parsa named his company after the ancient city of Babylon, which, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, had a square where citizens gathered to share tips on how to treat their ailments.

Former employees say Parsa was obsessed with “blitzscaling”—the kind of entrepreneurial hypergrowth popularized by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman. The company went on uncontrolled hiring sprees, ex-employees say, and teams were often working on overlapping projects. Three teams were working on three different, mutually incompatible versions of the symptom checker at one point, says an ex-employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The employee says they once found a product manager wandering the building on his second day at the company. He had been left looking for a team to work with because nobody had onboarded him or told him where he should be. “He assumed it was some kind of onboarding ‘challenge’ to just find a team to join,” the employee says.

The C-suite experienced lots of turnover. Senior leadership would go on retreats to Antigua, which wasn’t widely known by staff—until it was leaked on a public Slack channel. Parsa “once presented a stand-up from Antigua while pretending to be in his office,” one ex-employee says. Former staff say Parsa’s leadership style was “idiosyncratic” and “occasionally megalomaniacal.” At one point, Parsa tried to ban Microsoft PowerPoint at the company. Workers, whom Parsa referred to as Babylonians, were chastised by the CEO for leaving at 5:30 pm, Harvey says.

Parsa’s rush for scale outpaced Babylon Health’s ability to actually put out finished products, according to former employees. After Harvey joined, the company reassured him that its data science team was working on a knowledge graph, which c...

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