Online auction house Paddle8 has suffered a number of defections from its top ranks, while also laying off several employees, as the company adjusts to its merger with rival startup Auctionata, ARTnews has learned. In recent weeks over a dozen staffers have left either on their own volition or at the behest of the company, marking a realignment of its priorities as it forges ahead alongside its new partner.
Of the 16 Paddle8 cofounders, directors, and business executives featured in a photo spread accompanying a W magazine print feature just a year ago, nearly half are now gone.
Among those laid off were Sarah Hanson, who as editorial director oversaw a carefully calibrated blend of marketing endeavors. For example: the sale of work from the collection of jet-setting bon vivant Johnny Pigozzi was accompanied by both a long and colorful magazine-style profile by Hanson (who was previously the editor-in-chief of Art + Auction, and has also held positions at ARTnews) and a splashy party hosted by Paddle8 at Soho Beach House during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Sources indicated that with Hanson’s dismissal—just months after she was brought on board last September—Paddle8’s entire editorial arm is to be scrapped or drastically reduced; her position is presumed to be eliminated, and there are no editorial job listings on the Paddle8 careers page. Another editorial staffer, associate editor Rebecca Bates, has left the company as well, along with the editorial coordinator Izabel Nielsen. Several of Paddle8’s rival art startups—including Artnet, Artspace, and Artsy—retain active editorial platforms with multiple staff writers and robust freelance budgets.
This marks a quick divergence from the plan for the editorial component laid out following a Series C investment round that raised $34 million last fall, got Jay Jopling and Damien Hirst to cough up funds, and saw new investor David Zwirner joining the board of investors. When Artinfo’s Mostafa Heddaya asked Paddle8 cofounder Alexander Gilkes about Hanson’s hiring, Gilkes said, “Editorial will absolutely be an important part of the marketing channel and how we improve the overall user experience.”
“I think Sarah’s involvement will be very much on the user cultivation, seduction, and contextualization,” he added.
Ellis Kelleher, a specialist and head of modern art, is also leaving but staying on as a consultant.
In another high-profile departure, Thomas Galbraith, who left archrival Artnet in 2013 to become Paddle8’s managing director, also left this month. Also gone is Dave Harper, the director of special projects who joined in 2013 from the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Gilkes cofounded Paddle8 with Osman Khan and Aditya Julka but, due to his skills as an auctioneer at charity galas and globe-trotting footprint, he often serves as the company’s public face. He has been profiled nearly a dozen times in a number of general interest newspapers and magazines—W reported from his wedding to fashion designer Misha Noono, which took place on an island fort in Venice that had never been used for a private event, and featured entertainment from singer Lana Del Rey. With the merger, Gilkes will be spending a good chunk of his time working from the Auctionata headquarters in Berlin, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. He will also serve as gavel-wielder during livestreams of sales that will be filmed at Auctionata’s studio space in Chelsea.
Sources indicated that like most startups, Paddle8 has a high rate of turnover, with waves of defections and hiring sprees accompanying fundraising cycles. For example, Caitlin Tormey, the head of operations, and Clare MacGoey, the chief financial officer, left earlier this year. And yet sources also said that this current exodus is more pronounced than others.
In a statement sent this afternoon, Khan said, “A merger is an inevitable inflection point, and in the past month Paddle8 has seen the departure of some of our colleagues in the lead up to and following our merger with Auctionata. Some left to pursue other passions and opportunities, and others as a result of corporate restructuring. In all cases, we are grateful for their contributions to Paddle8.”
Several of the staffers were let go on the morning the merger was announced, around the same time the company brought in bottles of champagne for a celebratory toast at 11 a.m. More exits are forthcoming, according to sources.
A full list of departures is below.
Dave Harper, director of special projects and client development
Thomas Galbraith, managing director
Kate Brambilla, senior director of business development
Maria Garcia-Luben, specialist
Abby Caulkins, valuations and auctions coordinator
Ellis Kelleher, head of modern art
Vivian Brodie, head of emerging art
Rebecca Bates, associate editor
Izabel Nielsen, social media and editorial coordinator
Sarah Hanson, editorial director
David Trujillo, junior specialist
Alex Miciotta, shipping and logistics manager