On Aug. 3 last year, after doing a round of victory donuts on a street near Sparkman Wharf in Tampa, Fla., Domm Holland stepped out of the passenger seat of a NASCAR racing pickup truck. The black Chevy Silverado was branded with the name of the startup he was leading: Fast, a developer of software that online stores could use to help shoppers pay with one click. Holland put on a pink blazer and walked to a nearby stage to meet Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Together they announced to Fast’s employees and members of the local press that Silicon Valley’s hottest startup had chosen the city as its East Coast hub. The event ended with a performance by a Jet Ski rider doing backflips in the water below.
The press conference was part of a multi-day corporate retreat for which the San Francisco–based startup flew in dozens of employees. During a recruiting event the day after Holland’s grand entrance, Tampa locals spoke with employees about career opportunities at the startup, which was supposedly growing in leaps and bounds.
But it was all for show. Within weeks, talk died down internally about the planned hiring in Tampa. While Fast hired more than 30 people in the month following the retreat, none of them were based in Tampa, a person familiar with the matter said. And on Tuesday, eight months after the splashy event, the startup suddenly shut down, stunning its roughly 450 employees. Until a few days ago, many of them had no inkling the business had been in dire shape for a long time.