The Unraveling of Appen: Executives Depart Amidst Strategic Shifts

  • Key executives, including the Chief Revenue Officer and Marketing Chief, have recently left Appen, exacerbating the company’s challenges.
  • Alphabet’s decision to sever ties earlier this year dealt a significant blow to Appen, leading to a subsequent departure of its CEO.
  • Appen’s revenue has plummeted by 30% in 2023, signaling struggles in adapting to evolving industry dynamics.
  • Structural changes within Appen, including direct reporting lines for key positions, indicate efforts to realign the business strategy.
  • The termination of Alphabet’s contract underscores the risks of overreliance on a few major clients for revenue.
  • Appen’s stock value has plummeted by 99% since its peak in August 2020, reflecting investor concerns about its future prospects.
  • Despite its historical contributions to the AI industry, Appen faces an uphill battle as tech giants increasingly focus on in-house AI development.

Main AI News:

Appen, the AI firm once renowned for its pivotal role in training models for tech behemoths like Microsoft and Google, is facing another blow as key executives depart. Andrew Ettinger, formerly Chief Revenue Officer, and Alicia Hale, erstwhile Marketing Chief, bid adieu to their roles last week, as per an internal memo obtained by CNBC. Both stalwarts had joined the company merely a year ago.

CEO Ryan Kolln, in the shared memo, reiterates the paramount importance of fortifying the sales and marketing functions within the organization. “Strengthening our sales and marketing function remains a top priority for the business,” he affirms, adding, “There is no change to our strategy to grow revenue from existing and new customers.”

This exodus of executives follows hot on the heels of Alphabet’s decision to sever all contractual ties with Appen earlier in January. The move came as a significant blow, given Appen’s historical involvement in training Google’s AI products. Moreover, just two weeks subsequent to Alphabet’s decision, CEO Armughan Ahmad exited the firm after a mere twelve months at the helm.

Despite being a former industry darling, Appen finds itself grappling with a shifting landscape where tech giants increasingly opt to train their own models or rely on leading AI platforms. The company witnessed a stark 30% revenue decline in 2023, following a 13% dip the year prior. This downward trajectory has been attributed, in part, to “challenging external operating and macro conditions.”

Former employees shed light on Appen’s struggle to adapt to the evolving AI landscape, citing years of lax quality controls and a fragmented organizational setup. The company’s recent memo outlines structural changes, including direct reporting lines for the Vice Presidents of Sales and Global Solutions to CEO Kolln, as Appen sets its sights on data services clientele.

Alphabet’s abrupt termination notice, effective March 19, sent shockwaves through Appen. Despite generating $82.8 million in revenue from Alphabet in 2023, the termination underscored the vulnerability of Appen’s overreliance on a handful of tech giants for revenue.

Once a stock market darling, with shares peaking at AU$42.44 ($27.08) in August 2020, Appen’s market cap has since plummeted by a staggering 99%. The company’s future now hinges on its ability to redefine its value proposition in a landscape increasingly dominated by in-house AI endeavors of tech titans.

Appen’s erstwhile projects, spanning search result relevance evaluation to AI-based image categorization, highlight its significant contributions to the tech ecosystem. However, the company now faces an uphill battle as the industry shifts towards internal AI development, relegating external training services to the periphery.

CEO Kolln concludes the memo with a resolute focus on empowering the sales team to navigate these turbulent waters effectively. “To achieve this, we need to equip them with the content and messaging that differentiate Appen vs our competitors,” he emphasizes, underscoring the imperative of differentiation in a fiercely competitive landscape.


Appen’s recent executive departures and revenue decline underscore the challenges faced by companies heavily reliant on external AI training services. The shifting landscape, marked by tech giants’ preference for internal AI development, poses significant threats to Appen’s viability in the market. To survive, Appen must swiftly adapt its strategy to differentiate itself and capture emerging opportunities in the evolving AI ecosystem.