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Getting Fired From Your Own Company? No Way!

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You started a company from scratch, worked like dogs, brought investors in, and made tons of money for both your employees and investors. You thought you were doing great and were just considering a key business plan for next step. Then the VCs came in, saying “you know what, you are fired!”

This painful scene is not uncommon. Sooner or later, founders will meet the situation to be fired, either by your VC or board members or your co-founders. Even Steve Jobs, the most legendary founder and CEO in Silicon Valley, cannot avoid being forced out. It can happen to Jobs; it can happen to anyone of us as well.

However, is that unavoidable? Can we do anything to minimize the possibility or loss? Here are some recommendations that could help you to maximize your chances of survival:

  • Stem off a surprise. If business is going poorly, you should never be surprised. But when business is going well, you still would have a chance of being fired, because e.g. they just don’t need you anymore. So pay attention to clues of changes and be aware of international political machinations. Anticipate the betrayal in advance and don’t get panic when you really hear the firing decision so that you wouldn’t make a bad decision.
  • Plan defenses early. Be prepared for danger in times of peace. Know who could be the betrayers, what are the vulnerabilities they would attack on you, and what are the power and people you can ally to make a difference.
  • Build firm relationship with key influencers. Don’t develop relationship with key influencers in the board and working team at the last minute. Build firm relationship and trust with them through close daily interactions. Demonstrate what positive things you have done for this organization and try to win them over to the same camp with you.
  • Have everything written on paper. Just like the necessity to establish a founders agreement, don’t purely rely on promise and words even they are from your current most trusted partners. Try to write down everything if needed so that you can refer to at some point in future.
  • Do not sign or make agreement easily. If your enemies asked you to sign anything or gave pressure to you, don’t give an assured answer or sign any contract immediately. Give yourself more time to evaluate the situation, form alliance and even to give a counterattack. Now it’s you that should control the time and rhythm. So don’t be panic.
  • Counterattack is the best way to defense. Don’t sit back and wait for someone to make a move to plot against you. Be prepared to unleash a first strike. Have plans for the best case and the worst one. Don’t forget to consult with an experience lawyer. At some point you may want to file a lawsuit, which is probably the last step we want to make. But if you counterattack with enough bargaining power, you could end up with more chances to negotiate or win the final result.

2 thoughts on “Getting Fired From Your Own Company? No Way!

  1. Victoria – thanks for the great suggestions! This is certainly something that many of us are thinking about as potential founders, given that the reason we go through the tough times is so we can enjoy the good (so we want to be around for the good!)

    One thing I struggled to reconcile is how you take any of these pre-emptive actions without negatively impacting the company culture, or even contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, just like people worry that having a lawyer draft a “founder’s agreement” could generate mistrust between founders, I worry that writing everything down on paper, planning your defenses early, and counterattacking could damage your relationship with your other co-founders, employees, or investors if found out. Not only could this lead to a faster ejection from the company, but it could also leave enough bad blood that would make it impossible to re-enter the company (a la Jobs) or even work with that group of people again (which is tough as a serial entrepreneur).

    I’m not sure if I have the best answer, but part of it may be further upstream – being incredibly selective about who your bring on as a partner, with “likelihood of firing me” as a criteria.

  2. Great post Victoria! I asked myself a fairly similar question. Your suggestions are great. However, I feel that there is a delicate balance between founder’s personal ambitions (not to get fired) and doing what’s best for the company (which actually might be stepping down/ getting replaced by someone more experienced). On that note, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on preparing for the moment when a founder realizes that it is time to step down.

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