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.