You Just Fired Your Cofounder. Now What?

September 5, 2013

9:00 am

You feared this day would come: it’s time for you to fire your cofounder. Whether through differences in strategic direction, failure to execute critical tasks, or simply being the victim of success by owning responsibilities that require experience he doesn’t have, you know that you need to let your business partner go. Now. So how do you do it and, more importantly, how do you find someone to take up the slack without severely disrupting your overall business?

When the day comes, if you have done your own job correctly, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to anyone. As an effective manager, you have set clear, measurable goals for each member of your management team and have conducted regular performance reviews and offered course corrections or even warnings when necessary. You have also meticulously documented any shortcomings and shared those with HR (if you have someone in that function) as well as appropriate advisors and members of the management team. Eran Gil has already penned a great post that goes into the details of this part of the process.

There – you’ve just done one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do in business. Now what? Since you’ve seen this moment coming, if you’re smart, you’ve been building a bench of talent since Day One. The most successful entrepreneurs are also strong networkers who recognize that the war for talent is fierce in this industry. Essentially, they become the Chief Executive Recruiter, considering every business conversation as an informal interview for a future potential hire. Ask yourself, how might this person fit into my organization? How can I learn something from him/her? Does this person have demonstrated skills that are superior to those of existing team members? What doors could this person open for us?

When you have identified people whom you could see adding value to your team, develop a “touch plan” and make a point to contact that person at least once a quarter. Have a purpose to the call, such as providing an update on new product features or customers, seeking professional advice, backchannel reference checks on common connections, or congratulating them on some accomplishment you’ve read about in the industry trade press. By maintaining warm, consistent contact, you will cultivate a relationship and keep your finger on the pulse of their disposition regarding possible career moves. Then, when the day comes for you to seek a replacement for the person you just let go, you will minimize the disruption to day-to-day operations through an accelerated recruitment process.

Guest author Steve Touhill is a partner with GM Ryan International, a boutique executive search firm serving early venture and growth equity companies in Internet/mobile advertising, marketing, and media technology. Prior to joining GM Ryan in 2008, Steve led sales teams at AOL, Lightningcast (acquired by AOL in 2006), and Clearspring Technologies (now AddThis).

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