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I co-founded a company a couple years ago, and am in charge of the development aspects of the company. I am an executive (CTO) and am on the board of directors. I also own 20% of the company (the president owns the other 80%).

There are no full time employees who can develop, and we outsource work to a friend of mine in another country when things get busy. I am also the only one who can communicate with that friend due to a language barrier. So if I leave, the whole development side of things would stop.

The guy I cofounded the company with and I don't really see eye to eye on how a company should be run, and, seeing as he is the president of the company, he tends to get his way more often than not. I am often yelled at in front of everyone else, or in a public online channel that everyone in the company can see, for several hours at a time (almost at a weekly basis). I can't really see myself coming to like working at this company as a possibility anymore, so I would like to explore other options.

However, if I quit, the whole company would likely go under, and I don't really want to be the cause of that either. There may be a chance that we could sell off our development contracts to other companies, and then the company could turn exclusively into a design company (as that is what the other employees do), but the design contracts just started to enter a rough patch as of last month.

I've tried changing focus from client work to creating our own service, but my ideas were all shut down due to them being unsure with the domain, or saying that they don't have a very good image of what the project would be based on (at the time, cryptocurrency), so it didn't get anywhere. Since then, there has been a similar project released by another company.

How could I either make this company a place I actually enjoy belonging to, or move onto another place without essentially screwing over the members (including the president) who would remain behind?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 7 '18 at 3:16
  • You co-founded the company, are you also co-owner? – Pieter B Jun 7 '18 at 10:36
  • @PieterB Yes, I own about 20% of the company whereas he owns the remaining 80% – さりげない告白 Jun 7 '18 at 10:43
60

It doesn't sound like this situation is salvageable, so I think leaving the company is your best option. However, it's clear that you still care about the future of the company and would prefer not to cause harm when you leave, so simply dropping a two weeks notice and disappearing isn't the best option.

This is one of the very few resignation situations where I would suggest having an open and honest conversation with your co-founder. The risk of telling the boss you are planning to leave the company is always that you will be fired before you can quit, but if you are really as critical to the company as you say you are, then that shouldn't happen here. I would try starting a closed-door conversation like this:

I've been thinking a lot about our company and where we are headed. You know that we often don't see eye-to-eye and have different visions for what we want the company to achieve. I think it's time for me to step back from the company leadership. I am not feeling fulfilled in this role, and you need someone on your team who shares your vision for the company. In order for the company to grow and succeed, which we both want it to, you need someone in leadership who is as passionate about your approach as you are, and that's not me. I'd like to work up a plan to effectively transition me out of the CTO position without negatively impacting the company.

The important points are to emphasize why it is beneficial to the company (and your co-founder) that you leave. It is important not to emphasize how he has treated you poorly. Hopefully he sees your reasoning and you can discuss how to find your replacement. He may change face all of a sudden and try to convince you to stay. If you are serious about leaving the company (and I would really only have this conversation if you are), then you need to be assertive and not back down on the fact that you will be leaving the company.

The biggest question with this approach is when to have the conversation. Usually you don't tell someone you are leaving until you already have another job lined up, but in this instance an effective transition will need a little more time than your standard notice period. One approach is to wait until you have a new job that is willing to give you a long notice period. Another approach is to have the conversation after you've started the job search and feel comfortable you will find a job, but you haven't gotten a formal offer yet. You'll notice I worded the conversation in a way that only mentioned leaving the CTO position, and not the company. This gives you a little opportunity to shift to a more junior role while you continue to look for a job, but that really is only there as a weak safety net that I wouldn't rely on too heavily. The end goal is to leave the company, but you don't have to explicitly say that.

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    I suspect this will cause the president to behave reasonably for about two weeks and then quickly regress back to their bad behavior after securing the OP's agreement to stay (and any potential offers from other firms have expired). Even if the OP steps down from CTO, they'll basically be thrust back into the same role as soon as it's convenient for the president. – Glen Pierce Jun 6 '18 at 12:58
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    @GlenPierce Yes, exactly. That's why the OP needs to insist that they are leaving, regardless of whether the president starts to "play nice". – David K Jun 6 '18 at 13:06
  • @DavidK It would also give the CEO chance to be even harsher to the OP. Also if the OP is fired before they quit, they could probably claim unfair dismissal. – Pharap Jun 7 '18 at 18:18
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    And don't forget that you should try to sell those shares back to the other co-founder. They might be worth more as toilet paper after you leave anyway. – Stephen Mar 7 at 7:18
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Find a new job, submit your two weeks notice and leave. This doesn't sound like a valuable company so your shares are almost certainly worthless. You're probably shielded by the corporate veil if this is a company in the US, but if you've signed any contracts besides an employment agreement, you might want to contact an attorney (especially if there's a non-compete agreement in effect).

This sounds like a bridge that was burned by your abusive partner, not you. Walk away from the ashes.

  • 72
    +1 "This sounds like a bridge that was burned by your abusive partner. .." Yes, the "chewing out" in public Slack/chat-type spaces seems worse than the concern about the general direction of the company. – Robert Dundon Jun 6 '18 at 14:07
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    I'd like to add, "Nobody is irreplaceable, not even the owner"—in this case, the co-founder. If the company goes under, it's entirely their fault. Early in my career I was in an unfulfilling job where I thought I was irreplaceable. Had a mentor tell me otherwise, and I put my two weeks in the day after—I didn't burn any bridges because I loved the business and everyone I worked with. The business is still around, doing great, and I refer everyone I know to the business. I learned a lesson though: I'm not irreplaceable. – Nathan Goings Jun 6 '18 at 14:51
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    How is “hey employees, friends, you won't be able to feed your kids in ... uhm ... two weeks, hasta la vista“ the highest voted answer? I can really honestly not understand that. Op is a founder. And mentioned in the question that this isn't what they want... – DonQuiKong Jun 7 '18 at 4:03
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    The firm isn't going to shut down the day this individual leaves. They'll probably simply be replaced. No one is going to starve to death over this either way since the other employees will probably find jobs elsewhere soon enough. – Glen Pierce Jun 7 '18 at 6:18
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    @DonQuiKong Even if they are the founder - how are they supposed to change anything if the CEO doesn't let them and they don't have the shares to get rid of the CEO? If the company goes under because 1 employee (even a founder) leaves, company management (ultimately the CEO) has been wilfully neglecting the bus factor to the detriment of the company. – AllTheKingsHorses Jun 7 '18 at 12:34
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This sounds bad.

I wouldn't want to work with a person who betrayed my trust in such a way, let alone be their business partner. In fact, it seems you're getting bullied either unintentionally or intentionally to drive you out or to deflect blame onto you.

You should contact your lawyer about your options and their ramifications for yourself as well as the company.

Should you decide to leave, it is up to the remaining management to take care of the company and you have nothing to do with a potential demise if they turn out to be incompetent.

10

When leaving any employment, focus on where your career is going, not where it has been. A certain amount of ruthlessness is required in business, your cofounder has it, you appear lacking which is why you're getting walked all over.

In any case it's not your problem if it all falls to bits, the smart thing to do would be to prepare for that eventuality, start your own business and take over the clients.

7

I suppose it must be really hard to leave a project you've co-founded. Up to some point, you probably feel it as your baby.

If that's your case and you care about the company, keep reading. Else - search for a new job and forget about that death-trap.


Assuming you care about the company, you should focus on getting your co-founder back on track. People yelling at people is unacceptable, and you should convey that message to him.

Let aside a boss yelling at people - he should lead by example to grow a healthy environment instead of.. well, doing the exact opposite.

I don't really know how to convince him of changing his mind/way, but I do know that's the issue you have to solve to make the company the environment in which you (or everyone else, for that matter) would like to work.

It probably deserves its own question & answers in the site - it may even already exist -, but the first step is to make him notice the issues he's causing. How do his actions & attitude affect you? What issues does it cause? How about the rest of the employees?

Depending on his nature, the most effective way of conveying the message would probably (and sadly) be to show him how he's hurting the business. Are people unhappy and therefore affecting their jobs outcomes? Is quality/quantity of work suffering? If he is a more open person (which, by your description, doesn't feel like), you could take a more human approach - people is investing part of their lives in a company that doesn't respect them that much.

Once you get him to understand there's an issue - then you start trying to fix it. External advisors, more questions here, whatever. But you need him to want to make a change, or any of you two should leave.

Good luck with that!

4

You should talk to a lawyer.

Even if you are shielded from personal liability by the corporation things can still go bad.

If you don't care about the 20% then tell him want to forfeit your shares and be removed from the board of directors.

As far as what happens to the company that is not your problem. You have been treated poorly.

If he asks you to stay around when you resign then you could negotiate terms but what he has done is very disrespectful. I doubt he will change.

0

Firstly secure a new job. Then hand in your notice.

A company should never be in a position where a member of staff is irreplacable. If your company is in this position then management has been negligent.

If you are management, then you should probably start working towards fixing that before you give your notice.

If you truly want to help the company (or more specifically, the staff) then you should suggest spending your notice period helping to interview candidates for your replacement. You may even want to extend your notice period for a week or two if you're feeling particularly generous.

From the sounds of things you're going to need both a developer and a translator. (Although be aware that it's possible the company might decide it's easier to cut your friend out of the equation and outsource to someone who speaks their language.)

Also, make sure that your notice period is public knowledge. If any other members of staff believe the company won't survive without you, it gives them chance to secure themselves another job before they jump ship.

Whatever happens, don't feel guilty. You aren't the one in the wrong here. You've effectively been pushed out by the president's behaviour.

If the company can't survive without you, then the company has been mismanaged.

The company may even survive this ordeal and end up being a better company because of it. If they survived it would hopefully open their eyes to the problem of the bus factor and hopefully the president might learn to start being nicer to people.

  • "From the sounds of it, you are just a developer and not management, in which case it's not your problem." - The OP said that they are a co-founder, the CTO, and own 20% of the company. The are most definitely NOT just a developer. – David K Jun 7 '18 at 18:56
  • @DavidK Where did they say they are the CTO? I saw that they are a founder and own 20% of the company, but they didn't specify what non-technical role they perform. The way the OP worded it, it sounds like the OP doesn't have much of a say about how the company is run. – Pharap Jun 7 '18 at 19:02
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    It looks like it was in comments that have since been moved to chat. I added that info back into the question. I'm guessing that this company only has a handful of employees, with the founders being two of them. – David K Jun 7 '18 at 19:08
  • @DavidK That makes sense. It wouldn't be the first time moderators have unhelpfully pushed useful information to chat. I've removed one line about my assumptions, but my advice remains the same: the OP should help to find a suitable replacement and then bail out. – Pharap Jun 7 '18 at 19:13

protected by Masked Man Jun 7 '18 at 14:27

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