5

Here is the background:

I've been with the company for 8 months now as an employee, and have seen the company go from being 3 people and a few contractors to almost 30. We've taken no outside funding; this is all organic growth.

Along the way I've seen things go in an interesting direction. At the beginning, the CEO would let people handle things, but since the start of this year, the CEO refuses to let anyone else handle the following things:

  • bookkeeping
  • contract negotiation
  • supplier discussions
  • client/customer acquisition
  • sales
  • etc

Basically, if it doesn't fall under the purview of a generic "engineer" or "developer", he doesn't want to let anyone else touch it. He has no background in business administration or anything; he's an engineer by passion and training.

Others at the company have seen it as well, and the stress is starting to take its toll on everyone, not just him.

He doesn't sleep for 3 days, and then when he passes out for 24 hours the entire company has a crisis because none of us have access to any company resources.

Customers aren't getting billed on time, contract negotiations that should take a day take weeks (stretching into months in one case), etc.

How do we go about rectifying this? None of us have equity; it's 100% owned by the CEO. We have offered to help, and he has ignored us because "my tax guy didn't strangle me last year and neither did my lawyer, don't worry about it." (And before you ask about the equity, we have been "awaiting agreements from the lawyer" for 4+ months on how the company gets split between everyone.)

Update: We're all unemployed. We delivered a letter of grievances, which included giving him a appropriate amount of time to "show signs of progress", and were told to leave and not come back once he was done reading the letter. Comments we have heard from clients and others include that he allegedly said 'I am very disappointed that they didn't point this out sooner', and 'I don't know what they expected working for a startup'.

In all, we're not happy with how it ended, however we are glad it's over. Thanks for the advice all!

  • 5
    @joe startups is closed, that's why I'm here. This is a workplace culture problem that just happens to be happening in a "startup". – startup worker May 12 '14 at 0:46
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    @JoeStrazzere Is the workplace at a startup not part of "the workplace"? Granted there are some things that are exclusive to startups, and a number of broader issues that are amplified when in the context of a startup (such as the impact of a poor CEO), but I don't think that should exclude them from the discussion. A separate site for startup-specific issues seems a bit overly fragmented, to me. – aroth May 12 '14 at 2:01
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    @MarcusBitzl 1. "I don't want you guys to be bothered with this stupidity", and 2. We have a single communications director (marketing and sales) who deals with a single project, which (ironically enough) is going fine, but is not the primary focus of the company. – startup worker May 12 '14 at 17:52
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    Hm, 1. might be a starting point. Maybe some of you could solve tasks that would help the company (e.g. prepare a bill so the CEO could send it) and give it to him. – Marcus Bitzl May 12 '14 at 19:23
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    We are preparing a letter to present at our next weekly meeting. Thanks for the help everyone, I hope it works. :) – startup worker Jun 5 '14 at 17:28
13

"my tax guy didn't strangle me last year and neither did my lawyer, don't worry about it."

The blunt fact is "Not yet". The company would be better off if they did some strangling because then, the alarm bells would go off. Unfortunately, accounting and legal are lagging indicators of a company's health and by the time they get around to say and substantiate that the company is in trouble, the company will have gone from being in trouble to being in deep trouble.

The only thing I can think of is that all of you sign a petition describing in explicit detail some of the consequences of the CEO's management style. Frankly, unless the CEO learns to delegate, the company may not survive its growth phase.

The basics of a business as a going concern must be met:

  1. payroll must be met
  2. bills including the rent must be paid
  3. CEO must meet new customers and expand the business relationship with existing customers
  4. All appropriate laws and regulations including those about fire and safety must be complied with
  5. Key decisions must be made on a timely basis

If they aren't, the business goes down the tubes.

  • 2
    @startupworker 'I am very disappointed that they didn't point this out sooner' Now, he makes this into your fault :) And: a CEO never talks to the firm's clients about the CEO's firm's business troubles. A CEO interviews with the prospective . in the same way that a candidate interviews for a position: you put your best foot forward - The kindest word I have for your CEO is "clueless". The firm's survival was in question before you delivered the letter. Laying you all off isn't going to help. Good luck to him running his firm and doing business with the clients from a P.O. box. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 27 '14 at 11:30
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    We shall see what he does. So far I have heard rumors that when pressed for details on who will lead his teams for a project, he still uses my name and one of the other engineers as "Possible team leads". However, since we have been unable to get this confirmed, but have only heard it second hand from one source, we have been uncertain about how to proceed. – startup worker Jul 27 '14 at 23:33
  • Do you have a non-compete? It sounds like the company I still in business. if it folds totally, the non-compete may no longer have force. perhaps a bunch of you could offer similar services? If you can't get an investor, you might get a government grant to help found your own startup – Mawg Nov 27 '18 at 12:53
4

Offering help will not get him to see your point of view (as you have found out).

He seems to respond to incentives from his accountant and his lawyer, so you can go that route, if possible.

In other words, if bills aren't getting paid on time and fees are accruing, then show him that. Show him that you are turning away clients because you don't have a a person to deal with that. Essentially, show him how much money he is losing by not delegating this admin stuff to other people.

If that doesn't get him to turn around, then there is nothing for you to do. You can't change a person that does not want to change. If it is affecting the quality of your work, then you need to find other employment before you start to look bad and unfairly get blamed for the blow up.

4

Background

"my tax guy didn't strangle me last year and neither did my lawyer, don't worry about it."

Actually, that means "not yet" if nothing changes. Moreover, this answer shows that he's actually thinking about this possibility.

Basically, if it doesn't fall under the purview of a generic "engineer" or "developer", he doesn't want to let anyone else touch it. He has no background in business administration or anything, [...]

when he passes out for 24 hours the entire company has a crisis because none of us have access to any company resources.

This sounds strange, as he's keeping employees out from company business. I see three possible reasons (my interpretation, more than one could apply):

  1. Panick: He is not able to delegate or provide access to company resources because in his view there is "no time" for that, and he's probably to stressed out to even think about it. That he doesn't sleep would make this even worse.

  2. Hiding something: If he would provide more access, employees would gain information of something he doesn't want to (e.g. bad economic situation, troubles with partners,...).

  3. Trust issues: In this case, he would believe that the only way things could work are those he does on his own (or even worse, employees could harm him).

we are "awaiting agreements from the lawyer" for 4+ months on how the company gets split between everyone

Could be simple matter of overall chaos, or a hint for 2.

I've been with the company for 8 months now [...] since the start of the year

Did anything special happen five month ago? E.g. a project gone wrong, trouble of some coworker with the boss, trouble with partners? Lawsuits? It's strange that the change happened.

What you (and you coworkers) could do

It seems as is there an underlying problem you (and your coworkers) do not know of. It might be easier if you knew it, but by now you have only what you can observe.

  1. Any employee could point out certain issues together with the expected benefits he/she could solve. It seems you and your coworkers have tried that already.

  2. He seems maybe receptive to the tax guy or the lawyer. Maybe one of you could get them to help him understanding his problems. This works probably only well if one of you knows them already. Be careful not to look look like you're plotting.

  3. Get someone to talk to him in private. This could be you or one of your colleagues who is close enough to him. Tell him how you worry about him and offer some open help. Maybe one can get him to open up a bit and being more receptive for help.

  4. Does anyone in the company have common friends with your boss? Someone who could mediate? Be careful as bringing personal relations in such a conflict could harm them.

  5. You and your coworkers could chose one of you to talk to your boss in order of all employees. If possible, some coworker who is close to him would be good. This way you could try to solve some of the problems as well as to get some information what ''really'' happens.

  6. If all fails, a written petition of all employees addressing the main problems could help, although it's quite harsh because it's written.

At the end, please keep two things in mind:

  • With everything you do, be careful not to create the impression you are plotting.
  • The problem at your company has many parts being difficult and very exhausting each one on its own. Please keep in mind that you can only help as long as you have enough energy. So prepare to do anything necessary to keep you sane.
  • 1
    This reminds me of a story about a big company that went bust because of #2; the accounting guy (who was the CEO's brother in law) refused to ever take a vacation, vetoed multiple accounting software solutions, and it turned out he was embezzling a LOT of money. – swbarnes2 May 12 '14 at 17:47
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    @swbarnes2 we've essentially ruled that one out. We all know where the money goes at this point, it just takes forever to get billed. I've had clients ask/beg me to bill them, and I've had to say no because we don't have access to do it correctly. – startup worker May 12 '14 at 18:11
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    If he's supposed to give the impression that he's not "plotting",then presenting him with a petition isn't going to do that. A petition is hostile behaviour. And I don't see how pointing out things that the questioner has already tried is even remotely answering his question. – user19432 May 12 '14 at 18:46
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    @rocinante no, but if it helps others who are in the same position, I'm OK with this answer as it stands. – startup worker May 12 '14 at 19:07
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    If he was embezzling you can be absolutely sure he would be billing clients on time. – NotMe May 15 '14 at 23:17
2

You say two things about this that are basically the writing on the wall:

“my tax guy didn’t strangle me last year and neither did my lawyer, don’t worry about it.”

He says, “my” in both cases. Never “our” or “the company’s.” It’s him saying “my tax guy” and “my lawyer.”

Then there is this:

He doesn’t sleep for 3 days, and then when he passes out for 24 hours the entire company has a crisis because none of us have access to any company resources.

Seems like he knows what he is doing. Because I then read this:

And before you ask about the equity, we have been “awaiting agreements from the lawyer” for 4+ months on how the company gets split between everyone.

Do you see where this is going? Basically his “disturbing lack of delegation” is not just on tasks. It sounds like this CEO is on a death march to make this company successful for him & only him.

You are basically being seen as being lucky to be eating his dust. And it sounds like when the dust settles, equity might not happen & you should be grateful for the “experience.” And how you can use that on your resume to get a new gig.

How do we go about rectifying this?

The only viable option I see is for all staff—and I mean 100% all staff—to stop working until these issues are addressed. But based on the mentality shown so far, it seems that if everyone left he’d just shrug & hire more people. Perhaps you can organize as a group & get a lawyer to force the situation?

This is a tough call, but I would err on the side of sitting down & rationally working out what is happening with others in the company. For all you know there might be a mass exodus. Exponential growth in a company does not always mean there is a clear benefit to the on-the-ground workers like you.

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