F#@K, My CTO Quit Today

Leadership lessons for tech startup founders

F#@K, My CTO Quit Today

July 4, 2018 Koorosh 0

Just like that?!”, I exclaimed.

“well, yes, I told you few weeks ago, that I’m working on a new opportunity”, he responded.

“and you dump us like that, boom, I quit. What about all good work you have done in the past 5 month?” I asked him.

“What we did was awesome, but this new niche is superb; a real blue ocean, and guess what, the guy brought it up has a lot of experience in channel marketing so we will rock; already has few clients anxious to see the MVP,…” and he went on and on. At some point I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I felt like, I was driving in Grand Prix at 200 miles an hour and suddenly my engine quit on me.


Our tech-startup was formed about 7 month ago. It was one of the best days in this journey when Alan accepted to join us as the CTO. We had a small seed fund so we were ok to get him on board on salary. Of course we wanted to offer him some share, but this was always dropped down the list of the priorities; I thought he was ok to be on salary for now, to see how our startup goes. Besides, from the beginning there was a big gap between his asking and the share I put aside for the CTO. And now he is gone and I have to start searching for a new CTO, and reschedule the launch date (3-4 month delay?!), and keep the team motivated as few may leave and join Alan, and …


As the CEO and the founder of your startup, your top 3 focus should be people, people, and people. This is even more important when you are yet to secure a seed.  Why, because the investor invests on the team and not only on the founder (unless you are a successful serial entrepreneur).


Sitting in a coffee shop and looking at the busy street, thinking, what could I have done to avoid Alan’s exit? Could I stop him, should I have had given him the share he wanted? Maybe, but what if he got the share he asked for and then he would have had gone? How could I have kept him in our startup?


Make sure that you mind the following 3 rules, or you may be at risk of losing a key team member soon.


Rule #1: Caring

As a founder you bring people together, inspire them by sharing a brilliant vision, and motivate them with shares and salary. But more importantly you are bonding with them through transparency, caring, trusting, respecting, coaching and mentoring. You give them the credit of what they have done, and let them shine in reports, in media and in professional venues. You carry the bigger part of the day-to-day stress and let them enjoy a fun and friendly working atmosphere.


Rule #2: Fair and Transparent

As a founder you need to structure a staff share scheme that is fair and wide enough for the people who do the heaving lifting of the work in the first 6, 12 or even 24 month. Talk to your mentor and ask how you could design a fair and transparent stock option system for your staff. Last week I visited a startup in transportation and trucking sector. The CEO was amazed how the newly hired call centre girl manages calls from drivers. He said “no one in this office can do what Mitra does; she comes from a transportation company and knows the industry, loads, trucks and even roads better than the drivers who contact us.” I asked him, “is Mitra on your stock option plan?”, he starred at me, then took his notebook and started writing a note.


Rule #3: Communicate

Normal people cannot read mind.  You need to keep the team informed of almost everything. Don’t keep challenges for yourself and share only the good news with them, neither the other way around. Hold regular round-tables and let them steam off.  Listen to their challenges. Often they hint you quick fixes for your big problems. Transparency and communication is fundamental to build trust with your team members.


As a leader, when you genuinely care about your team, treat them fairly and share the opportunities and challenges transparently, you are building a strong bond with them. Hopefully, this bond would stop them from ditching your startup and their unnoticed exit. And one day, they might even return the favor and offer you a seat in their own startup.










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