Co-founder leaving a startup – when is “the best” time to quit?
The best time to quit is the earlier of (x) 6 months from now or (y) at any time when the other founders ask you to.
Given that you’ve decided to leave, it’s time. It’s time to move on.
And likely, your other founders already know, at least on some level. Everyone always knows these things in a small company.
What isn’t clear is whether an abrupt change, a gradual change, or something in the middle is the best:
- Sometimes, engineering or other expertise is critical to keep on for a while. The site literally can’t stay up without you, a key feature can’t ship, etc.
- Other times, it’s best to get a founder or other employee whose core accomplishments are behind him out sooner. Just a few weeks transition may be fine here.
- And other times, it’s toxic. You need to leave now. Even if the toxicity isn’t your “fault”.
The best thing for the company, and for you, is to be flexible. Let emotion go and let your co-founders decide. Work out an agreement, both in spirit and on paper, where it’s up to them.
You’ll commit to staying up to say 6 months. But if they want you at any time to leave earlier, all they have to do is shake your hands and say “we’re proud to make you an emeritus member of the team.”
Then you can go off and be a proud founder (that title is always yours) and alum.
Treat everyone (founders, investors, employees) the way you’d like to be treated in this scenario. Let all emotion and drama go. If you do that, even if it’s suboptimal for you in the short term (6 months may sound too long) … it will pay off in the long run.