Dear SaaStr: What’s The Best Way to Fire Your Co-Founder Who Was Once a Friend?

It’s pretty common that a co-founder doesn’t work out, unfortunately. I’ve been a part of all versions of this:

  • I’ve had a great co-founder that went the distance with me.
  • I’ve had one that quit less than a year into the journey.
  • And I’ve been part of a senior team (not a co-founder, but part of a team) where I was the top performer by far, but wasn’t a fit for them in the end.

I’ve also observed this as an investor many times.

We agonize over this, and debate it, but in the end, the answer is simple:

Treat them the way you’d like to be treated.

It’s over. If you truly have to fire (vs. demote in some fashion) your co-founder, the relationship is broken. If not forever, at least probably for quite some time.

So first, my advice is first, slow it down. Are you sure there isn’t a role she can succeed in? If so, try one last time. And get some outside help to work you through this discussion.  The majority of co-founder departures … IMHO at least … are a bummer.  It would be better if someone super talented, that truly knows how everyone works, stayed in some role.  Even if it has to be a different role.  At least try.

But if there’s no chance it can work, be nice about it. Be direct. Be grateful. Just imagine if the shoe was on the other foot.

A bitter, angry ex-founder can drag at least a small cloud over the company for months and even years. Lawsuits, drama, whispers, bad Glassdoors, and more. A co-founder exit done wrong is often just the start of a dragged-out process.

Try to make it as quick but also gentle and appreciative as possible. Probably, they helped you get where you are today. Even if the help tapered off, and wasn’t as much as you’d hoped, or needed.

A related post here:

Dear SaaStr: What Was the Moment You Knew You Had to Break Up With Your Co-founder?

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