It’s the dreaded after lunch dessert conversation. Hearts thumping, saliva swallowing, and a bittersweet feeling that no amount of sweet raspberry cheesecake seemed to help.
“It’s not you, it’s me”
“What could we have done differently?”
“Can we still be friends?”
The breakup conversation.
Only this time round, it wasn’t a conversation between a guy and a girl, but 3 guys.
3 guys who have been sleeping together for the past 3 years. In office.
Don’t worry ladies, we’re still straight. Its the founders breakup chat.
The Glints founders are breaking up. Qinen will no longer be with the company in an operating capacity
It was a hard decision, but we did it to enabled the company to continue growing. When the company is small, creative friction creates the sparks that got the fire started. But now that the company is growing, such sparks can lead to explosions, and we wanted to prevent that.
Founders separations are one of the biggest risks for a startup, and can often tear a company apart. Fortunately, with our amazing shareholders’ support, a firm eye on the company vision, and executing on the principle of doing whatever is best for the company, we have managed to execute this decision even more smoothly than expected.
How did we do it? Founders separation are one of the biggest problems for a startup, but also one of the least talked about because of how sensitive it is. We delibrated over whether or not to keep this private or public for the longest time, but we hope that by opening our Kimono and sharing our lessons with the community, we can help some others founders who may be going through this tough times.
1. Move Fast & Decisively
Given the fast growth nature of tech companies, it is natural for the company to require a mix of different skills and talent as the company grow.
Reid Hoffman wisely recommends the tour of duty model.
But many companies cling on to team members for emotional reasons, longer than necessary, and this slows down the company.
We decided not to do that.
Once it was clear that it was better for the company that 1 of the founders step down to make room for more growth, we quickly had the dreaded dessert conversation maturely, and informed our shareholders for their inputs and advice, many of whom have gone through or seen similar situations in the past. By opening up quickly and honestly, we were able to tap on their experiences to avoid making the same mistakes.
The separation happened swiftly and decisively. The conversation topic was first brought up after lunch on a Friday afternoon, and after 5 hours of honest discussion and an evening to clear each other’s heads, we decided on Saturday afternoon to effect the separation in a way that placed our talent and employers community interest first and foremost.
Its going to hurt anyway, make it a fast one and move on.
2. Use both the heart and the head
Some people break up with just the head, leading to self-maximization of every interest, cruel board fights, and overall just a heartless process with winners and losers.
Some people works only with the heart, leading to a ton of emotional conversations, irrational decisions, and nothing gets done.
We tried to use both. We would not have come so far if not for each other, and decided that we work on the separation agreement with the principle of fairness. Making sure that at the end of the day, we can look each other in the eye and confidently say with our hearts we have been fair to each other. At the same time, trying as it was, we put our emotions aside and worked out the details with rationality.
3. Focus on the big vision
Separation decisions are never easy. But it can be less difficult if you do a zoom out and focus on the big vision of the company.
At the end of the day, what matters is the company mission and vision. We realized we have built something greater than any one individual, and did our best to make sure that the company will continue to succeed with or without any of us.
When we constantly reminded ourselves of the vision of building the #1 career platform for young professionals in Asia, alot of the nitty gritty details seemed to magically worked themselves out.
While the separation in the past quarter was not easy, the handover has gone very smoothly. Moving forward, Ying Cong and I remain committed to the company and will do our best to continue the growth momentum. Here’s what we will do:
Grow Revenue without compromising on Our Users
Inspite of the drama, quarterly revenue grew 60% at Glints in Q3, and quarter on quarter user growth doubled.
But revenue is just a lagging indicator of success, and we must always remember to put our users first.
There was a time in Glints history when we first started where we were obsessed with revenue growth only, and in the spirit of “whatever it takes”, often compromised on our users. Reveneu grew for awhile, but not for long. It was a painful lesson, and we will always remember that.
Now, our strategic meetings are organized around the question of “what can we do to deliver our key value to our users better?” rather than “what can we do to grow our revenue?”. Its a tiny change, but the framing gets up to come up with entirely different solutions.
Ultimately, what makes a company successful is not just how well we handle our breakups or write a breakup letter, but how well we serve our users. We will continue our relentless focus on helping the talent in our community to find great opportunities they love, and for the companies to find great talent.
P.S. Though our professional relationship has ended for now, the 3 of us has managed to preserve our friendship and continue our boisterous and boyish jokes towards each other in our private moments.
In fact, we will be going to Bali together for a holiday end of this year. Interested? Come join us here: