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. It’s the founders breakup chat.
The Glints founders are separating. Qin En will no longer be with the company in an operating capacity.
It was a hard decision, but we did it to enable the continued growth of the company. Creative friction that fuelled our earliest days threatened to become a liability as the team grows and operations mature.
Founders separation is 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 strict abidance 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? Although founders separation is one of the biggest problems for a startup, it is also one of the least talked about because of its sensitivity. We deliberated over whether or not to keep this private for the longest time, but we eventually decided that by opening our kimono and sharing our lessons with the community, we can help other founders who may be going through these tough times.
1. Move Fast & Decisively
Given the rapid growth in tech startups, it is natural for company founders to hold differing views as the company grows.
But many companies cling on to team members for emotional reasons, longer than necessary, and this slows the company down.
We’ve decided against doing that.
Once it was clear that it was better for the company that 1 of the founders step down to minimise conflict, we quickly had the dreaded dessert conversation maturely, and informed our shareholders for their input and advice, many of whom have gone through or observed 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 our minds, we decided on Saturday afternoon to effect the separation in a way that placed our company interests first and foremost.
2. Use both the heart and the head
Some people break up with just the head, leading to maximization of self-interest, cruel board fights, and overall just a heartless process with winners and losers.
Some people work only with the heart, leading to a ton of emotional conversations, irrational decisions, with nothing achieved at the end of the day.
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 fairness front and center. 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. We knew we just had to do what’s best for the employees, shareholders, and users.
When we constantly reminded ourselves of the vision of building the #1 career platform for young professionals in Asia, a lot 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 Oswald remain committed to the company and will do our best to continue the growth momentum, along with Qin En’s best wishes.
In spite of the separation, 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 were solely obsessed with revenue growth, and in the spirit of “whatever it takes”, often compromised on our users. Revenue grew for a while, but not for long. It was a painful lesson, one that we will always remember.
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?”. It’s a tiny change, but the framing gets us 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. Thank you all for your support so far.
Oswald, Qin En & Ying Cong
Co-founders of Glints
P.S. Though our professional relationship has ended, our friendship persists and we continue making boyish jokes 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!