Imagine being the founder of a company. You start it from scratch, work like a dog, and deal with all kinds of trouble before finally taking it to the next level.
But what if you were told one day that you will no longer be involved with the company’s day-to-day operations? Worse, what if you’re pushed out of the company entirely?
The following five founders have experienced that in their respective careers. But they also found a way to deal with it, and in some cases, even returned to the company they once left behind.
Here’s what they learned from their experience:
1) Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise – Apple’s Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985, almost 10 years after he started it in his parents’ garage. Although he returned as Apple CEO in the late 90s, Jobs said the whole experience was “devastating” at the time, and he even thought about “running away from the Valley.”
But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Jobs said during his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me…It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
While away from Apple, Jobs launched two very successful companies, NeXT and Pixar, and became a family man. “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple,” he said.
2) Investors could turn adversary – Cisco’s Sandy Lerner
Sandy Lerner, one of the cofounders of Cisco, is no longer part of the company after losing control to a management group led by its early investor, Sequoia Capital’s Don Valentine.
She was eventually fired from Cisco shortly after it went public in 1990. Cisco is now worth more than $US140 billion.
Lerner said in a post on Inc Magazine that she was too naïve when she accepted Valentine’s $US2.6 million investment for 30% of the company, because Valentine was responsible for her firing.
“I did not understand an investor could be an adversary,” she wrote. “I assumed our investor supported us, because his money was tied up in our success. I did not realise he had decoupled the success of the company from that of the founders.”
3) The company’s not about you; it’s about the product – Twitter’s Noah Glass
Noah Glass is one of Twitter’s cofounders who came up with the name Twitter. But he’s also the cofounder no one talks about.
It’s because he was pushed out of the company back in 2006. Glass told Business Insider in 2011 that getting erased from Twitter history was difficult to deal with at first.
“I was not in the story, which in some ways was difficult to deal with in the beginning, since it was a massive labour of love and a massive labour to get it created,” he said.
But eventually, Glass realised the company’s legacy is not always about the individual founders, but the actual product, as he said, “Twitter is a phenomenon and a massively beneficial tool and it’s incredibly useful and it helps a lot of people. I realised the story’s not about me. That’s ok.”
4) Investors could lose patience pretty quickly – Tesla’s Martin Eberhard
Martin Eberhard cofounded Tesla in 2003. He was CEO until 2007, when one day he was told by Elon Musk, the company’s chairman and primary investor, that he’d be replaced by Michael Marks, an early investor.
The board apparently held a meeting without Eberhard before they made the finally decision to replace him. “I didn’t get to hear what they said. I didn’t get to defend myself. I felt totally stranded,” Eberhard said to Business Insider’s Drake Baer.
But the main reason behind Eberhard’s firing was Musk’s apparent distrust in him as CEO. Mike Harrigan, Tesla’s ex-VP of marketing, said of Musk: “Once he’s convinced that you can’t do the job, there’s no way you can convince him back again. That happened many times to many people, and that’s what happened with Martin. Once he determined that Martin couldn’t be the CEO of Tesla any longer, that was it. He was fired.”
5) It’s just not the right position for you – Zynga’s Mark Pincus
To be clear, Mark Pincus wasn’t fired from Zynga, the online gaming company he cofounded in 2007. After all, he still holds 63% of the voting power, which means he can’t be ousted unless he fires himself.
But that’s exactly what he did in 2013, when he chose to step down as Zynga CEO. The reason? It just wasn’t the right role for him.
“I learned a lot of hard lessons on the CEO front … and do not give myself very high marks as a CEO of a large-scale company,” he admitted during an interview with Re/code’s Kara Swisher.
He also told Swisher, “I basically fired myself,” because the job at Zynga wasn’t something he was passionate about at the time. “Managing more than 200 people, maybe 150 people, isn’t fun to me and is not my skill set,” he said.
But in a surprise move, Pincus had a change of mind and returned as Zynga CEO earlier this month.