“I just bought a unit in new The Millennium building, up in the City,” my co-founder, “Ken”, said to me. “You should check it out!”
“Really,” I said. “I thought you were going to buy a house on the peninsula, closer to where our future office will be?”
“Nope,” Ken said, laughing. “The Millennium was calling me!”
“Okay,” I said.
At that moment, I wondering how all in Ken was going to be once we became operational. The drive from San Francisco to our office, without traffic, was going to be close to an hour each way. Was Ken really going to make that drive every day?
Rule Number One: You should never start a company with a co-founder that isn’t all in.
I began to worry about Ken’s commitment to the company. And my worry grew larger after I went up to the City and saw Ken’s unit in The Millennium; it was huge with a view of the Bay Bridge.
“Wow,” I said to Ken. “This is really nice. I don’t think I’d ever want to leave (if I lived there).”
“Let’s go to the gym downstairs,” Ken said.
Ken and I took the elevator downstairs to the gym. It was world class. The equipment was brand new. The facility was spotless.
Ken and I finished our workout, and then I was about to go on my way home. Ken said to me, “Brett, you and Blossom should have dinner with us at the Michael Mina restaurant on the ground floor. It’s awesome!”
"Sure," I said.
All the way back down the peninsula, I was thinking about Ken’s future. There would be a lot of travel. Would Ken really want to leave the opulence of The Millennium for life at a bunch of Holliday Inns?
Rule Number Two: Have early conversations with your co-founders about the sacrifices necessary to build a successful startup.
And then, after that drive home from San Francisco, I did, you guessed it, nothing. I rationalized away Ken’s extravagant lifestyle and told myself it would be okay.
Our funding closed, and we became operational. Ken would work from his “home office” at least three days a week, coming in for our Tuesday staff meeting. His work seemed to be getting done, and I said nothing.
Every Thursday, if I was in town, Ken and I would have lunch to talk over how things were going. Again, I said nothing about my concerns.
This routine went on for the next nine months until our first product was ready to launch. Ken’s plan was to be on the road, traveling just about every week.
Rule Number Three: Don’t ignore the warning signs of trouble.
I felt good about Ken’s plan because we needed to push our sales reps. If we weren’t in their face, then we wouldn’t get them to focus on us. Ken had done this before, so I felt he knew exactly what to do.
Then it became time for Ken to take his first weekly trip. He was traveling to Arizona and Southern California.
Ken left on a Monday and he was back on Wednesday, two days early. I was worried, and this time I decided not to ignore what I saw.
At lunch on Thursday, I confronted Ken. “Why are you back? You were supposed to be gone all week. What happened?”
“I decided to come back early,” Ken said.
“Why?” I asked as calmly as I could.
“No reason,” Ken said. “I just decided my work was done for the week.”
“But you only went to Arizona,” I said. “What about Southern California?”
“I didn’t go,” Ken said.
It felt like Ken was challenging me. He was telling me that he was going to do what he wanted, not what was right.
In that moment, I had a choice. I could either let him do what he wanted, or I could tell him it wasn’t going to work.
I didn’t hesitate this time. “Ken, I am worried about you,” I said. “You were supposed to be on the road all week, and you’re back two days later with no explanation. This isn’t going to work if this keeps up.”
Rule Number Four: Move on quickly if you bring on the wrong co-founder.
Ken sat their silently, saying nothing. I had made my point, and I hoped that Ken would wake up from his slumber.
We drove back to the office with Ken saying nothing. I realized that I would likely have to fire Ken. I was bummed because Ken and I had known each other for close to twenty years. We were friends.
Ken was the first person I thought of working with when I started my company. I had a vision of the two of us working together for the rest of our careers, building the company.
Man, that would have been so much fun. And now I knew it was not to be.
I went home that night and shared what happened with Blossom. My wife asked, “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t think I have a choice,” I said. “I’ll sleep on it tonight, but I think I’m going to have to fire him.”
I drove to work the next morning thinking about Ken. My feelings hadn’t changed. I would fire Ken. I set up calls with my investors and board members to let them know what I was going to do.
Then at 9AM, I received an email from Ken. The title was “Resignation”. I guess Ken realized it wasn’t going to work too.
Rule Number Five: See rule number one.
I took a deep sigh. My timetable had been moved up by Ken. I let my co-founders know that Ken had quit. Then, I spoke to our investors and board members. And then, that was that.
I went home and Blossom asked me what happened. “Ken quit,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “How do you feel?”
“I’m fine. I’m sad, but I’m fine. The reality is that Ken didn’t have the same drive to build the company that I did.
“I should have known it wasn’t going to work the minute he bought the unit at The Millennium,” I laughed. “He wasn’t all in.”
That’s the lesson. It doesn’t matter how great your co-founder is on paper. You’re going to be looking for a new co-founder if your co-founder isn’t as fanatical about your company as you are.