Handling Founder Fallout
Nick Alm, founder and CEO of LGBTQ+ consultancy Mossier.

Handling Founder Fallout

The founder of LGBTQ+ consultancy Mossier on navigating employee relations at early-stage companies.

Working in the startup world, you’ll quickly learn that you develop some of the closest relationships in your life with your team members. You’ll likely spend more time with your employees and co-founders than you do with friends and family. There are lots of long nights. Perhaps a few arguments. Likely even some tears.

For better or worse, you’re going to form close bonds with your employees. Like any relationship, those bonds can falter. They can grow. Or, they can fall apart. Sometimes, it’s no one’s fault, but that doesn’t make it any less painful or difficult.

After choosing to go separate ways with a close collaborator at Mossier earlier this year, I want to share some lessons learned along the way. More importantly, I’m aiming to highlight some things that I could have done differently.

  1. Before you even think about making some of your first hires, do some introspection.

When I first hired my employee as a contractor two years into running Mossier, I was not at a point where I could stand on my own in the business. I was unsure of myself. I was looking for somebody I could lean on emotionally.

In short, I wanted somebody to be a substitute for the work I needed to do personally. That was my first big mistake. No one is going to save you from the scariness of starting and running a business. Reflect on your own emotional needs first. Find a therapist. Cultivate your relationships outside of work. Do whatever it takes to be the best entrepreneur you can be.

  1. Clearly define your relationships with your employees.

Are your employees subordinates? Are they part owners? What exactly will you expect from them?

My first employee and I had thrown around the word “partnership” for maybe a year, but I certainly didn’t have a sense about what that actually meant. That led to lots of friction points down the road. It’s important to be as specific as possible to avoid any ambiguity.

Are your employees “partners”? What does a partnership actually mean for both of you? What does the business need? And what types of skills are needed? These are all fundamental questions you need to ask yourself when building out your team.

  1. Get on the same page about business goals and strategies.

It’s key to be on the same page about company values, and long-term plans. Do your employees understand the mission of your business? Have you clearly articulated your goals yourself? Most importantly, do you agree on how you’ll get there?

In my case, my employee and I were on the same page about company values. We both wanted to change the workplace for the better. We envisioned a world with more inclusive workplaces that valued contributions from LGBTQ+ staff members. But we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the ultimate strategy to get there, which eventually led to more friction.

You’ve got to be air tight on all those things for the business to really work. It’s not just the goals themselves; it’s the strategies for getting there.

  1. Recognize when it’s time to sever a relationship.

I get it: Whether professional or romantic, breakups are hard. But I think the signs of the end often come sooner than we’re willing to acknowledge. If you realize that a working relationship isn’t ultimately working, it’s better to acknowledge the truth. Remain professional and courteous. Act as you’d like to be treated. Acknowledge your own mistakes.

If the relationship can be mended, by all means, go for it. Oftentimes, though, both parties understand when it’s time to end things.

These days, I’m at a point where I can reflect on my own role and take responsibility for my actions. I’m not playing the blame game. Being a founder means being willing to change. It also necessarily means making some mistakes along the way. The best we can do is learn from them.