First Time Founder Advice

When Do You Know it’s Time to Let Someone Go?

By Heidi Zak, worked at ThirdLove. Originally published on Quora.

In 2015, during my early days as a founder, Laurie Ann Goldman (the former CEO of Spanx) came out to visit our office in San Francisco.

At the time, we were having trouble with an employee — and I was considering letting that person go. But I’d never fired anyone before. Laurie had grown Spanx from six people to well over 500, so she’d done her share of hiring and firing.

Needing some advice, I asked her, “When do you know it’s time to let someone go?”

She simply said:

“The first time you think about it.”

I’ll never forget that moment, because it changed the way I thought about managing. Her point was this — no one thinks about firing employees the first time they make a mistake. They fix it, and you move on. But if things have progressed, and you’re wondering whether to let them go, you should.

Laurie’s advice stuck with me because it was simple, powerful, and correct.

Unfortunately, not all the advice I got as a young founder was that good. Some of it was just plain wrong. I worry that young founders are all getting the same advice.

So, I’d like to set the record straight. Here are three pieces of advice I got as a young founder, and why they were wrong:

1. Leaving A Great Job To Start A Company Is A Bad Idea

When I told my parents I was leaving Google to start a business, they were pretty upset. It didn’t make sense to them that I was quitting Google to risk it as an entrepreneur.

High-risk personal and professional decisions are never easy to make. And no matter when you start a company, there are going to be people in your support system who question you. They’ll make that known, but remember to stay true to yourself and your business.

Because truthfully, no one knows what the future will hold.

If you’re uncertain about whether or not to leave a job or start a business, ask yourself this:

“Am I going to regret not doing this?”

If the answer is yes, then you should probably do it. The worst thing in life is living with the regrets of “what if.” What if I had taken that chance? What if I had gone to that event, taken that meeting, quit that job?

It’s easier to live with a failed attempt than it is to live with regret.

2. Don’t Worry About Being Social, Just Crank Out A Product

In the early days of a startup, a lot of people will tell you to put your head down and work on your product. No happy hours, no socializing. Just focus on the company.

At the end of the day, yes, you need to invest time in your company and produce something. But you absolutely need to go out and expand your network as well.

Every cocktail party or lunch meeting is a chance to meet a potential investor, another founder, or someone else that can help you. Saying yes to some events is essential for your company’s growth. You never know who you’re going to meet.

I know it’s tough when you’re starting out — I’ve been there. You probably just spent the entire day putting out fires, and you still have six more hours of work to do. You’re exhausted. But then you remember that your investor is hosting a happy hour. If you go, you’ll be there for two hours — and then you’ll have to take care of that backlog of work.

Do you skip it? Sometimes you may have to. But it’s a mistake to always defer social events, because networking helps your company grow faster than putting in a few hours of work.

3. Focus On Hiring The Absolute Best People

This is a very common piece of advice that founders hear. It sounds pretty good, too. The idea is that your first employees are going to have a huge impact on your company. So, only hire the absolute best people.

Looking back, I can tell you that this just isn’t true. Ask any founder how many people from their first batch of 10–20 employees are still on their team. They’re going to give you an incredibly low number, if any. For example, ThirdLove has grown to 150 employees — and we have one employee who has been with us from the beginning.

The fact is, working at a startup is a tough gig. There’s uncertainty about each person’s role and what they’re expected to do. People get burned out. It’s difficult to find someone who can handle that, let alone be the best possible hire.

My advice? Get some warm bodies who seem like they’re reasonably positive and can make an impact in the short-term. Don’t worry too much about what they can or can’t accomplish in two years. Just solve for your immediate needs.

Once you reach product/market fit (about three years in) you can really start to focus on specific hires. By then, you know what the company is, who you’re selling to, and what you need new hires to do. Hire for skill, and let them focus on doing one thing really well.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back, I received plenty of good and bad advice as a young founder. It’s tough to know which is which when you’re starting out, but one way or another, you’ll find what works best for you.

By Heidi Zak, worked at ThirdLove. Originally published on Quora.
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