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The One Reason for Quitting That’ll Never Make Me Mad

We’ve hired just over 60 people in my company’s history. Today, we’re at 50 and still hiring. But as the math suggests, at least 10 of my employees have left or been asked to leave.

The first loss was the most difficult. We let our very first employee go due to poor performance. Each subsequent firing hurt my soul a little less; when I was confronted with the shocked look on the face of anyone who’s just been told he’s no longer got a job, I learned to couch things mentally in terms of what would help the rest of the team. But it still sucked.

Then, when we were perhaps a dozen people, a brilliant programmer of ours sat us (the founders) down one morning and said he was quitting. Initially, I was stunned. You can’t fire usLosing him would put us in a bind, as we had product to build and competitors to outpace.

Then he told us his reason: “I’ve been dreaming of starting my own company, and a friend and I have finally decided to do it.” That changed everything. Not only could I no longer bring myself to try to persuade him to stay, but I also no longer wanted him to stay. How could we encourage someone to not do the very thing that had brought us so much fulfillment?

After we said our goodbyes, and he started his startup, I realized that in a way this was exactly the kind of employee we wanted: entrepreneurial, hungry, passionate. It seems to be part of our DNA, because nearly every one of the other employees who have quit since did so to build something: a school, a startup, a team. It occurred to me that if we wanted to cultivate a company that rewarded the kind of thinking that leads to breakthroughs, we’d have to understand that some of our employees would be driven enough to eventually want to do their own thing. And that had to be all right with us.

Now, I’m not saying that I want my employees to start companies and quit. What I’m saying is that I’m not distressed when I learn that an employee has a side project. Nor will I be mad if after a couple of years of working with us (and hopefully learning a lot!) she says, “I’m turning my side project into a company.” In fact, I think it’s inevitable.

If the reason you’re quitting has something to do with the company or environment we’ve built, then I want to talk about it, make things right. We hire carefully and hate to lose great people. But if the reason you’re quitting has something to do with a dream you want to build, then there’s no discussion necessary. Other than, perhaps, “How can we help?”

Image by Natalie Dee
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