Can Startup Founders Ever be Happy as Just Employees?

Posted by Jessica Alter /October 1, 2015 / Advisors, Cofounder Advice, Entrepreneurial Advice, FounderTalk, Hot Topics, How To

Work ExpectationsFounding a company is no walk in the park and finding your early team members is one of the hardest parts. It seems like an ideal situation – hiring a former (and maybe future) founder early into your company.  They know the ups and downs, can wear many hats, run on passion. But is hiring a fellow founder a good idea for a startup? Do they know how to not be the founder? It’s a discussion that recently got a lot attention on FD:Discuss.The overwhelming response was ‘yes,’ but not without a few caveats. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about hiring an ex-founder as an employee.

Your company might be a part of their transition phase.

In other words, they might be going through a transitional period.

“I have been in both positions…and I think that the most critical success factor is the awareness that this role will only be for a while, it will (likely) be a transition before doing another startup in time,”    Tweet this

explains Sylvain Carle, Partner at Real Ventures and GM of FounderFuel.

And if this is a transitional period, try not to look at it as a negative, just know their motivation beforehand. “Understanding a founder’s motivation is critical. What motivated them to start their own business and what do they enjoy / not enjoy about being employed? It’s critical to have an honest and open conversation about that. The founder personality thrives on continual upward momentum and are very excellent ‘fixers.’ Once the big problems dry up however and it becomes more of a job about managing/maintaining the status quo, they will likely take off…The good news is that during the time you have them, you’ll likely see exceptional results if you’re both able to go in eyes wide open about the long-term potential,” says Jason Koprowski, leadership coach.

Be upfront about role expectations.

If you want the relationship to work, you have to make sure there is a clear understanding between both parties before they even accept the position.This includes the reporting structure. Moreover, you want to make sure they are advancing – meaning you not only know what they are looking to learn but also that you are helping them to do that.

“I think knowing your expectations for the person or job is critical. Most people move on to other positions whether they are founders or not. Even the most serial entrepreneurs sometimes need a reset period and their skills and capacities can contribute hugely to an organization that knows how to best ‘use them’, says Mary Camacho, Founder of Mixteka.


Founders still want autonomy.

Founders are problem solvers and that’s invaluable in any company. But make sure they have the autonomy to solve problems and run with new ideas. Joe Greenstein, Cofounder of Flixster and Innerspace agrees, “I have a pretty strong founder mindset…But I loved my role at Edusoft because I quickly felt a ton of ownership. I think key questions are whether they come in with an attitude to have a founder mindset toward the thing they are doing and whether they are given enough autonomy to realize that. If so, great things. If not, bad fit.”

A founder might just be the best employee you’ll ever have.

Ultimately, it’s one of those “it depends” questions but as Keeran Jain, of the Founder Institute aptly observed,

“Good entrepreneurs will be in it for the challenge and company vision, less for the sense of control.”    Tweet this

Experience starting companies can give founders more humility and more understanding of how to work with all kinds of people, situations and the litany of challenges that are the only guarantee at a startup. Just make sure you set expectations and are really ready to give true autonomy.


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