6 Signs You Should Fire Someone

You're probably waiting too long to fire someone

I’ve added founder meetups to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bengaluru, Boston, Dallas, Washington DC, San Diego, and more. RSVP here:

There’s only one thing worse for a founder than firing someone:

Your startup failing.

Any founder would say that if that’s the choice then firing the employee is the obvious answer. Letting your startup fail is not an option.

Your startup isn’t a charity and it isn’t a family — it’s a sports team, as Reed Hastings says. High performance is required.

But most founders don’t fire employees quickly enough. How do you know when the right time to fire someone is at a startup anyway?

When everything is chaotic, priorities are constantly shifting, and there are roadblocks everywhere it can be easy to give people the benefit of the doubt for too long — not to mention how time consuming having to hire someone new may be.

Here are the 6 signals I look for before firing someone 👇

When to Fire Someone at Your Startup

There aren’t actually that many reasons to fire someone — there are a lot more reasons to keep them around. So it’s ok to have a quicker trigger finger than you may think you should, if any of these happen.

You also don’t need to wait for ALL of these to be true. If ANY of them are true, it’s probably time to let someone go.

And lastly if you’re reading this and thinking about a specific person, you probably should. In general if you’re thinking about whether or not to fire someone, you probably should have already.

They Lose Your Trust

When I joined Airbnb in 2018 my manager told me in our first 1:1 that he was “excited to build trust with me” which told me immediately that Airbnb was no longer a startup (and no longer a place for someone like me).

When you hire someone at a startup you’re already making the decision to trust them. You don’t have the luxury to “build” trust over time. That’s what your candidate vetting process is for.

Once they’ve started you need to trust them by default. This is an essential part of moving quickly enough to survive. You want team members who reduce complexity rather than add it.

So if for any reason the employee has lost your trust then you need to fire them.

Here are some common, valid reasons founders lose trust in employees:

  • They’ve over-promised and under-delivered on quality or deadlines more than once or twice

  • They consistently exhibit poor communication or reliability

  • They’ve lied to you, another team member, or external stakeholder

  • They’ve done some other truly unethical thing

They Don’t Learn from Mistakes

Making mistakes at a startup is expected — making the same mistakes repeatedly is unacceptable.

Spend time with an employee after they make a mistake and be clear with what they should do next time instead.

If they either ignore or are unable to get it right repeatedly, they may not be ready for the work you need them to do.

Startups only get more complex as they grow. You want people on your team who grow even faster and can take on increasing amounts of responsibility — not people who you’re worried will get left behind, or who you already know you’ll need to hire managers for.

Another sign: if you find yourself giving an employee smaller or less important work than you would want to for someone in their role, it may be a sign they aren’t learning fast enough.

They’re Not Taking Enough Initiative

Subscribe to Houck's Newsletter Premium to read the rest.

Become a paying subscriber of Houck's Newsletter Premium to get access to this post and other subscriber-only content.

Already a paying subscriber? Sign In

A subscription gets you:
Full database of 70+ deep dives
Access to Houck's private founder community
Monthly digital workshops & IRL meetups
1:1 office hours with Houck

Join the conversation

or to participate.