Uber’s CEO Resigned. Here’s What Happened to Other Companies That Lost Key Leaders
Startup founders and their companies don’t always stay a package deal.
That became even clearer Wednesday, when Uber’s CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said he would step down from his position at the behest of his investors. Uber’s financial backers hoped that doing so would allow the ride-sharing company to move past the scandals that began bombarding it earlier this year, including reports of sexual harassment and a video of Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver.
Still, while some founders return to the position of CEO years later, others move on to new ventures. A few evens choose to leave it all behind.
Here’s what happened to some of the founders that have been pushed out of their CEO position at a company they helped build.
Etsy Co-Founder Rob Kalin
Kalin was was ousted from his CEO role in 2011 in favor of a Yahoo executive he had helped hire. At the time, user growth was beginning to stall at Etsy, and Kalin was apparently seen as an ineffective leader with goals poorly aligned with those of his investors. In a 2011 piece in Inc., Kalin reportedly called the idea of creating shareholder value “ridiculous.” It’s unclear exactly what Kalin is doing now, though the New York Times followed up on the former CEO in a 2016 profile. By then, Kalin had bought an old mill and filled it with a community of artisans. And he seemed in no hurry to build another startup, saying: “I’m so glad I’m not the CEO of a publicly traded company.” Etsy, however, is still struggling, with the company recently replacing its CEO and cutting 22% of its workforce.
Yahoo Co-Founder Jerry Yang
Yang founded Yahoo in the late 1990s, ascended to the rank of CEO in 2007, and was out the door in 2008. Investors were displeased when the CEO appeared to fumble a takeover offer from Microsoft, first resisting the $44 billion acquisition bid in the spring of 2008, only to call for more talks after the offer was withdrawn. Eventually, Yang even left Yahoo’s board in 2012, still with a 3.8% stake in the company. Yahoo’s turnaround failed to materialize, and earlier this year, the company split in two, with its core internet business sold to Verizon, and its stake in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan set in a company renamed “Altaba.” Yang on the other hand now sits on the board of Alibaba.
Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey
He might be the CEO of two different companies now, but Jack Dorsey was once fired from one of those roles. Twitter’s board ousted Dorsey in 2008, with reports that he focused too much on his hobbies including sewing and drawing. Dorsey, according to Hatching Twitter, also failed to communicate with investors and appeared to handle criticism poorly. Still, it seemed that Twitter’s board wanted a CEO with Dorsey’s vision — something his predecessor/successor lacked — putting him back to the CEO role in 2015. Still, shares of the company are still down 73% from their all-time high.
Zenefits Founder Parker Conrad
Conrad jumped back to his feet relatively quickly after leaving Zenefits. In 2016, the founder and then-CEO of the HR software startup was accused of regulatory impropriety — namely, he had allowed unlicensed brokers sell insurance through their program — and was forced to step down. Zenefits consequentially lost over half its value. But Conrad now has a new human resources startup called Rippling that will compete with Zenefits. Earlier this year, the company laid off 40% of its workers, and most recently, was ordered to pay $3.4 million in unpaid overtime to employees.
Nasty Gal Founder Sophia Amoruso
Amoruso ceded her role as CEO to former Lululemon executive Sheree Waterson in 2015. At the time, the company was facing flat sales, with Amoruso telling Recode that it needed a CEO with business expertise. But by late 2016, the company that started out as an eBay account filed for bankruptcy. Still, Amoruso is not out of the headlines, thanks to a Netflix series loosely based on her life named Girlboss.
Tesla Founder Martin Eberhard
It’s hard to divorce Tesla from the its current CEO, Elon Musk. But the electric car maker once was helmed by its founder, Martin Eberhard. But In 2007, Eberhard, an engineer by trade, formally resigned from his role at the behest of Tesla’s board, allowing Michael Marks, an early Tesla investor, to take his position. He became an employee of the company, albeit one with few responsibilities. So in early 2008, Eberhard left the company—though he still held shares of Tesla. Eberhard later tried to sue Musk, but with little success. Since then, Eberhard has become the Chief Technology Officer in his own electric-car-related startup called InEvit. Meanwhile, Tesla, now helmed by Musk, is the U.S.’s largest carmaker by market cap.
Bonobos Founder Andy Dunn
Recently, Walmart agreed to acquire Bonobos for $310 million, retaining its CEO as a digital vice president. Even before the deal though, Dunn had tried to step away as CEO in 2015. Like other startup founders before him, Dunn attempted to give his CEO duties to a business world alumna — a former Coach executive, according to Pitchbook. But arrangement lasted for a few months, before Dunn noted: “What she and I learned in just a few months is that at this stage, we still need the founder at the helm.”
Munchery Co-Founder Tri Tran
On-demand food delivery startup Munchery struggled to find a sustainable business model — to no avail. In November, a business world alum, SimplyHired’s James Beriker, took over the role of CEO from co-founder Tri Tran. Tran was given the position of chief strategic officer — though that didn’t last long. Roughly two months later, Munchery had let go of 30 employees, along with Tran.
Zynga Founder Mark Pincus
It seems quite common for startup boards to reject a founder as CEO — only to decide they needed their founder back after all. Pincus founded game maker Zynga in 2007, and served as the FarmVille maker’s CEO until 2013, when he handed the position over to an experienced executive from Microsoft. But when that didn’t bring about the turnaround the company wanted by 2015, Pincus was ushered back in — only to roll right back out the door a year later when the company still didn’t improve. A former executive from Electronic Arts then took on the role, while Pincus stayed on as the executive chairman.