Why Outdoor Voices CEO Ty Haney suddenly stepped down

March 11, 2020, 1:51 PM UTC

What happened at athletic apparel startup Outdoor Voices?

Things seemed to be going so well. Last year, The New Yorker published a flashy profile of the startup, detailing its mission to redefine fitness. Through the company’s slogan “Doing Things Is Better Than Not Doing Things,” it emphasized making physical activity feel like play if consumers shunned performance and results.

Behind it all was founder and CEO Ty Haney. She raised more than $50 million in venture funding from investors including General Catalyst, Forerunner Ventures, Collaborative Fund, and Gwyneth Paltrow. In a crowded, competitive market of athletic apparel, Haney was somehow making it work and work well.

And then she abruptly stepped down as chief executive in January. She would be replaced by Cliff Moskowitz, the former president of InterLuxe.

In a new investigation by The New York Times, we learn some of the details about what happened behind the scenes of the seemingly booming startup. The report claims Haney was pushed out after clashing with more experienced male executives, highlighting a generational and gender divide within the company. From the story: 

Store openings were delayed after leases were signed. A string of experienced executives, hired to professionalize the start-up, had abruptly left. An anonymous letter sent to the board of directors blamed Ms. Haney, now 31, for the exits and accused her of being “spoiled” and mercurial. The clothes were selling at discounts. The office in New York, where Outdoor Voices was based before it moved to Austin, Texas, would soon be shut down. 

And a schism had opened between Ms. Haney and Mickey Drexler, the retail legend heralded for his leadership of Gap and J.Crew, who gave Outdoor Voices a halo of can’t-fail credibility when he became an investor and its chairman in 2017. 

Mr. Drexler’s decades of experience and deep knowledge of the retail industry were expected to help Outdoor Voices make the transition from scrappy start-up to mature business. But his input was not always welcomed at a company built on the vision of its charismatic founder.

Haney responded to the report on Instagram, saying: “And because I stood up for myself, my vision, Team OV, and early investors I am no longer with the company I started and am labeled ‘difficult’ and ‘mercurial.’ I have experienced both gender and generational differences firsthand and these have been very tough to navigate.” 

But the story raises a bigger question about whether it’s naive to think the same person can continue to lead a company as it enters new stages of growth. It reminds me of Reid Hoffman’s idea about how entrepreneurs need to evolve during the scale-up process. He told me in 2018, “In many ways, a lot of startups are like pirates, but to scale effectively, you need to transition to a Navy ship.”

As General Catalyst’s Peter Boyce said in the NYT story, “There becomes a more sustainable, thoughtful growth rate that makes sense as companies get bigger and bigger, and that’s part of a recalibration taking place in the broader environment.”

At some point, big dreams and unrelenting optimism get replaced with seasoned experience and a realistic plan for the future.

Read the full story here. 

BATTLE OF THE VIDEO STARTUPS: Short-form video streaming service Quibi, which launches next month, is facing claims that one of its core technology features infringes on another company’s intellectual property, reports The Wall Street Journal

Eko, a New York-based firm that creates interactive videos, claims that it invented Quibi’s “Turnstyle” technology and has patented it. Quibi denies infringing on Eko’s intellectual property or stealing trade secrets and has filed a lawsuit to seek a declaratory judgment. Read more.

Polina Marinova
Twitter: @polina_marinova
Email: polina.marinova@fortune.com 


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