How I Live With Myself After Firing a Third of My Employees
BY Liz Welch
Ben Huh, founder of Cheezburger, talks about the most difficult week he's ever experienced.
This is the story of entrepreneur Ben Huh, as told to Inc.'s Liz Welch.
Cheezburger was always profitable-until we took venture capital investments. We raised $30 million in 2011, and our company went from 45 to 90 people in nine months, and we started spending more than we were making.
I was on vacation with my wife in Spain when I received our Q1 2013 numbers. They were much lower than expected. I did a call with my investors-from a parking lot in Puerto Real, the only place I could get good reception. Someone asked, "Can you keep the annual loss within 10 percent?"
I hung up and gave myself 48 hours to think. I decided to be proactive and make manageable cuts now versus Herculean ones later. The board did not ask for this--it was entirely my call. I called my executive team and said, "I'm coming back early."
We knew we needed to scale back--same destination, smaller boat. I figured that I would be judged by the honesty with which I handled the situation. I knew people would be angry. But I also knew there was nothing I could do about that.
The morning of the layoffs, the executives informed their teams as a group and then met with each person individually to discuss retention or severance. It was very tense.
To mitigate the risk of leaking information, I called John Cook, a local reporter who runs GeekWire, to let him know what was happening. I wanted him to hear it from me. A board member had suggested reaching out to other companies to help place employees, so two days later we held a job fair in the offices of one of our VC investors.
Twenty-four people were let go, bringing our head count to 42. It was the most difficult week I've ever experienced. Often, when faced with a problem, you want to run in the other direction. It's like seeing a lion in the jungle. But I have to do what is best for the company, even if it sucks emotionally.