Rob Kalin is perhaps one of the few start-up founders to be replaced not once, but twice in his tenure as CEO. Kalin founded Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods, in 2005, along with Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik, and Jared Tarbell. In July 2008, Kalin was moved out of the CEO position to be replaced by Maria Thomas, an executive from NPR, only to be reinstated less than a year later when Thomas left. In July 2011, Kalin was replaced by the company’s CTO, Chad Dickerson.
Jeffrey Hollender founded Seventh Generation, the manufacturer of ‘green’ cleaning products, in 1988. After scaling it to a $150 million cleaning empire, Hollender sidestepped into the role of chairperson in June 2009, and was then permanently let go in October 2010. “As organizations grow, so do their managerial requirements,” said Peter Graham, Seventh Generation’s board chairman, in a letter to company employees at the time. Former Burt’s Bees CEO John Replogle took over in 2011.
Jobs created Apple in 1976, when he was 21 years old. Less than 10 years later, Jobs was fired by then-CEO John Sculley, who Jobs had helped recruit from PepsiCo. In a 2005 speech at Stanford, Jobs said “How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of future began to diverge and eventually, we fell out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him.” Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. Last year, Apple’s revenue exceeded $65 billion.
Four friends from Harvard founded Facebook, but only one—Mark Zuckerberg—became a household name. Zuckerberg and other Facebook investors diminished Eduardo Saverin’s role. Saverin sued, and settled out of court. Hughes went on to work for Obama, and was the feature of a Fast Company cover story titled “The Kid Who Made Obama President,” while Dustin Moscovitz went on to found Asana, a start-up that helps businesses organize communications. For their stake in founding Facebook, the net worth’s of Saverin, Hughes, and Moskovitz are $1.6 billion, $700 million, and $2.7 billion, respectively, according to Forbes.
Diane Greene was part of a team of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who founded VMware, a computer virtualization company, back in 1998 as the tech market heated up. Greene, who once ranked No. 22 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list, was fired from her job as CEO in July 2008 after the company’s stock dove 60 percent. Before she left, Greene had helped grow VMware from a small start-up to a full-fledged business software firm with nearly $2 billion in revenue.
Jakob Lodwick’s juicy, controversial exit from Vimeo, the online video company he founded in November 2004, was summed up in the 2007 TechCrunch headline: “Vimeo Founder Fired; Does a Bong Hit.” As the story goes, Lodwick disagreed with Barry Diller, the company’s main investor, on a variety of business issues. On his departure, Gawker noted “The real reason we think Lodwick got fired? Vimeo's position on ComScore's top 10 U.S. online video properties. Or, rather, its non-position.”
Richard Thalheimer founded The Sharper Image when he was 24 years old and still a law student in San Francisco. According to a 2007 Forbes profile of Thalheimer, who was ousted in 2006, the entrepreneur’s exit was “hastened by consecutive years of declining sales, a depressed stock price, and mounting legal woes from consumer class-action lawsuits challenging the safety of the Ionic Breeze air purifier, the company's most successful product.”
David Neeleman founded JetBlue in 1999 after serving as an executive at Southwest Airlines. He was removed from the CEO position in 2007, and later reflected on how he felt to be fired from his own company. “It’s horrible,” Neeleman told Portfolio magazine in 2008. “It’s something you could never imagine happening to you. It’s not something you’d ever want to wish on anybody—that’s for sure.” What happened next? Neeleman launched Azul, a domestic Brazilian airline with 37 planes.
Sandy Lerner was fired by Cisco System’s president just six years after she helped found the company in 1990. According to Don Valentine, then a Cisco chairman, seven company VP’s stormed his office one day and threatened to quit unless Lerner was let go. “I called the president and said ‘I have a war ready to be declared.’” Lerner was removed shortly thereafter (with $170 million in compensation). She now lives on a turkey farm in Virginia.
Stanford grads Larry Page and Sergey Brin co-founded Google in 1998, but Eric Schmidt took the CEO helm in 2001. Ten years later Schmidt became executive chairman, and Larry Page stepped back into the main leadership position as chief executive. At that time, Page released a statement: "Eric is a tremendous leader and I have learned innumerable lessons from him. His advice and efforts will be invaluable to me as I start in this new role."—Eric Markowitz