When an executive hired by NatureBox, a snack delivery company, departed after only 18 months, he didn’t just leave an operational leadership hole; many of the employees he brought with him also left. Co-founder Gautam Gupta explains how the company rebounded.
--As told to Graham Winfrey
Our team was still pretty small--54 employees--and a third of the total headcount reported to this person. Unfortunately, three people this executive brought to the company also left when he left. For a small company, that’s a big chunk, and at the time we really didn’t have a fully built-out management team. We had many people who were in their first or second job out of school, and then Ken Chen, my co-founder, and I were trying to organize the company and execute on a number of different fronts. The darkest thoughts were that it could have been a fatal blow. This was just after we had announced that we’d shipped a million boxes in 2013, so it was like fixing an airplane while you’re still flying it.
During the transition, I switched to an interim operations role, taking on all core responsibilities and absorbing this executive’s direct reports. It took quite a bit of time to regain momentum and rebuild internal morale. To help ease anxieties, we spent time with every employee and held companywide meetings encouraging everyone to be open about the loss. We realized that being transparent was going to give people the comfort that their roles were secure.
Today, when we fill new positions, the hiring manager takes on the role we’re hiring for, to get a front-row seat for all the things that need to be either focused on or fixed. It’s getting people focused on the one or two big things that can move the company forward, as opposed to trying to fix every problem at once. We put new candidates through a culture test by spending multiple days with them. Though losing part of our team was an incredibly depressing process to go through, it’s the job of the founders to make hard decisions. You have to be prepared to take that step back in the short term so you can make progress in the long term.
Editor’s note: The print version of this story misstated NatureBox’s staff headcount and the percentage of employees who left the company following the departure of an operations executive.