Yes, I know the headline seems clickbaity and it is. Personally, I hate clickbaity headlines but a lot of readers were literally SHOCKED by the story & they told me that I have to change the headline from it was earlier because people need to know this story. Like everyone else, hopefully, this story delivers you goosebumps too :)
Now let's get down to it.
Xeno is a startup with over 25 people hustling together in the day & partying together at night. The entire team is close to each other & in fact 12 of the members have been working with Xeno for over 2 years just because they love the company culture.
Now just imagine what would happen to this group of friends if 3 of them get fired & that too within 3 hours. As a founder, I was really worried about how our company culture would change & how the people who are staying back will react. But after a lot of consideration, we finally decided to make the decision to let 3 people go, and our worst fears were realized.
By the time we walked out of the conference room after letting the 3rd person go, most of the office was empty. The few people who were still in the office were just staring at us and wondering what the hell is wrong with us (founders). Our happy company culture had turned into a place full of questions and uncertainties. It felt like my biggest failure!
But in the course of the next 24 hours, individuals from across the team came forward and hustled to turn my biggest failure into our team’s biggest achievement.
Here's what happened for each person we chose to let go. (for confidentialities sake let’s call those three people Tom, Dick, and Harry)
Here go the three stories:
Dick is an all-time hustler, a person with built-in sales DNA and who gets things done in his own unique ways. He has a huge passion for driving & while working with Xeno he’d also go to racing events over the weekend.
That guy’s discipline towards his passion was insanely admirable and as an entrepreneur, you always want to keep such talents close to your sleeves.
But we had just pivoted our business to sell only to enterprises and were still figuring out how to crack deals in the enterprise space.
Since we didn’t know when we’ll crack the problem of enterprise sales, we wanted to reduce our cash burn. So we made the hard decision of letting Dick go.
Dick is a hustler and you know what, a hustler always finds a way to solve a problem. Dick told us,
"The only company I want to work for is Xeno. If money is the problem, I'll commit to working for FREE for the next 3 months."
Our initial reaction was, who works for free? But then he created his own 30, 60, & 90-day plan with audacious revenue targets. If he didn’t meet any of the targets, he’d walk away. His confidence & drive inspired us. He made us believe in his ambitious plan and we decided to take the bet.
And Dick did it. 90 days later, he overachieved his targets (120% to be precise). He achieved that while pursuing his passion for driving and he even recently represented India at a rally and had a podium finish.
Tom was brilliant, funny and a very smart kid. In fact, at Xeno, we used to call him “the Xenopedia”, because of his extravagant knowledge about everything in life.
Someone almost right out of college, who would always come to the office with brightness and a smile. One of the very few guys I would discuss different topics like politics, culture, philosophy, etc.
However, he could not perform in the role of Inside Sales Executive. He himself felt like he might enjoy a customer success or a marketing role more. Unfortunately, at that stage of the company, we did not have a role to offer him in another department, so we had to let him go.
He was very shocked when we dropped the news, but after that, we accepted the decision and told us:
"If you believe this is the right decision for me. I accept it, because I believe in you. Just help me find a role that's the right fit for me & till I find that job, I'll work for Xeno without a salary." - Tom
The entire company believed in him and decided to go overboard to support him. To my amazement, they implemented a new company-wide KPI to help find a job he loves. Eventually, Tom got a job at another company in a marketing role within 30 days.
The support from the entire team towards making his exit better was brilliant. However, what matters now is that he is happy with his new profile and doing exceptionally well in the new role. He still visits us occasionally to revisit the old times.
Now, this was a very difficult situation as Harry started working with us even before the company was registered. He joined us while he was still in his 3rd year of college and was part of our weekend marathon of work, FIFA and more work for over a year.
The story of how Harry, Pranav and I, working from a small room and breaking the restaurants market is for another day. Personally, we became very close friends to the extent that we were flatmates in our first 4 BHK office, which was the reason that this one was a tough call.
Professionally, he is audacious and passionate about coding. He worked on all the technology from backend to frontend to android technologies with a lot of enthusiasm. However, over time, I felt that his enthusiasm had faded. He had a lot of potentials to grow in his profile but somehow we weren't able to nurture that.
I believed it was time for us to let him go for his own benefit.
Now, coming to the toughest and most exciting part of the story. We sat down with Harry and tried to explain our reasoning but he wasn’t convinced.
What hit him the hardest was that in a way, he thought we had betrayed his trust. This decision was not totally based on our finances, but also our judgment of his performance. We finally agreed to part ways.
That was the toughest night of my life when we communicated the decision to Harry. I kept thinking about whether I made the right decision or not. Just before sleeping, I decided to address this to the entire Xeno team in the morning with an open Q&A forum.
In the morning, everyone for the first time gathered for the meeting before time. I was ready for a backlash, for a civil war. But what happened next will shock you, it surely shocked me.
We spoke about our reasons for letting Harry go, since, almost everyone was close to him. In the middle of the meeting, one of his teammates and an early member of Xeno, Nishant stood up and suggested a solution.
Nishant said that he is willing to take a pay cut and buy Harry a longer notice period to ensure that he performs to up to his best potential. I was baffled! After him, 3 other people from different teams stood up and expressed their desire to take a pay cut.
Now I was every more shocked.
"Have you ever heard of a company where 1 employee is willing to pay another employee's salary. At Xeno 4 employees wanted to do that. Just wow."
Then the 4 of them went even beyond just sponsoring Harry's salary but creating a 30-60-90 day plan of the improvements Harry needs to make.
24 hours ago, Harry was wretched and had almost lost the trust of working at Xeno. But, after seeing the immense support he acknowledged the criticism, he accepted the plan and started working on his overall improvement.
“Our attitude determines how we look at a setback”. To Harry, it was a stepping stone to success. A few months back, he was scared of taking new challenges, experimenting with new ideas and was always filled with resentment. Just this week he added 3 new powerful features to our product. Over the last 6 months, he's grown like never before & even taken the additional responsibility of managing the Delhi Tech team last month.
The action of those four people made each of us realize the true meaning of leadership. So here are my thanks to Ashad, Arjit, Yogesh and Nishant for taking up that responsibility and correcting my failure. And they did this for the sole purpose that we always do things differently at Xeno.
Of the 3 people we let go, the first worked for free till he became the best salesperson at Xeno, the 2nd chose to work for us for free for a month & for the 3rd one his salary was paid by the team for 2 months.
Culture is spoken about, but not always understood. On that day in August, I truly realized the power of "culture" and felt so special to be working alongside a team that cares so much about the company & about each other.
Every time I think back, I still get goosebumps! If this story gave you goosebumps too, please share this blog with your friends & colleagues and build a super awesome culture around you too.