Some tech jobs (and bosses) are easy to leave, but in some circumstances breaking away can be more difficult. Sometimes, it’s not dissatisfaction with the employer that drives an employee away; it’s having sights set on something bigger—like starting a business.
How do you break the news to a boss (whom you respect and have learned a great deal from) that you’re quitting to start your own innovative company?
In my role helping startups through the business formation process, I often encounter new business owners in tech and other industries who face this question.
I’ve been down this particular road personally, too. I had worked for a very long time as a law clerk for a legal firm and was satisfied overall in my position there. The future looked bright there, in fact, my boss was going to make me a partner after I passed the bar exam. But I just couldn’t envision that as my ultimate career trajectory. My heart told me I wanted to start my own business.
So, one day, I shared the news that my husband and I planned to launch our own company. I started the conversation by telling him how appreciative I was of the opportunities and mentorship he gave through the years. Given our strong employer-employee relationship, I fully expected his support and well wishes as I gave my two-week notice.
But that’s not what I got. Instead, he ridiculed me. He even went so far as to tell me I’d never make it.
I tell you my story, not as a deterrent to having a candid conversation with your boss, but rather to underline that you can only do so much to gain an employer’s acceptance of your decision. The outcome will depend not only upon your approach but also on the character of your boss.
That said, let’s focus on what you can do to facilitate understanding. As you’re preparing to venture out on your entrepreneurial journey, here are some tips to help you build bridges rather than burn them.
Realize timing is everything
Rather than catch your employer off-guard at an inconvenient moment to break the news, schedule a time to meet one on one without distractions. This will give you an opportunity to prepare for the conversation, and it will ensure you have ample time set aside to do the conversation justice.
Explain that it’s about your dreams and aspirations
Assure your employer that you’re leaving to chase your goals of entrepreneurship and not running away due to unhappiness.
Although my boss wasn’t receptive to it, I believe most employers will appreciate the recognition of how they have influenced your life and career in a meaningful way. Express how grateful you are for your boss’s inspiration and support.
Share how it will ultimately benefit both of you
Particularly if you’re starting a business that will provide products and services that are complementary to—rather than in competition with—your employer’s offerings, your leaving may prove mutually beneficial. Consider exploring ways you might refer business to each other or partner to deliver a more comprehensive suite of services.
Keep an open door policy
Realize that when you quit, you might unintentionally leave the company in dire straits. Your employer’s business might suffer due to a void in expertise and experience. If that’s the case and you’re leaving on amicable terms, consider making yourself available when your boss (or whoever steps into your role) has questions or needs guidance. Obviously, you’ll need to set some boundaries. Set expectations up front, so you’re not continually bombarded with phone calls and emails as you’re trying to build your business.
Don’t breach any non-compete and confidentiality agreements that are in effect
Last but not remotely least, make sure there aren’t any employment agreements to prevent you from starting your own business. If you do find you’re under the obligation of non-compete agreement, carefully review the terms and conditions and consult an attorney to determine your next steps. A non-compete agreement may be considered invalid if the duration or scope is deemed unreasonable.
If you had signed a confidentiality (non-disclosure) agreement with your employer, take a good look at that, too. You could land in legal hot water if you violate its terms by sharing your employer’s confidential and proprietary information in the course of starting and running your own business.
As you prepare to communicate your startup intentions, realize your news may come as a shock to your employer. The initial reaction might be one of surprise, defensiveness, frustration, sadness, or possibly anger. Hopefully, by taking to heart the tips above and relying on your interpersonal instincts, you’ll help your boss understand and maybe even celebrate your decision. But if not, at least you will know you did what you could to part ways under friendly terms as you begin building your own tech empire.
Nellie Akalp is an entrepreneur, business expert, speaker, author, wife and mother to four. Her first business was started with $100 and sold eight years later for $20 million. Today she is the founder & CEO of CorpNet.com, an online legal document filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs incorporate, form LLCs, file DBAs and keep their businesses in compliance.
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