French entrepreneur Julien Fourgeaud recently stepped down as CEO of electric sports cars startup Scarlet Motors after an emotionally draining clash over the company’s future. Remaining a shareholder of Scarlet, Fourgeaud breaks the habit of quietly quitting – sharing his story and advice to other entrepreneurs and would-be founders…
A fervent base-jumper, plunging from heights of between 55 and 1200 metres at some of Europe’s biggest mountain ranges, Julien Fourgeaud knows all about risk. An ex-Product Developer at Rovio Entertainment, the 33-year-old left the multi-billion dollar Angry Birds empire in August 2012 to start up electric sportscar company Scarlet Motors. As CEO, he joined co-founders Joona Kallio and Harri Santamala, but after 20 months at its helm, Fourgeaud resigned, citing on his blog:
I have not taken that decision lightly and have been feeling really emotional the past few months. My friends have noticed that I was far away from my usual self. Companies evolve and people too. I just wish that everyone could have kept their commitments, their word, working together towards building an amazing Product. I still believe in the Team as well as in Joona’s dream, his design talent and the Product. ”
“Stepping down isn’t such a bad thing”
Fourgeaud remains tight-lipped on details (as he still has a stake in Scarlet Motors), but tells us: “There was an opposing view of which direction the company should take from some of the investors and shareholders. I basically got to a point where I couldn’t really see the point in trying to drive something that I couldn’t believe in.
“I worked for a few months to try and set it up in a new direction, but when you have different opinions you get into a situation where people will feel like only theirs is valid and then you can’t discuss it any more. There was a lock-up in opinions of where the company should go and in that respect – the best thing for me as a shareholder was to resign and make room for somebody else who could go in there with fresh ideas and agree with the new direction of the company.
“You can feel blue for a while, but when you’ve tried enough you just have to face it and say ‘well it doesn’t work, there’s no point in potentially ruining the business. You have to be the adult in a way – stepping down is isn’t such a bad thing. ”
Over a month on since his departure, Fourgeaud took time out to re-connect with friends and his adrenaline-packed sport. He’s also leapt into another venture – being made Vice President of Mobile at online language translations startup Transfluent, based in California: “I’ll most likely be moving there in the next six months… I want to focus on product development where I get to build and work on existing projects. It’s in an industry that’s got a lot of great potential.”
Avoiding startup split-ups – tips for entrepreneurs
“It’s easier to find a wife than a business partner”
“It’s really important to make sure the people you work with are people you trust. It’s easier to find a wife than to find a business partner. A wife is an emotional relationship about passion and family and not necessarily material things.
“You’re in a situation where there are no friends in business. People will have their own principles of how things should be done and how money should be used, but it’s harder than building a romantic relationship with somebody. Make sure you really know the people you’re working with before setting up a business.”
Lay down the ground rules with co-founders. Don’t be shy
“It seems obvious, but it’s really important to work on the rules together. If people aren’t happy about the rules, then it will produce problems, and everything will surface later on.
“There’s also a reason why you have shareholder agreements, and the Article of Association – it’s to establish the ground rules in case people don’t behave when things don’t go well.”
Investors aren’t just “money”
“When you get an investor on board, it’s a liability, it’s going to be something you’re going to have to deal with.
“Entrepreneurs are quite eager to get investment, but they have to understand that investors are not just money they’re people. If you can get potential investors on board in terms of where they have some responsibility and get some visibility for the business, then you’ll be able to build that trust with them to reduce risk on the investment side.”
Always expect the unexpected
“A business plan is not important as a document, but should be treated as an exercise of better aligning people within a company with their goals. One other thing that needs to be clear is that things change in business and you have to be ready for that and make the most of it. Some entrepreneurs are afraid of change… but the market might change, people change, things change, but then they’ve made old promises to people. Instead of changing plans for better of the company, some people stick to them knowing they’re going to take the company to the wall.
“You have to manage expectations properly for all stakeholders, partners, investors, employees, and customers, but then you also have to admit that you made mistakes, fix them and learn from them.”