Once Fired, Now A Founder: How a Tech Leader Rebuilt His Career «
As chief technology officer at Kayak, the travel booking website he co-founded in 2004, Paul English sometimes finds himself interviewing job candidates who have been fired from their previous job. English can relate.
A story in Friday’s Wall Street Journal examines the fast and frequent firing that can mark life at a startup company.
In 1996, English was let go from a Cambridge, Mass., technology company called NetCentric Corp. The experience shaped his career, he said, leading him back to his roots as a coder and eventually prompting him to start his own business, which he sold for millions of dollars. He’s even now friends with the manager who fired him. So it all turned out fine.
But English still remembers the devastation he felt when he was fired. He’d been a vice-president for a year, and had a disagreement over compensation planning for the firm’s engineers. “It was incredibly, incredibly painful,” he says.
He felt incompetent and depressed for months. He questioned whether he was really meant to be an engineering executive at a startup. He didn’t work for about a year and lived off of savings.
English isn’t the only tech executive whose corporate bio includes a pink slip. Jack Dorsey and Steve Jobs were both famously axed from the companies they helped build. In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Jobs talked about being ousted from Apple at age 30.
“What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.”
We know the rest of the story for Jobs. Soon after leaving Apple, he debuted a computer aimed at the higher-education market, then used part of his fortune to buy a company that would become Pixar Animation Studios. He eventually retook the reins at Apple; under his watch, the business transformed everything from mobile phones to music and became one of the world’s most valuable companies.
As for English, he eventually regained his confidence by putting management aspirations on hold and starting to code and design on his own. He developed an online strategy game that garnered 100,000 members in China. As the users piled up, English started feeling better about his self-worth and career, and decided to start an e-commerce site that he eventually sold it to software company Intuit Inc. for $30 million, just about two years after he had been fired.
Since founding Kayak, English has had to fire his own share of employees. He says his experience has given him empathy for the person being fired– he tries to check back in on former workers and remind them that they’re still good people. Sometimes he even helps them find new jobs.
But English still has a pretty tough stance on firing. When someone’s not a right fit, he advocates asking them to leave swiftly, usually within 30 days of hiring.
“You’ve got to cut that tumor out,” he says of poor performers or problem employees. “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to get rid of it.”