How do I tell my cofounder I need to quit?

23 July 2023 ยท Updated 24 July 2023

I've been running in overdrive mode the last year or so, I've come to a crossroads where I feel the need to step away from my role and pursue a different path. I am grappling with how to convey this decision to my co-founder, who has been my partner in this journey. What is the most effective and considerate way to communicate to my co-founder that I have made the decision to resign from our shared business venture? How can I ensure that this conversation is respectful and productive, while also making clear my reasons for leaving? What steps can I take to minimize the impact of my departure on the company and its future?


First of all, I’m sorry you ended up in such a situation. Running in overdrive for so long is a recipe for disaster.

I remember a time when I was in a similar situation, standing at the precipice of a decision that would change not only my life but also the lives of those I had been working closely with. It was a daunting task, but one that taught me invaluable lessons about communication, empathy, and leadership.

I really feel you. Hope you find peace in other areas of work.

Let’s talk about the process. How would I recommend telling your co-founder you’re quitting?

Understand Your Reasons

Firstly, it’s crucial to be clear about why you’re choosing to leave. You’re burned out, you worked too much. That’s understandable. Be clear and say it as it is โ€” you’re tired of doing the same thing over and over and think it’s time to part ways. But you need to be sure 110% that that’s the reason. Understanding it fully will not only give you clarity but also help you articulate your decision to your co-founder.

Prepare for the tough conversation

Once you’re clear on your reasons, prepare for the conversation. Anticipate the questions your co-founder might ask and the reactions they might have. This will not be a pleasant conversation, so this preparation will help you stay calm and composed during the conversation, and ensure that you can answer any questions honestly and transparently.

Choose the right time and setting

The timing and setting of this conversation are also important. Choose a private setting where you won’t be interrupted, and a time when your co-founder can give you their full attention. Maybe go outside for a walk or invite them to dinner? This shows respect for them and for the gravity of the conversation.

Understand how they feel

When it comes to the conversation itself, honesty and empathy are key. Be honest about your reasons for leaving, but also empathetic to how this might impact your co-founder and the company. Remember, this news might come as a shock, so be prepared for an emotional reaction and handle it with understanding and patience.

Offer alternatives

It’s also helpful to offer alternatives. Suggest potential replacement, look ways hwo you can make this less painful for everyone. This shows that you still care about the company and its future. It also eases the burden on your co-founder and shows respect for the work you’ve done together. Telling someone you quit should come with a list of plans that will help them survive without you (if that’s possible).

Handling Reactions

Be prepared for a range of reactions, from understanding to anger. It’s important to handle these reactions calmly and professionally. Remember, it’s a difficult situation for everyone involved, and emotions can run high. Don’t make this personal. Imagine your co-founder quitting โ€” it’s unpleasant

Settings things into motion

After the conversation, there are still steps to take. Informing the rest of the team โ€” choose a proper time and date to say goodbye. Start the transition process โ€” understand who will be taking over your tasks, document things that are still in your head, ensuring the company is set up for success after your departure are all important tasks.

While this conversation is undoubtedly difficult, it’s also an opportunity for growth for both you and your co-founder. Approach it with honesty, empathy, and a focus on the future. Remember, it’s not just about ending your time at the company, but also about setting it up for success in your absence. It’s a testament to your leadership and a final act of service to the company you helped build. You want to see your baby thrive right? So make it that way.

Hot! The last couple of years I've been writing about CTO / Tech lead job. I've compiled all my knowledge into a printable PDF. I called it "256 Pages of No Bullshit Guide for CTOs". So if you're interested, take a look.

New! If you're a software engineer looking for a job, I started a Roast my Resume service, where I record a personalized video of me "roasting" your CV, which basically means taking a hard look at your resume as a CTO and commenting on all the good and the bad parts.

  • Jai

    When I finally hit the wall and decided to quit, it was pure burnout, plain and simple. I wrote my cofounder this huuuge transition plan, naively thinking it would smooth everything over. What a joke. No amount of documentation can prepare them, they still called a lot.

  • Michael

    For a discussion like this, I always try to think in advance if there is anything (literally, anything) the other person could do to change my mind.

    This doesn’t mean you offer up that potential solution, because perhaps you really do want to leave, but when I’m having that conversation with myself – I try to think through what I would do if potential solutions (or even, just a delay) to my leaving would be offered.