How Startups Fix Their People Problems

You can fix them, ignore them, or fire them. But which do you do when?

Joe Procopio
6 min readOct 21, 2019


At some point, every startup will have at least one employee who threatens the success of the company. What do you do with this person?

The issue might be a loss of motivation, maybe a lack of growth, or it could just be a shift in attitude that has made them toxic to everyone around them.

The solution is far from simple.

Yeah, you wish you could just fire them, but that’s not as clean as it sounds in your head when you’re driving to work. First of all, firing is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Furthermore, when you’re a startup, every hand on the deck counts, and there’s never a good time to lose two of them. Finally, there was a reason you hired this person, and second-guessing sucks.

Look, you’ve got a broken employee. You don’t need to fix the person. But you do need to fix the problem. You can survive mistakes and lean times and external forces, but you can’t survive threats coming from the inside.

How Did We Get Here?

This is not an uncommon problem in any workplace, especially in startup. Here are the causes I usually uncover:

Hiring the wrong person is not hard to do. We move fast. Our focus is usually on a dozen different things, and only one of them is bringing in the right help. No matter how thorough our vetting process is, invariably, someone will figure out a way to beat it.

Hiring people we know is easy to do. When we’re just getting our business off the ground, it’s tempting to tap people close by, especially those people who we’re already comfortable being around. They may be a great friend, even a great human being, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a great employee.

When times get tough, flaws come out. When a new hire is made, chances are that life is pretty rosy on both sides. It’s when the shit hits the fan that you see the weaknesses.

People are weird, man. Sometimes a person changes because of the work. Sometimes a person changes for reasons that are totally external to the work. And sometimes people just change for no good reason.



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building & GROWERS. Write at and More at