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Picking up the pieces: Why this entrepreneur sacked his co-founder

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Founders often (perhaps too often) liken their startups to their ‘babies’ — little creatures to be nurtured through growth and development, and a testament to their creators.

But, if you’re co-parenting with the wrong person, the family dynamic can get ugly pretty quickly.

Speaking on the Tech in Asia Startup Snapshot Podcast, Singapore startup founder Eugene Soh opens up about a particularly ill-fated co-founder pairing, and the emotional turmoil that came when the pair had to part ways.

Soh is chief executive of MindPalace, a startup providing VR experiences to the elderly, and to dementia patients.

In the podcast, he explains how he founded MindPalace after a tumultuous hackathon experience, in which the team members bickered and went back-and-forth on the idea they were working on.

Eventually, the team created a demo of MindPalace, based on technology Soh had already been working on.

“I finished the working demo and the rest of the team worked on the slides,” he said.

After the hackathon, only one team mate was available to continue the venture, Soh explained, and so the pair became co-founders.

Soh’s co-founder had been the designer at the hackathon, and is “a talented artist”.

However, as they worked on the startup afterwards, “the relationship wasn’t equal”, he said.

“I was kind of mentoring him.”

Everyone MindPalace was working with saw the pair as co-founders, Soh said.

“But who was doing all the work? It was me,” he added.

“When it’s just two people, both need to be active.”

What’s worse is that Soh could see his co-founder was trying to put in effort. But, he didn’t have the same networks and running a company didn’t appear to be in his natural skill set.

“He was doing his best. But … in terms of effort, if I put in the same amount of effort I could get a lot more things done compared to him,” Soh said in the podcast.

Eventually, Soh decided he had to let his co-founder go.

Since then, Soh has been running MindPalace alone, he said there has been “not much difference”.

The workload has been the same, and, if anything, “it has been much easier”.

However, he says the whole experience took a serious emotional toll.

“It felt like an actual relationship breakup,” he said.

“I had to pick up the pieces emotionally, get myself together after that, and continue on.”

He advises other entrepreneurs only to enter into a co-founder relationship if they really need something the other person has, and to consider “if what you need is an employee, not a co-founder”.

Soh says he’s also taken the same lessons he’s learnt from romantic breakups.

“Not letting that kind of stuff affect my work,” he says.

“So far, I have been able to do that.”

Listen to the full Tech in Asia podcast here.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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