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Xobni VP Engineering leaves for own startup (gaborcselle.com)
73 points by immad on July 23, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

There are some strange sentiments in the announcement on http://www.xobni.com/blog/2008/07/23/xobni-is-growing-adding...

"And while we are sad to see Gabor go, his departure is a big opportunity for Xobni." It's spin to present the loss of a technical founder as an opportunity. The fact that they couldn't keep him in a CTO role, distinct from a VP of Engineering role, speaks volumes. And it's an insult to characterize it as an "opportunity."

The blog entry goes on to list requirements for the new VP "The right person will:

   champion our engineering ethos, [CTO]
   deliver a fantastic product, [product manager]
   on-time. [product manager]
   be an able manager [vp engineering]
   who excels at rapid company growth. [vp engineering]
   know how to ship desktop software [product manager]
   know how to add or remove process [CEO]
This is probably at least three people: a VP of engineering, a CTO, and a product manager. And I think the last is more properly the province of the CEO. Their detailed position description at http://www.scribd.com/doc/4062717/Xobni-VP-Engineering has this sentence: "they must contribute as an architect, but still get their hands dirty coding." Those skills don't normally come in a package with an excellent manager who understands process and rapid company growth. This is the VP Eng vs. CTO split in a rapidly growing technology driven company.

Another blog entry just posted http://www.xobni.com/blog/2008/07/23/vroooom-%e2%80%93-build... adds the information that "We are pleased to announce that Josh Jacobson will be joining Xobni as our Director of Product Management and Brian Kobashikawa will join Xobni as our Principal Designer. Both of these guys were part of the Yahoo Messenger team..." Perhaps Gabor Cselle's problem was that his last job was at Google and not Yahoo with Jeff Bonforte the new CEO.

haha.... ex-yahoo-ligans ruining yet another company.

Those requirements make it sound like they really just want another Gabor....

And they do. He was a rockstar for them.

It is an opportunity. Xobni now has the opportunity to offer his unvested options to the three people who will take his place.

> deliver a fantastic product, [product manager]


> on-time. [product manager]

> know how to ship desktop software [product manager]

No, no, hell no.

Product managers define what they think the customer wants (scope creep). Project managers get something that is good enough out of the door (scope supression).

It's possible for one person to do both jobs, but that doesn't make them the same thing.

"Product managers define what they think the customer wants (scope creep). Project managers get something that is good enough out of the door (scope suppression)"

Brilliant, speaking as someone who has worn both hats at different times, that is the dichotomy in a nutshell.

I guess my experience has been that balancing features against ship date is a product management function, with feature content dynamically recalculated (including scope reduction) during the development process in response to new information and opportunities. Figuring out the detailed project plan is a project management function. But one person may do both.

The real story behind this: The top management at Xobni does not want to implement much needed changes to the flawed product. Gabor has been making suggestions, but the company has already become slow and sluggish, and there was a lot of conflict between the two. Some words were exchanged, and now Gabor is leaving. The real story is that internally, one other person (at least) is no longer actively involved in the project...

Is there any way to substantiate your claim?

There hadly ever is, but as this is what life is like at 95% of companies (including small companies) the probability of this being correct is pretty high.

Why would he leave at the zenith of Xobni? What is a year or two more? Would you leave -- even if you had aspirations of doing your own startp?

I tried to leave the following comment at TechCrunch (hasn't been posted yet). Maybe it's written in a poor tone (more patient, perhaps?) but I didn't have time to rewrite it again.

"Why wouldn’t Cselle wait for his payday and then jump ship to start his own company" -- have you considered the possibility that the human spirit does not run on cash and reason alone? That it's not implausible to leave money on the table and gamble on something new, for the sake of happiness and passion?

"Cselle likely wants his own shot at glory, and because of Xobni’s quick rise to success, members of the team may believe that launching a startup is far easier than it really is." -- Why jump to conclude that this move is egotistical and naive?

I'm also leaving my present company (in a minority shareholder, VP role) just a couple weeks after Gabor -- mid-September. It's well-funded (not a tech company so not relevant to Techcrunch) and has excellent prospects in a massive and growing industry. When I leave, I am going to be rather poor -- none of my shares will have vested -- and with few obvious prospects. It's the most gut-wrenching decision I've ever made -- I spent two years full time pouring my sweat into this thing on both sides of the world, making countless sacrifices. And business-wise, my efforts were not in vain -- the business is poised to do very well... but over the past several months, I too have found myself deeply unhappy with where I am -- disconnected with the energy that caused me to enter business in the first place, which was to express myself creatively _in leadership_.

If he feels trapped rather than emboldened in his current role, then all the power to him to seize back control of his life and try to make his dream work. I'm sure it hasn't been an easy decision for him, because when it doesn't make sense to outsiders, it probably doesn't make sense to the rational part of him either. I've found it almost indescribably hard to leave a great team working on an exciting, successful project -- especially when I know that my decision will probably not make a lot of sense to outsiders. But sometimes you have to go beyond rational economic outcomes and listen to the part of you that gives you meaning.

Better that, than become one of the countless people in the herd who has goals where his heart used to be.

In the wrong environment a year or two could be soul-crushing.

To quote a certain edw519...'One day you realize that you only have x days on this earth and y of them are already gone.' Sometimes options vesting or even guaranteed money isn't the right path. It may be the easy path though.

"In the wrong environment a year or two could be soul-crushing." - Very well put. That's the reason, I left the previous start-up I was working with. Honestly I think if you are not one of the co-founders of a startup, it's just not worth it, and not just for financial reasons.

But I imagine you learned a lot of important answers during that time.

I went through a similar situation, and I am still glad I did it. And these lessons are far cheaper in time learning when you can leave compared to when you have fully committed yourself.

I've wanted to build a workplace where people can be creative, productive, and happy, and a product that delights users and improves their lives. I feel like the time is now.

Pretty canned response. I'd like to hear the real reasons as well.

Maybe he would have liked to sell to Microsoft.

Or maybe he convinced everyone to turn down Microsoft.

In any case, founders and early stage employees leave on their own accord, or get nudged out, all the time.

I've been involved with a number of startups and have seen guys kind of forced out because of conflicts with the investors. I've also seen guys leave for totally random reasons - one guy was a co-founder and wrote 100K+ lines of code in a year, then decided he wanted to go back to south america to work on a ranch. However, the main reason I've seen early stage people quit is simply because they were sick of working on the project.

Or maybe he convinced everyone to turn down Microsoft. I doubt one employee can convince co-founders, employees AND VCs to not sell when they are ready.

I first learned something was wrong with Xobni when I recommended it (without having tested it, since I use Unix on my workstation) to some friends who are the perfect target market for Xobni: busy executive users of outlook who have to manage quite alot of email. Next thing I heard back was that it made their Outlook unstable and crashy and they uninstalled it.

Now this...

You should always leave companies at their zenith.Leaving it either too early or too late costs you money.

I don't think Xobni's there yet though.

It seems that there is some kind of conflict in between. I see no other reason for somebody to leave. Maybe hiring somebody from yahoo as "adult supervision" was not such a great idea. Who knows?

Ps. I'd love to hear more on what happened. Maybe in few months, after his trip, Gabor will write some more about this, and the real reasons he left. Maybe we can all learn some more from his experience.

I'd love to hear more on what happened

Wouldn't we all?

But I suspect all these people have too much class to give us the real dish.

there are classy and non-classy ways to say "fuck you".

bonforte as adult supervision is infinitely hilarious.

"Those who know don't talk. Those who talk don't know". I simply hope that his shares were vested.

He is also an angel investor in Xobni. So he will see some payout when they flip.

I dunno if anyone else saw this when it was first posted but I noticed that there was a comment that said, "Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out". forgot who it was posted by. it's been deleted since then...

It's worth pointing out that the comment was clearly a joke from a friend of Gabor, and that it was probably deleted because it could be misinterpreted.

Whatever the reasons, good for him (and it is very likely that he already owns some equity so he gains even if xobni gets bought out later though not so much).

He mentions he is taking some substantial time off, likely he sold his equity to others in the company and will live off of that for awhile.

It is a hard transition from a "scrappy start-up" to a more mature start-up. I could imagine at one point he is super important, in every meeting, helping direct the focus of every little thing, then as the company expands you get pushed out to the side a little and treated more like an employee. The fact is he was/is an employee, but it is hard to not think of yourself as a little more then that when you have had so much involvement for so long.

I could be wrong but I thought he was the third member of the company, and also given a founders stake. I'm sure they worked something out to mutual benefit.

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