How This Entrepreneur Dealt When Half of Her Team Quit 3 Days Before a Major Investment Deal Closed Transparency, time and a little bit of wine helped Sampler founder and CEO Marie Chevrier find a way forward.
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In the Women Entrepreneur series My Worst Moment, female founders look back on the most difficult, gut-wrenching, almost-made-them-give-up experience they've had while building their business -- and how they recovered.
One Friday three years ago, Marie Chevrier was gearing up to seal the deal on an investment in her early-stage startup Sampler, a company that matches product samples with target customers. The deal was slated to close that following Monday, on the condition that her tiny, remote two-person development team would soon relocate from Berlin, Germany, to Toronto, Canada, where she and her only other employee at the time were based. That day, over a phone call, her developers broke the news: They'd decided not to make the move, or, in other words, they resigned. Chevrier had a matter of hours to figure out how to break the news to her investors -- and a weekend to draft a plan B.
"I'm not at all a technical founder, so when I first started Sampler, I reached out to the only developers I knew in the entire world. We had previously worked together at Rocket Internet, a VC firm that's based out of Germany. Once Sampler started doing some fundraising, one of the things that kept coming up was that investors wanted the core team to be all together in Toronto. My two developers said they would likely be able to make the move from Berlin, but they had families. They weren't 100 percent sure they could do it.
I remember it was a Friday, and our lawyers had just greenlit all the papers. I got a call from one of the [development] guys, and he said, 'Marie, I just want to be really honest. I don't think I'll be able to relocate.' It was really an admirable thing for him to do, because he could have certainly went on and not let me know his concerns.
I remember at that moment just freaking out and thinking, "Well, this is it. The investors are definitely going to back out now that there's no technology team behind the tech company.' It was a very stressful moment, and I remember thinking, 'Do I tell my investors that this is happening, or do I just close this and deal with it after?'
I reached out to one of my trusted advisors at the time and asked him, 'What would you do? How would you present it to the investors?' He was like, 'You have to be transparent.' It was helpful to get some advice from other people who had gone through fundraising before.
I decided that I was going to be transparent and very honest -- that's just how I was going to run my business. At that time, I reached out to our lead investor and told her, and obviously she was just as shocked as I was and definitely worried. I told her, "We have a transition plan, and we feel confident that, with the financing and the existing traction, we'll be able to attract great talent.' I reassured her that we would figure out a solution.
She said, 'Take tonight and just have a glass of wine, and then deal with it tomorrow. But by Monday, you'll need to have a game plan.'
That's exactly what I did, and it taught me a pretty big lesson about how I should attack challenges: It's completely OK to take a day. It's OK to say, 'I have enough on my plate' or 'I need a small mental break.'
By Monday, I had written a job description with the help of the guys. I had already negotiated a bit of a transition plan with them, which involved them training people remotely. We also went over the product roadmap. All the big features we'd been planning on releasing were to be taken care of by the guys. I owe that transition fully to them.
It was, all in all, a very positive experience, even if it didn't seem like that in the moment. But I would rather have people locally who are able to be there every day than to have a remote team. I think that would have limited our growth, so it was actually really nice that the investors had put that condition in place. It forced us to have these hard conversations early."