Read This Before Criticizing Zirtual’s CEO For Shutting Down Over Night

By Andy Drish

You’ve probably seen the news about Zirtual shutting down over night

Their CEO (Maren) made a horrible decision by doing an interview Friday on This Week In Startups and, two days later, shutting the entire company down without warning to anyone… leaving 400+ people without jobs today.

Before you criticize her, read this post.

Because there is something wrong with how the media is preying on her right now.

There is something wrong with how the startup world handles failure.

There is something inhumane about how founders become villianized after screwing up. —Tweet this

And something needs to be said about this.

The pressure to perform in the startup world is bad enough already…

A month ago, I saw an article about a woman founder in NYC who committed suicide by jumping off of a roof.

Two years ago, the web was rocked by hearing about the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the reddit co-founder.

And here’s a post I recently read from Ben Huh, titled “When Death Feels Like A Good Option.”

There is already so much pressure put on founders… why the hell are we adding to it during a failure?

Let me be clear: I’m not condoning the actions of Maren.

Let’s face it: she made mistakes. Big ones. Mistakes that hurt a lot of people and are leaving 400+ people with a lot of fear and uncertainty today. Mistakes that could have been avoided.

And not only did she make mistakes, but she handled them poorly, too. She didn’t lead with transparency. And she blindsided a lot of people, breaking trust with customers, employees and more… and frankly, pissing a lot of people off in the process.

Yes. That happened.

But Before You Criticize, Judge Or Blame Her, Think About This:

This isn’t some Ponzi Scheme that screwed people out of millions of dollars.

Maren isn’t riding off into the sunset with a fat bank account while 400+ people lost their jobs.

This wasn’t a scam influenced by greed, designed to screw the ‘working class’ while the ‘executives’ walk away with everything.

There is nothing good about this situation. There are no winners. Everyone loses.

The employees lost. The investors lost. The customers lost. The founders lost.

Nobody wins.

All because the company made a massive mistake.

Is it her fault? Is it her outsourced CFO’s fault? Is it because only 2 people were on her Board of Directors?

It doesn’t matter.

This article isn’t to point fingers at people. It’s not to blame someone. It’s not to even argue about whether Maren’s actions were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

It’s simply a reminder that Maren is human.

And she screwed up, like all of us humans do.

If there’s something she’s guilty of, it’s of not knowing her numbers and not communicating transparently.

But who am I to judge that? Who are YOU to judge that?

I imagine she’s already feeling an immense amount of shame, guilt, and embarrassment.

And the human side of me feels for her.

The part of me that has failed. That has screwed up. That has let people down.

The part of me that has felt so embarrassed and ashamed that all I wanted to do was crawl under a rock and hide from the world.

And in situations like this, where founders screw up…

Not maliciously… Not with intent to deceive…

But screwing up because of ignorance…

The response shouldn’t be to villianize, shame and blame.

The response should be to reflect to see what we can learn from the situation…

We don’t believe in ‘failure and success’ at The Foundation. We simply believe in progress and reflecting on mistakes (and wins) so we are constantly improving.

So Let’s Shift The Conversation From “Who Do We Blame?” To “What Can We Learn?”

When I reflect on Maren’s situation, I think she was afraid to face the truth that raising a round might not happen.

So I ask myself, “What are the hard truths that I’m unwilling to face?”

And I think about how solid our financials are... I wonder about how I can be more transparent in leading... And I question if we have the right support network that we need to continue growing our business.

It’s so easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize…

But instead of wasting time pointing the finger at who we should blame, why don’t we shift the conversation to “What can we learn?”

Because we’re all better off if we do.


Maren — I’m sorry for the burden you’re carrying right now. And I want you to know I support you, regardless. I sincerely hope you’re doing okay today and simply want to remind you that ‘this too shall pass.’

(Disclosure: I met Maren in NYC a couple years ago one time for a dinner with some friends. Having that brief human connection with her is why I felt compelled to write this article.)

Andy Drish is a serial entrepreneur, writer and dog lover. He writes Illumination, a weekly column about “Uncommon Knowledge” for entrepreneurs.

The Foundation helps entrepreneurs start their first software company, as quickly as possible. You can download their crash course in business for free here.

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