So this is a story of how myself and 2 of my friends co-founded a student organization in college (not exactly a startup but I thought I would share it here because building an organization from the ground up is somewhat similar to building a startup). So I and 2 of my friends in college decided to start this organization and 1 person basically screwed us over by taking all the credit and ruining our reputations. Let’s call the cofounder who screwed us over ‘A’ and the other cofounder ‘B’.
Whenever there was something that would give him maximum public attention (eg speaking at a lecture theatre to advertise the event, posting in relevant Facebook groups) he would plan it and do it sneakily without asking any of us. He also MC’ed the entire launch event – I asked if myself and B could also speak but A refused.
He’s now built this reputation on campus as someone who is a great and capable leader who built an awesome organization – so everyone interested in the organization goes and speaks to him, and nobody knows that B or I exist.
A is also someone I’d call a ‘taker’. A asked me for really big favors – to introduce him to all my mentors, to introduce him to the startup I was working for – which I did for him. He was unwilling to reciprocate for very small favors and would always make up excuses. I eventually confronted A about it and he admitted that he lied every time (eg I can’t do it because I’m having family problems’) because he was unwilling to help me.
And throughout the whole process, I was spoken to disrespectfully. It made me extremely upset just how differently he treated important higher-ups (eg very important business leaders we invited to our launch event) compared to myself (where he would be dismissive, swear and be passive aggressive).
After our launch event, I should have been happy but I cried until 5 am and didn’t sleep at all. I quit the day after our launch event because I could not take it anymore. He seemed really upset (I was quite scared as he slammed the table) and apologetic and offered to buy me dinner – I thought he would apologize but he spent the entire dinner blaming B and trying to turn me against B. He said he also spoke to many people about how traumatized he was from the whole situation (aka ruining B’s reputation for something B didn’t do). Why on earth does he feel traumatized? How about me?
In a large way, it was my fault – I saw the warning signs very early on (taker tendencies and not willing to reciprocate, signs of self-interest) but ignored them because he was very capable and agreeable. After reading Adam Grant’s book ‘Give and Take’ I’ve learnt that takers like A can be agreeable and polite on the surface but ultimately self-interested and willing to screw others over. I should have trusted my initial evaluation of him and not worked with him in the first place.
The thing that really scares me is that he comes across as a really nice and caring guy – he’s quite popular in our cohort. He really has the ability to damage the careers of myself and B through reputational damage (which has already happened, I’ve noticed his girlfriend and friends are looking at me weirdly now).
This whole situation has really affected my mental health and left me quite traumatized.
I’m hoping for others to give me advice on this and how to cope.