Ousted Tech Founder? Uber's Travis Kalanick Is in Good Company

By Stu WooFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Travis Kalanick, Uber Technologies Inc.'s co-founder, has joined an illustrious list of Silicon Valley leaders forced out of running the companies they built. He resigned late Tuesday after a group of investors pressured him to step down.

Sometimes the companies went on to staggering success after the founder's departure. Sometimes they faltered. Sometimes, the ousted founder returned, with mixed results. Here are just a few cases of what happens when a technology company pushes out a founder.

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Steve Jobs, Apple Inc.

The most famous example, of course, is the late Jobs. With the board's backing, Apple Chief Executive John Sculley in 1985 fired Jobs after he tried to get Mr. Sculley -- whom Jobs had lured away from PepsiCo just two years earlier -- fired.

"I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me," he said at a 2005 Stanford University commencement speech. "The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."

Jobs went on to run software company NeXT and Pixar Animation Studios, helping create "Toy Story." In 1997, he returned to Apple after it acquired NeXT. During his second Apple tenure, Jobs released some of the company's most iconic technological innovations, including the iPod and iPhone. He remained chief executive until about a month before he died in 2011.

Jerry Yang, Yahoo Inc.

Mr. Yang was pressured out of Yahoo leadership not once, but twice. He was chief executive from 2007 to 2009, when he left that position after critics savaged him for rejecting a Microsoft Corp.'s offer to buy the company for $45 billion. He remained in management, as a "Chief Yahoo," focusing on strategy and stayed on the board.

In 2012, though, he left after investors questioned whether his many roles at Yahoo, including co-founder, director and largest shareholder, saddled him with conflicts of interest as the company explored selling itself.

Today, Mr. Yang is a board director at a few companies, including Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Yahoo, which he co-founded in 1995, sold itself to Verizon Communications Inc. for $4.5 billion this year.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter Inc.

Three of Twitter's co-founders have been its chief executive. Mr. Dorsey was a nose-ring-wearing, dreadlocked one until 2008, when he was pushed out after disagreements over another co-founder.

He returned to Twitter in 2011 as a product chief while remaining chief executive of mobile-payment startup Square Inc. In 2015, Twitter promoted Mr. Dorsey to chief executive once again -- while allowing him to remain Square's boss too.

In April, Twitter reported sliding revenue for the first time. Square in May said it had slashed losses faster than expected and plans to expand to the U.K.

Mike Lazaridis, Research In Motion Ltd.

Mr. Lazaridis founded the BlackBerry phone maker in 1984 with a loan from his parents and later ran the company with co-CEO Jim Balsillie. On a Sunday in 2012, the pair stepped down after investors clamored for new leadership as the company struggled to keep up with phones running Apple's iOS and Google's Android software.

Mr. Lazaridis now runs a quantum-science computing fund with the other RIM co-founder. RIM renamed itself BlackBerry Ltd., quit making phones itself and focuses on mobile software.

Parker Conrad, Zenefits

In 2015, Parker Conrad's two-year-old Zenefits was valued at $4.5 billion. The startup gave its human-resources software to small businesses for free and made money by acting as an online broker for health-insurance plans.

Scrutiny quickly focused in on regulatory compliance. "The fact is that many of our internal processes, controls, and actions around compliance have been inadequate, and some decisions have just been plain wrong," David Sacks, Mr. Conrad's successor, said in a letter to employees announcing Mr. Conrad's departure in 2016. "As a result, Parker has resigned."

Mr. Sacks himself left the job after 10 months. Shortly thereafter, Zenefits laid off 45% of its staff. Meanwhile, Mr. Conrad had been working on a new startup idea.

Write to Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 21, 2017 07:49 ET (11:49 GMT)