It's never a good sign when one of your best employees leaves your company. You can do one of two things - find someone to fill the gap immediately, or reach out to them and ask them to come back, possibly on better terms.
Sematime CEO Boniface Githinji went for a third option, accusing the company's former Operations and Business Development lead Nicholas Gikunda of malice and sabotage after it emerged that Nicholas had left Sematime and started Compho Africa, a company that offers a similar service to Sematime, but with a host of other services added on.
While Sematime offers a communication module for schools, Nick explains that Compho offers a comprehensive school management service.
Sematime's service comes with an SMS-based service that schools can use to communicate with parents, teachers, and other stakeholders. Getting In addition, the software can also be used to send report cards and fee balance notifications to parents via SMS message.
Nicholas Gikunda was the second employee hired by Sematime after they were incubated at Nairobi's Nailab. He joined the company, also known as Tuskqee Systems, in January 2012, and went to work acquiring clients for the company. By August of 2012, the company was bringing in KES 1.5 million in monthly revenue, and by December, they moved out of the incubation space they shared and into their own office.
However, in 2015, things started to take a turn, with Nicholas explaining that the company underwent a crisis, where a number of employees either got fired or resigned. According to him, the company was undergoing some financial challenges, which led to the departure of critical staff.
Nicholas also felt that he was not adequately compensated for his work for the company, given that their revenue went from zero to tens of thousands of dollars due in part to his efforts.
To mark his departure, the Sematime staff threw Nicholas a going-away party, and he thought they were good terms. However, a post on the Sematime blog from CEO Boniface says otherwise.
"I have known Nick since 2012", the post goes on to say, adding, "We were very close as workmates and our friendship blossomed over time. He was also a hard worker and very diligent at his job. I have immense and profound respect for him for the efforts he put in place while he served with us."
Nicholas says he left the company out of his own free will, while Boniface states that he was fired.
"Since [Nicholas's] dismissal, he has been begrudgingly approaching some our customers claiming to upgrade our SMS software to a newer version all the while claiming to represent us. We are aware that he has also been tarnishing the brand and products that we have worked so hard to build."
"[Nicholas] appears hellbent to sabotage our company and its products and will do whatever it takes to accomplish his objective," the post goes on to allege.
"While I as a person certainly was not of the idea to go public about his dismissal, as the CEO of the company I have business interests to protect and have always believed that they should supersede my personal interests."
The situation as portrayed by Boniface goes completely against Nicholas's narrative.
The fact that he was treated to a farewell party, Nicholas says, goes against the 'dismissal' narrative that Boniface brings up in the post. Additionally, Nicholas insists that he only brought up the new company he was a director at, Compho Africa, to former clients who wanted to know what he was working on. Before he left, Nicholas sent out an email stating that he was handing over the product development work he was doing to the CEO, telling customers to contact Boniface in the event that they would need assistance.
It would appear that Boniface is going the extra mile to shame Nicholas and scare off any potential business that he may get. A search for Nicholas's name reveals the Sematime post as one of the top hits. so anyone looking to do business with him could be thrown off by this fact.
Nicholas maintains that he is just looking to move on and take what he learned from his time at Sematime to grow his new business.
With startups, employee relations are important. They are very often the only thing keeping the business from falling apart, and when they do leave for whatever reason, it is easy for things to implode. With Nicholas's departure from Sematime, the company's response could have been handled much more amicably, for sure. Rather than publishing potentially embarrassing information that will affect the past employee's chances, it is much better to sort everything out in-house. That way, all parties can move on without much fuss.