Brave New World

Paul Graham, founder of the Y-Combinator accelerator, recently posted this piece about startup investing trends over the past 2 years or so. I recommend you read it in its entirety but here are some key points:

  • The initial costs of founding a startup are drastically lower today than during the dot-com boom of the late 90s.
  • As a result, there are many more startups being founded by young entreprenuers than in the past. On a related note, it is becoming increasingly acceptable to go the startup route right out of school as opposed to joining a corporate environment.
  • Since startups require less initial capital, the environment for angel investors is favorable with many more opportunities available and fewer restrictions.

There’s more but the points I listed are germane to what I want to write about. These trends (which are undoubtedly true) have strong implications for software engineers such as myself. Costs have been driven down to the point where a well-rounded software developer or a small team of just 2 or 3 can spin up a full stack web app with scalable backend and web/mobile client components for minimal upfront costs. As a frame of reference, my monthly operating expense for Butterfly Radio is about $20. The main expense is time and the opportunity costs associated with it. As the cloud computing environment evolves, these points become increasingly true as prices continue to fall and higher level backend services like Parse and Kinvey grow in popularity. Eventually, developing a full stack web app will be similar to setting up and installing a WordPress site – still a professional pursuit but requiring only a fraction of the technical sophistication a well-built backend demands today.

This is good news for software developers and bad news for idea guys and startups with no technical founder. With the prohibitive costs of managing dedicated servers with a system administrator practically eliminated, programmers can quickly put together a minimum viable product and validate their ideas without seeking investment or breaking their piggy banks. If the idea floats, they can iterate upon it and seek financing. If not, they probably lost no more than a couple weeks of spare time – if done right, the MVP should be bare-bones simple and shouldn’t take an exorbitant amount of time.

For the idea guy, it’s going to be a much tougher road ahead. Now that setting up a web app is fairly simple, it will take a lot more to convince good developers to join an idea person with no prototype, users, or financing. Someone in this position will basically have zero chance of convincing a good developer to join the team on an idea alone. Anyone he does manage to convince is probably not very good or extremely naive and will wise up quickly. The demands on the idea guy are now far greater. He has to bring much more to the table than what he considers a ground-breaking idea. Some combination of considerable financing and user traction will likely get a developer’s attention but without a prototype, it’s basically impossible to establish either one. As I see it, idea guys are SOL.

Funded startups have the advantage of money and hopefully, traction. These are still desirable positions for software developers but only if you are one of the founders or maybe employee 3-5. After that, the options packages usually range in the 0.5 to 2% zone for employees. I have been tendered three full time packages from startups that include vesting options (one of them was a convertible debt package so it was harder to price). The highest offer was 4.5% and the other two were around the 1% mark. This is before any additional dilution that would have occured during a series A or subsequent institutional rounds. Assuming your options were worth 1% of a company that exits for $100 million after 5 years – your portion would be theoretically worth $1 million which sounds great. But put differently, that’s $200,000 per year for 5 years. Most good engineers should be in the 150k range which is obviously less the $200k but remember, the scenario I decribed assumes a very nice exit and NO dilution. Most engineers consider options worthless and if they amount to anything, think of it as a bonus.

So what does all this mean? It means startups are no longer competing with other startups for talent. They are competing with the talent itself. I have been a contract engineer in New York City for 1.5 years now and have recieved several full time offers including options. The reason I have turned them down is because I still consider myself the better bet – as a contractor and hopefully running Butterfly Radio as a startup soon. Sure enough, one of the companies that extended an offer is already out of business. While I am still reasonably young and without major expenses such as a mortgage and children, I will continue to gamble on myself unless a company with an undeniable track record offers a substantial equity position to join them. I am not arguing that every software developer thinks this way and perhaps my risk tolerance is higher than normal, but the fact remains that on a macro level, the environment is now much more conducive to my approach as an engineer. On that basis alone, we can expect considerable changes to the startup battle for talent and the investment scene.


An Experiment

A couple times a month, someone approaches me with an idea for an app that could be worth millions or perhaps even billions. If you are a professional software developer, you probably experience the same. Usually, these individuals try to convince me to make the app for a share of profits or an equity position in the company they hope to start. Rarely do they offer cash and if they do, it is generally far below market value ($90 to $150 per hour in NYC).

The thing is, some of these ideas are good and some of the people impressive. They are just not in a position to pay. For example, last December, two doctoral students approached me with a solid idea and wanted me to make an iOS app as an equity member of their team. Being students, they could not afford my rates and I had to turn them down but their background was clearly impressive. Another individual from the world of finance asked me to join him to make an app in the health care space but was not willing to pay upwards of $10,000 to validate his market hypotheses. That’s fair enough but I certainly will not commit 100 hours my time to validate his ideas either. So once again, no partnership.

For those like the two aforementioned examples, I am testing an idea that I hope will bridge the gap between ideas and execution. For now, I am calling it the “MVP Program” (Minimum Viable Product) which is more of a working title. The MVP Program will develop an iOS mimimum viable product for a team with no technical founder (at least no mobile engineer). We will review app proposals and evaluate them based on the feasibility of creating a prototype within a four week period. Each proposal will carry a $25 application fee. Once we receive 200 proposals, we guarantee to select one and develop it during the ensuing month at no additional cost. Here is a full break down of how it will work.

This experiment is meant to find a middle ground between professional engineers and the much maligned “idea guys.” To get sense of how idea guys are perceived by engineers, take a quick look at this Reddit thread. The fact is, good engineers are usually balancing projects or full time offers that pay well. Taking a project for equity with an unproven founder is downright reckless and will almost always lead to tens of thousands of dollars in forgone wages. So when an idea guy comes to us with the next Instagram, Pinterest, or other billion dollar idea, we usually decline.

On the flip side, not all ideas and idea guys are destined to fail. Some of them will put it together and create great companies but just need the initial boost to get started. That boost generally means securing a technical co-founder and/or seed capital. Both of those are very tall orders if you have an idea and nothing else. With a prototype, your chances of finding an engineer and raising funding are significantly improved. The MVP Program can provide that boost. Even if your project is not selected, we will respond with a comprehensive analysis of your its potential costs, timeframe, and technical challenges. I am occasionally asked to consult with founders regarding these matters at a rate of $100 per hour so at the very least, you will receive similar insight for the $25.00 application fee.

So that’s the experiment. Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. We hope to iterate this program in response to user feedback.

Oops, I Did It Again

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It’s been a year in NYC as a freelance software developer for me and there have been a few bumps and bruises along the way. Some of it I documented here but today I’m going to show off scars of the self-inflicted variety. I made my share of dumb moves and hopefully this will help some people avoid the same mistakes:

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
In one of my earlier assignments, I inherited a codebase for version 1.0 of a geo-location based app and my job was to implement new features for an upgrade. I found the code difficult to navigate and thought it was poorly designed. Since the upgrade included a complete UI overhaul, I suggested we tear up the codebase and buld it back up from the bottom. The client went along with this and we spent about three weeks building the app back up from scratch. As any experienced developer could tell you, this was dumb. The codebase covered a million different contigencies that I could not have possibly planned for in a few weeks and was proven to be reliable during the initial release. After about three weeks trying to build it back from scratch, I reversed course and went back to the original code base. I tried to make it right by doing much of this very early in the morning before getting to the office and not billing the hours but it definitely did not make up for three weeks of lost time. Today, this episode reminds me of something I read on Hacker News once: it’s easier to write code than it is to read code. My job as a developer was to learn the environment, not to recreate it. Never again will I make that mistake.


Better You Than Me
When the shit hits the fan, everyone looks for someone to blame. If the shit is an iPhone app and you’re the developer, you’re the fan. During an assignment last February, we were racing against the clock to release in time for SXSW. Most of the work was cleaning up bugs and improving stability but whenever we corrected a particular set of problems, the founder wanted to add new features. Up until the very last day before submitting to Apple, we added new features without testing. This is about as wise as going into the octagon against George St. Pierre just for shits and giggles. We held weekly meetings with the project manager who asked if it was wise to submit. I told him that we can always use more time but the founder wants to submit so that’s what we’ll do. After all, he signed the checks.

So we submitted and the app was approved in time. Of course, all the cool new features were buggy, wonky and unstable. It wasn’t long before the whispers began and people looked around for someone to pin it on. Even though I gave my honest opinion to the PM, the blame still fell squarely on my shoulders.

Now, it could be argued that I wasn’t good enough to hit the target deadline and I would accept that but I knew we were pushing too many new features at the expense of stability. We weren’t even testing in the field – the founder would just look at his iPhone, try it out, and say “great, now let’s add this new feature.” I knew we were taking risks but I should have been much more forceful about submitting and/or adding new features that weren’t planned. I should have put my foot down: either we don’t submit on time or we stop adding new features that were not in the specs. Otherwise, I’m out. By failing to take charge of the process, I took the bullet after releasing. The investment company was deeply disappointed and people pointed at me. I didn’t protest by saying “I told the PM we shouldn’t release but no one listened.” I just took it, accepted the outcome, and moved on. That part I can deal with. What bothers me is that when the time is right, I certainly cannot approach the investment company with my own project. That’s the real damage from the situation – they are a well run group.

Quid Pro Quo
This is a lesson I’ve had to learn several times and still don’t take to heart on occasion. Bartering my development services has led to near disastrous outomes. The main reason is, the other party rarely understands the level of effort developers commit to writing polished software. Most people think making an app is as challenging as creating a WordPress site and installing a theme. This is why you see ads on CraigsList that read: “Two free Yoga Sessions if you make an iPhone App for me.”

Over the summer, an acquaintance approached me to make an iPhone/iPad app for his website. This individual is a retired professional athlete and said he would be willing to help promote one of my apps in exchange. Without going into specifics (another mistake – I should have clearly enumerated EXACTLY what I wanted in exchange), I put together most of an iPhone/iPad Newstand app. If you have ever done a Newsstand app, you know how crazy it gets with the background downloading via push. Setting up the UrbanAirship and using it to initiate a download to the app when it’s not even on is not exactly easy the first time. I got it done but it kicked my ass for a couple days. Anyway so, I asked this person to do the following: sign up for my app and provide an email introduction to a particular contact. These requests went ignored. This is after I spent around 100 hours working on the app. As you may imagine, this made it much more difficult to stay motivated on the project. I started to ignore his emails, texts, and phone calls. After a while, I just told him why I was ignoring him and this led to a bad falling out. Our relationship is definitely done and there’s no repairing it. I already came to that resolution after he didn’t fulfill my initial requests. There’s more to it (as always) and his version of events will differ from mine but the point is this: he had no idea how much work it took to put together an iPhone/iPad app from scracth (esp when you factor in the Newsstand stuff) and so he didn’t feel compelled to return the favor as quickly. From his angle, making the app was probably the same as giving someone a ride to the airport.

The thing is, I’ve been through these situations more than once. I don’t blame the other people anymore. They truly don’t know how much time software development requires and don’t think they are taking advantage of anyone. I blame myself. I should have told them my hourly rate, the amount of time their project will take, and that it will cut into my free time. Then, they would have a frame of reference for offering something of equal value in return. My real solution is, I don’t do quid-pro-quo work anymore. As Randy Moss would say, straight cash homey.

So year one brought these nuggets of wisdom to my arsenal. Hopefully you won’t have to learn them the way I did. If you have any battle scars of your own, I would love to hear about them.

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Show Me the Money


About a month ago, I was freelancing at a startup in lower Manhattan. One day, the founder returned from an investor meeting in which he fielded many questions about the company’s progress. Towards the end, apparently one of the investors bluntly asked “when are you going to start making money?” This investor was older, at least 80, and we all had a chuckle about how he probably won’t be around when that day comes. The founder told us this story out of frustration.

The investor asked a fair question. When someone gives you a chunk of his hard-earned cash to build your dreams, he is completely within his rights to demand a return on his investment and founders have to learn to deal with this. This investor was doing the company a favor. He reminded everyone that none of the other shit matters: how many Twitter followers you have, the Facebook likes, all the cool new features the product will have, all the hard work you’re putting in, and so on. None of that shit matters and he doesn’t care. Like Rod Tidwell said, show me the money. That this particular investor was older doesn’t surprise me; he has seen enough bullshit through the years and his time is precious. Either show him something worthwhile or don’t waste his time because he would rather see his grandkids.

As developers and entrepreneurs, we need to remember this. None of the bullshit matters. When startups tell me how great their work environment is, how they were featured on TechCrunch, how they’re backed by celebrity XYZ, and so on, no one cares. Are you making money? Are you even close to it? We need to get back to the basics. Unless it’s a non-profit, companies exist to make money. All the other metrics people use to accentuate how great their company is doing doesn’t matter unless it direcly translates into a healthier bottom line. If that’s not the case, it’s just background noise meant distract you from the giant sucking sound of investment dollars going down the tubes.

It’s okay if your startup is not profitable. Obviously, startups don’t make money immediately and at least one of the most successful companies on the planet, Amazon, notoriously lost money for several years. But don’t say you’re killing it when your company hasn’t made a nickel yet. Stick to the basics. Tell investors how you are getting closer to generating revenue. That’s all they care about and that’s how it should be. When are you going to start making money?




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I’m something of a habitual interviewee in NYC. When I moved here, my plan was to freelance while meeting with startups regularly to see if there is a good fit to join a team. As a result, I’m in a kind of perpetual state of interviewing. I meet with maybe one or two startups a month and have been asked all manner of questions. I’m not really looking for a job per se, I’m just meeting with various groups to see what’s out there. It’s a lot like dating. And also like dating, I came across a few patterns are noteworthy: (yes, I’m generalizing)

1) “So how do you feel about using Storyboard in iOS?”
This guy is a programmer like you and is usually enjoyable to speak with. It’s like talking to someone you just met and finding out you have a shared passion. I’m best in these situations because I genuinely enjoy discussing these topics. I usually ask the other person questions that I’m curious about such as whether he uses ARC or kicks it old-school with retain/release calls (I’m great at dinner parties). Whenever I meet with someone like this in an interview, I take it as a good sign about the startup.

2) “Here is a piece of paper with two arrays written on it. Please write sample code which creates an NSDictionary using the elements of one array as the keys and the other array for the values.”
Pretty simple task and any iOS dev should be able handle it easy-peasy. These types of questions don’t bother me because it directly relates to the position’s core requirements. I mean really, if you can’t populate a dictionary, then you should keep working on your personal development (sorry for the pun). The fact that I am asked questions like this means there are people who cannot answer them. I guess it’s a necessary evil. In my experience, interviewers usually present these questions sheepishly – one even asked “is it okay if I ask you to code something simple?” I don’t think they enjoy putting people on the spot like that.

3) “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, how would you write a function to simulate the sound and then broadcast it? There’s no right answer, I just want to see how you think.”
Twice, I have been asked questions like this. To me, these are red flags and I try to disengage. The last time I was asked a question of this sort, I just politely ended the meeting and went on my way. These questions are meant to serve as de facto IQ tests whether the interviewer admits it or not. No matter what, there is a response that is the ‘right’ answer. In both cases where I was asked this sort of thing, the interviewer was an older programmer (50+) who didn’t program for iOS. It seems that since they can’t directly evaluate iOS skills, they came up with fun little games to “see how people think” as a proxy for development ability. I consider this a poor decision on the company’s part. If there are any iOS devs on staff, they should have that person conduct the interview or at least sit in for a portion of it. In the second case, there were a few iOS devs in the adjacent office.

4) “We are currently working on a revolutionary app that will disrupt the social networking, photo-sharing, (fill-in-buzzword here) space. We have a world-class development team and a great CEO. We want to revolutionize the way people think about (another buzzword) and change the world. Our team is truly visionary and we won some hack-a-thon a few months ago. We’re all hip young guys who like to work hard and play hard. We’re building something…”
And so on. This team skews young and they’re so excited about what they’re doing, you can’t get a word in edgewise. The enthusiasm is definitely good and someting I can relate to but it’s not the right time for me to join a group like that. I think I’m just too old – I graduated college almost 10 years ago. These guys are in what I consider the honeymoon phase where everything is so exciting and the mere idea of doing a startup is a joy in itself. The problem is, someone like me just isn’t impressed unless they’re generating substantial revenue – or any revenue – which is usually not the case. I had a phone interview that started with the marketing guy rambling on for literally over 10 minutes before asking me a question. For proper context, it was my second interview so I already knew about the company from my first meeting in addition to my own personal review. These guys need to fight through a few major set-backs and get some battle scars. I think many of them will do just and be fine that but many more will fall apart once they learn the world does not care how revolutionary their product is. For these cases, the timing was off – if I was 8 years younger or if the company was 2 or 3 years older, I think it would have gone differently.

5) “Why do you want to work for us and what makes you a good fit for our company.”
The traditional “playing the game” question. This is the one that’s supposed to evoke your canned response from all the practice interviews in the school career center. This company needs an ego boost and if it is asked by one of the founders, I take it as a sign that the founder needs the ego boost. It’s the same guy who calls himself CEO of a five-man outfit that isn’t profitable and has been in existence for maybe one year. If you really need the job, then play the game I guess.

By and large, the interview process can be an awkward dance where neither person knows who’s leading. If you follow tech sites, you know that programmers can bascially work wherever they want and are always in short supply. I literally told a recruiter to fuck off once and she still calls – I admire her resolve. Sometimes, the interviewer didn’t get the memo and conducts the meeting as though he was the hottest girl at the bar and the interviewee was hitting on her. I have been offered positions at a handful of the startups and the salary never matches what I make as a freelanceer. That’s okay, I completely expect that. But the reason I point it out is to emphasize that experienced programmers aren’t desperate and there’s always something around the corner. Programmers don’t usually approach these situations from a position of desperation.

I suppose it comes down to who’s interviewing who. Whenever I take one of these meetings, I’m evaluating the company starting from the person sitting across the table. Can I get along with these people? How big is the staff? Do they have ping-pong tables, foosball tables, and dartboards all over the office? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my personality. Do the founders have any successful exits? Who’s invested? And so on. This confusion is probably why we’re seeing new ventures that reverse the dynamic: companies bid to speak to developers. The time is right for this and I think we’ll see more services like it pop up in tech hubs like NYC, Boston, and the Bay Area. Until then, I’ll just keep on looking for my start-up soul mate.

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30 Pounds in 30 Days

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In the past month or so, I met with a handful of groups who sought guidance on putting together an iOS minimum viable product with a fully functioning backend. These groups consisted of non-technical people: a journalist, a wall-street type, a management consultant, a CPA, and even a fashion model. They all have one thing in common: they want to make an iPhone app but don’t know where to begin. The conversations were mostly the same with the exception of the app idea. Otherwise, I spent one to two hours explaining the following concepts:

1) What is a back-end
2) Popular frameworks: Rails, Django, Node.js, etc
3) Deployment options: EC2, Heroku, Linode, Rackspace, App Engine
4) Key questiosn to ask back-end developers
5) Key questions to ask mobile devs
6) Approximate timeframe
7) Approximate costs
8) Misc: legal, graphic designers, etc

In each meeting, my diagnosis was fairly similar. Developing an MVP with two qualified engineers working full time should cost around $5,000 per week and take about three months (these numbers varied widely based on the complexity of the idea. The values I cite here are conservative). At 12 weeks, that comes out to about $60,000. In every meeting, this is where it got interesting. Everyone had sticker shock and none of the groups could initially comprehend how costs could be so substantial. I tried explaining that those cost estimates actually aren’t that bad. Every group I worked with in the past six months spent several times more than that on their iOS products.

The interesting part was learning about the alternatives. Every group seemed to know of vastly cheaper alternatives. One group said they were quoted $5,000 for their app by a development firm in Pakistan who said they could do it in four weeks. Another group said they had a friend who willing to do it for no upfront cost and a portion of revenue as compensation. Lastly, another group simply had an advisor who seems to think finding and engineer to develop their MVP for free in three weeks is completely reasonable. I have no doubt that they were telling the truth. It would be no different if I said I heard on TV somewhere that by taking certain pills, I can lose 30 pounds in 30 days. I heard it. It’s gotta be true. That sounds better than exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet, and watching my stress level.

My impression is that these groups did not want to believe my numbers. That’s okay. I have no vested interest in the outcomes of any of the projects and I wish them best of luck. But I have no reason to lie or distort the numbers – I wasn’t vying for a contract. If I was, the incentive would be to drastically reduce those estimates. Four weeks and $6,000? Sure, why not. IF I was shooting for a contract. Therein lies the key. I didn’t care what happened after each of those meetings. My plate is pretty full right now. My hunch is that the people who quoted much lower estimates and timeframes were shooting for the development work.

If you have a great app idea but no technical skills, feel free to scoff at my numbers and get your buddy to do it for free or go on Craiglist and offer the gig for equity. It’s all the same to me. Meanwhile, I’ll describe some of the gigs I took on in the last year or so:

– A group contracted a company in Egypt to make their iOS app. It was way over budget, terribly organized, and far past their time estimate – they were on month 9 of what was supposed to be less than half of that. They finally gave up on the Egyptian crew and hired to me to start a whole new one from scratch. All that money & time on the Egyptian team was just wasted.
– A three-man team hired a developer to code their iOS mvp and actually got it done within budget and on time. Unfortunately, the developer used Phone Gap and when they needed to access more complicated native API’s in an upgrade, the developer couldn’t get past that barrier with the PhoneGap SDK. So, they hired me to re-build the app into native code which took four weeks and cost them $15,000. Silly rabbits.
– I am currently working with an individual who contracted out a lot of development to a group in Pakistan. Surprisingly, the code is okay but their communication is poor and the language barrier has led to several costly mis-haps.

There’s more but you get the idea. In all of us, there is a strong urge to believe what we want to believe and disregard the rest. Do you think you’re smart? Do you think you are an above-average driver or better looking than the average person? I answer ‘yes’ to each of those questions (maybe not the good-looking part) and yet, it can’t be true for everyone. Maybe I’m not that smart and my driving sucks. But my internal nature forces me to believe otherwise. This visceral optimism compels people to go with their desires even when experienced people strongly advise otherwise. It’s why we ignored the Simpson-Bowles committee suggestions and it’s why non-technical people to ignore the advice of a seasoned programmer and chart their own path. Only, it’s not the road less traveled. It’s actually a pretty busy road with a ton of traffic jams, accidents, detour signs.

So if you want to shoot for losing 30 pounds in 30 days, go right ahead. I’m sure there are success stories out there somewhere. More importantly, a lot of my business comes from these situations after they explode and the customer has to get in shape the old-fashion way – long, grueling, no short-cuts. Think about it: if it was that easy, anyone would be able to do it.

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FREELANCING: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I moved to New York City in January of 2012 to become a freelance software developer. Since then, I have worked with eight clients – three VC-funded startups, two unfunded startups, two corporate companies, one individual. These were all contract jobs and none of them were meant to become full time positions. I was a hired gun. During this time, I have been tendered three full-time offers in writing: one by a funded start-up and two by development firms. I turned down all three offers for various reasons. Most of the people I teach seem to want to do what I do and I have to admit, it does have its advantages. But there were many many headaches along the way which I didn’t anticipate so it would be a service to go over some of them here.

One of my first freelance gigs was with a small bootstrapped startup in Westchester County. They wanted an iOS app with specific QR code reading functionality. We agreed to a set fee of $2,500 for an initial version (my first mistake – always go with the hourly rate). After about two weeks, I visited their offices to show them an update and collect the first half of payment which was agreed to. They didn’t have a check ready and couldn’t furnish it because the CEO, who had to sign all checks, wasn’t in. I gave them the benefit of the doubt but wrote the CEO an email in which I very clearly stated that I don’t expect that to happen again (ha!). They promptly mailed the check to me and it arrived about four days later. Three days after depositing the check, I recieved a letter from my bank informing me that the check had bounced and they charged my account $30 for some processing stuff. I emailed the company and told them they had two days to furnish payment. They missed the deadline and so I emailed them again to inform them I would no longer be working on the assignment. Evertything that happened afterward is immaterial but let’s just say, that was when the fun really started. They did eventually get an iOS app made (about a year later), but it’s garbage, no real surprise. I never collected any payment for my troubles.

Just before moving to NYC, I worked with another bootstrapped startup in the Flat Iron District. It was two guys, one of whom loved to remind everyone that he’s a former Google employee. Today I suspect he didn’t leave Google by choice. I agreed to code an iOS MVP for them as audition of sorts – if they liked it, I would join the team as the lead mobile engineer on an equity basis. After two weeks, I put together the app and they liked it. They then offered me an equity package of 0.3 percent. That’s not 30%. That’s three-tenths of 1 percent. This was their offer to be their lead mobile engineer. I told them the number has to be more like 10% to which they responded with 5% along with “this is not negotiable.” Just for background, it’s worth pointing out that neither of these guys had ever run a business and I was in the process of selling my first business in Connecticut. Anyway, we simply didn’t come to terms and just parted ways with the understanding that they wouldn’t use my work. They did offer to pay ($600) but I considered that insulting and turned it down. As long as they didn’t use my work, I figured just move on to the next thing.

Fast forward six months, one day I’m poking through the App Store and find the app that I coded for them. I downloaded it and sure enough, it was literally my code. They didn’t even add to it – they just published it as is which tells me they couldn’t find any other iOS guy to accept their shit deal. I emailed the contact demanding that he take it down or pay me fair market value. He emailed me back saying he had rights and could prove it through an NDA I signed. I responded again simply demanding that he take it down and CC’ed my lawyer. 45 minutes later, it was down and hasn’t been up since. He didn’t even put up a fight.

This situation confuses me the most. These guys are both about my age. We’re in NYC and we are all smart, hard working, and driven. The difference is, one of us thinks he is smarter than the rest. What I don’t get is, what does he think will happen? We each have a long way to go. I’m going to be here for a while, working on many projects, meeting many people, getting better at my craft. I will be around. And so will he – treating people like shit, assuming he is smarter than everyone, taking advantage of people. It’s a small world and my guess is that there are others out there who feel the same way about this individual as I do. In five, ten, twenty years, does he really think we will still be freelancers bouncing from gig to gig? I don’t get it.

In Spring of 2012, I worked with a jewerly company in Midtown who wanted to develop an iPad only app to showcase their inventory. This time I billed by the hour and stated that I require payment at the end of the each week. They missed that deadline a couple times so I emailed the lead to tell him that until I am paid, I will not show up to work. This direct approach worked and he paid me almost immediately. We then had a ‘man-to-man’ in which he said something to the effect of “things are very hectic and I might lose sight of the payment schedule so if it gets to day 8, 9 or 10, let me know.” To this I responded “if it gets to day 8, there won’t be a day 8 – I just won’t show.” He slightly rolled his eyes but saw that I was not fucking around. As I’m sure you predicted, it got to day 8 and that was it, I stopped coming in. I also stopped responding to his emails and texts. I did send him a courtesy email saying we’re done. I lost a few days of work in the process but there is no price on my pride. Some may consider this unnecessarily aggressive and I can see why but in my defense, I very clearly laid out my terms and conditions. I was not ambiguous. They did not meet those terms so I pulled the trigger. You have to mean it otherwise you’re just lying to yourself.

By the end of that episode, it was late Spring and I had really wised up on the freelance scene. From there, I worked with the Topps baseball card company, a VC-backed startup and a well-heeled individual client. These companies have massive budgets and devote human resources entirely to making sure people get paid on time and in the right amount. Money is a secondary concern and consequently, they expect top-shelf work from you. That’s the way it should be. The lesson learned is, tread very carefully when dealing with starry eyed, boot-strapped startups who are long on fantasy but short on cash. Also beware of the entrepreneur who read one too many Steve Jobs biographies or watched the Social Network way too many times. This is real life, not a movie.