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Cowboy Programmer - What Can I do with No Money Yet?

I worked with someone for 4 months on a deadline presentation, we had a contract and a specific goal. He didn't communicate the challenges well and we ended up not having the right MVP to show the investors. Will agree in advance, not all his fault as the tech situation was changed on us.

After, I wanted to keep going and asked him to meet me and finish the work that was intended. He missed the call (was sleeping apparently) and just kept feeling he didn't listen to what is needed for an MVP product at all. I stopped talking to him or having meetings and took a break for a few weeks because I needed it and and I was pissed off and tired of the programmer attitude trying to do it all by himself. We are back working on the project and he says (and seems from Trello) he is still working on the software portion of the product while I do sales, marketing, design.

Here is the history: He never makes a deadline, late for almost all meetings, and frankly ignores any priorities I set.

We have no money (yet) and he has to work on other things, so I understood things were not as timely as I usually like and gave some slack and trust.

I have some code sample downloaded from GitHub that is running on an smart phone, but nothing works for a MVP that connects to my hardware. I told him we have trust issues between us, but maintained cordial project discussions since I don't want to give up and need software work. He's not a horrible person, just smart and a bad communicator. That is actually worse and more dangerous than someone malicious (in my mind).

I imagine this is what it felt like for the Winklevoss twins dealing with a cowboy programmer (Mark Z.) hiding his work till he can get someone to invest and then takes the whole idea for himself. Luckily, I do all the hardware, came up with the idea, have the manufacturing and so on and so on. It's not all about the software; which saves me a bit. But, I feel completely trapped by this person in a time of need when people are asking for the product and I'm trying to close deals.

Today I heard he's in town and headed over to an event where he is being asked to show the product. I asked a number of times if we had any updates so we can show it. Then got a text at 11:00 a.m. asking me if I am bringing the product. same day of the show, after 3 weeks and emails saying we don't have the software and thus no product to show. He says I need to be patient.

I really don't know what to do, but it's slowly driving me insane not having a product to show and yet his FB posts show he's working on this project and bragging about his involvement. He even posted photos w/out my say or knowledge (which I have been explicit about not doing).

All this, while I watch as this person takes months to complete the 2 tasks needed for the MVP and spend whatever time he has doing wildly huge and complex backend of the product. The backend may work, but if I can't access it or show how it works on the physical product, who cares!

I am sure we can sell this thing if we can just get some basic functions running. We have 1.6M Youtube hits and 17K followers on the idea right now, but need a working MVP. Investors want to see the MVP as well. We are soooo close! Currently, I am doing everything in my power to figure it out on my own... but frankly I suck at programming.

I really need some support. I don't know what to do. A 1/2 built product with no cash to get a new person just feels hopeless. I want to hear that it isn't. I want to hear there are programmers I can find that I trust to finish and follow through and communicate, not just code. I want to hear I don't have to start all over again so close to the finish line. I want to know what to do with this person who says they are very emotionally invested and have no problems putting their face on the product, yet haven't done their basic requirements OR if they can't don't communicate that well so the team can get it done.

13 Replies

Kawal Arora
0
0
Kawal Arora Entrepreneur
Founder at Smartefy
wow you are in tricky position . If he is not communicating with you , something wrong . he wants to take off with the project if he is demoing without you .
and maybe he is sick of you and wants to go on his own .
Do you have any MOU signed , any company formed ? consult a legal expert about it .
Best course of action would be to meet him and sort things out .
If he is not interested and he is ok with u developing further that is the best situation for you .You can find developers , you will have to network a lot and find some one who really likes the Idea.


Max Garkavtsev
0
1
Max Garkavtsev Entrepreneur
CEO at QArea, TestFort
Hi. Some details are missing. Did you pay him in full? Do you have conflicts over scope and payments?
It seems like you expect something from him , which he is not motivated enough to do..In this case it's either you find a way to motivate him (or someone else who will replace him) - and if it's startup, it can be options or convertible note on terms you both will accept , if you don't want to give options.
Or you just do what other entrepreneurs do - take cash from credit card, take cash from bank giving house as a loan or ask money from relatives. If you can't/don't want to do any of that, because of risks that can be a sign for tech guy that your entrepreneurialskill is either too low and you evaluate them too low to bet on them yourself, so it's also a risky bet for him to do something not getting immediate cash in return.


Gabor Nagy
1
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Gabor Nagy Entrepreneur
Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics
There are a lot of critical details missing from your post:
So, you gave a hardware prototype to this software guy and he effectively "disappeared" with it, trying to develop his own product?
Does he have access to the HW design?
Is it something he can easily duplicate?
Wouldn't the investors realize that he essentially stole your hardware prototype, when he can't make design changes to it?
Is the hardware modular-enough to break it down into functional parts?
Did you give him a rough / early HW devkit, with only the parts needed to write his part of the software, or complete, final-looking HW?
Did you sign a contract with the SW guy? Is he paid in equity? Any vesting timeframe, or straight-out equity?
Is his compensation tied to milestones / deliverables?
This is very important.
As a founder, it's your job to break things down into achievable milestones, finding the right people and figuring out scheduling and compensation, based on those.
It's a lot easier to avoid getting screwed that way.
(You don't have the resources of a large corporation, to just write off bad employees, or go after them legally).

Do you have access to the latest source code, even if it only runs on Android?
Is it reasonably well documented (code comments)?
If so, it should be a lot easier to get another SW engineer, to port it.
Depending on if you have a contract with the guy / the conditions in such contract...

Joe Emison
7
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Joe Emison Advisor
Chief Information Officer at Xceligent
This is only happening because of the insane demand for technical talent. It's not OK, and you shouldn't put up with it.

In the short term, you need to figure out how to mitigate your losses. In the long term, you need to be working with someone else. You're not going to be successful with the person you have described.
Adam Berlinsky-Schine
6
0
Adam Berlinsky-Schine Entrepreneur • Advisor
CTO and Entrepreneur
You need to fire him. As scary as it is to start over on the software, it's much scarier to build a business with the person you described. Hopefully you can part ways gracefully and recover whatever work he's done, but even if you can't, you still need to cut your losses. His unreliability concerns me more than the potential to steal your idea; it sounds like you have some protection against that. You can't build a business with somebody you can't trust.

I know it's hard to find great software developers, but you have options. While outsourcing is a mixed bag, it can work best at the MVP stage. When you eventually hire a full time engineer, they will probably throw away most or all of it, but it will get you through your investor pitch and will buy you the time you need to find someone amazing.
Gabor Nagy
2
0
Gabor Nagy Entrepreneur
Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics
I'll second / third others here : you need to get rid of this guy.
I can't imagine working with someone like that, long term.

Nadir Ait-Laoussine
5
0
Nadir Ait-Laoussine Entrepreneur
Growth Strategist | Analytics Consultant | People, Capability, Business Builder
A few have already commented that many details are missing, so take this with necessary grain of salt.

I was advising a startup founder last year that was going through a similar situation. He owned the IP, but was not a developer. He also had an earlier version of the code base. My suggestion was to try to resolve as amicably as possible, but be determined to replace the person as having to deal with these types of problems when you start only means it's going to get worse when you scale.

He ended up rebuilding from the earlier code base, as the developer became completely unwilling to communicate and collaborate. 12 months on, he has a better team around him, a better code base, and is able to focus his attention on growing and selling. It came at a cost, but was worth it.
Thomas Jay
1
0
Thomas Jay Entrepreneur
iOS / Server Architect / IoT / BLE / iBeacon / Apple Pay
The idea might be the most important part, anyone can code the app and integrate the hardware. If its a great idea there are lots of developers who are willing to work on it simply for the possibility of payment one day.

I know my mortgage company is always happy when I'm working on a project and tell them I can pay them once it is completed and we get funding, they have been very understanding so far.

If he is not a partner and has no stock at all then he should be happy with the payments you have been making to him. If there is no payments then he should be happy with the possibility of being a multi-millionair based on the 50% stock he has in the company.

Has he invested cash into the company? How Much? Much much cash have you invested?

I agree with everyone that its time to cut your losses.

If you have trust issues at this point just walk away.

Maybe this is a learning lesson for you.

One thing yuo might take away is that if you learn to code yourself you will never be in this position, I find founders that are also developers never had these issues.
Paul Brunemeier, Ph.D.
0
0
Paul Brunemeier, Ph.D. Entrepreneur
EtaBoost; IEEE Nanotechnology Executive Committee
What a lousy situation, and having been in one somewhat similar, I can sympathize. My programmer wasn't deceptive but he could not deliver to his own committed schedule, and he got the whole team in hot water with the client as a result.

If you don't have a critical deadline (from what I can see you do not), then put into place whatever IP you can (provisional patents) and quietly engage a new programmer or team (with appropriate contracts this time) and restart with whatever you've got. Tell the cowboy that the product's on hold while you reassess concerns about the market size and product viability, and tell him this every time he tries to communicate with you. If he attempts to launch the product or sell it independently, sue his deceitful ass.

Sheesh! What an AH. I can't believe it. Dump the person ASAP, he's complete poison.
Ulli Appelbaum
1
1
Ulli Appelbaum Entrepreneur
Strategist, Problem-solver, Contrarian
Wow, I'd cut all ties with this guy and re-take ownership of the project, pronto. I couple of years back I worked on a project with a developer. Since we didn't have any money he worked for equity. Our situation wasn't as bad as yours but we were dependent on his good will with no means to make him accountable. The result was missed deadlines and very slow progress for a product that was sub-optimal. After 1.5 years we decided to cut him loose. At first we panicked because we didn't have any programing skills. We reached out to a couple of shops here in the US who quoted us around $60K/$70K for the first phase over a period of 4 to 5 months. Money we obviously didn't have. We then decided to go off-shore and found a developer team in India though elance.com. They completed the whole project in 4 to 5 weeks for $3.5K. Yes, $3.5K. Was it 100% perfect? No, but it was operating, working very well and fully serving our purpose, at a fraction of the costs. All this to say that if you indeed have a couple of $K (which I am sure you do), cut the ties to your developer and go off-shore. Things will progress swiftly and you'll be a way happier person who is actually in control of his product rather than being depended on someone you don't trust.
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