Have worked for 4 startups that all crashed and burned for unrelated reasons not having to do with me. I now consult for cash only, and I can’t imagine working as an employee again. I’m happier and richer. Am I alone?

  • Hmm.. if I know that 4 startups you worked for crashed… I would think twice before I take your services.

    Sorry, being honest here…

  • Your message leaves me puzzled. If you are rich and happy, why are you writing this here ? What is your problem ? Too rich and too happy ? Wow ! Seriously ?

    Four failed startups on your resume, none having to do with you. It’s really much! What did you do in those startups if you didn’t participate to there fall ? You were shooting the documentary about their future successes ?

    You look like the one who feels guilty, useless, stupid and ashamed and needs help. Believe me, you won’t find any help with such posts ! You’d better tell the truth, this is why this site exists. Remember: “Anonymous”. You can really write anything, including the naked truth.

    • OP here:

      startup #1: founders’ syndrome. hired a bunch of people telling them he wanted to sell the company, when the big offer came in he decided he was happier running a lifestyle business. Nothing wrong with that, but you can’t pay people below market wages on the promise of equity when you have no intention of actually realizing the equity.

      Startup #2: The founder misled me about the state of the business including sending me falsified financial documents. Company ran out of money and went bankrupt

      Startup #3: Founders again promised and couldn’t deliver. they were just profitable enough to make themselves happy and wanted to pay the employees as though it were a growth company (ie low cash high equity). Made promises about work situation, reneged, acted like immature douchebags running a fiefdom not as serious entrepreneurs looking for a an exit.

      Startup #4; a simple “market didn’t want what we were selling.”

      that enough info for you? Along the way I have enough successes, real wins, and well connected peers who know I know my shit that they are thrilled to have access to me. I get job offers from every client. I’m turning down job offers because I really feel gun shy.

      I like to say if startups were like relationships I’ve had too many bad breakups in a row and I am not ready to commit. So I’m asking if I’m the only one burned on founders who make promises they don’t keep; and prefer to be paid as a contractor until you can determine if a) the company is legit and b) the founder isn’t a dishonest person.

      I don’t feel insecure in the least. Hell, I’ll probably go found a company myself, but for now I don’t want to be an employee. And I wondered if I was alone in that.

      And funny also how quick you all are to make assumptions about me.

      • 1 happened to me too…CEO changed priorities every other week, he didn’t have a clue how to lead. All he was doing were promises and sadly enough he found some young folks or old ass kissers to follow him in his Brazilian style longterm organic slow growth. Even CTO (co-founder no 2) objected to this but nothing was done. I only wonder how long it will take VCs to see who is the real trouble there.

        I have no idea how can you determine legit company and non-dishonest person so quickly. It took me 6 months to start seeing things clearly, but no regrets being out of that circus.

        I am happy for you that you were able to find contract jobs so easy. 🙂

      • Listen, I have done what you did, and my takeaway is this:

        I will only work for a company that I own, or one that makes actual fucking money and then gives it to me. The risk/reward ratio for being a startup employee is dogshit. (I would possibly compromise for one of the top-tier billion dollar valuation joints if they made the right offer. I’m not holding my breath.)

        Congratulations, you have graduated from get-rich-quick sucker to actual tech business guy. Like a beautiful butterfly, you are spreading your wings and taking flight. Enjoy it.

        • “and prefer to be paid as a contractor until you can determine if a) the company is legit and b) the founder isn’t a dishonest person.”

          The issue is, with startups contractors are not paid well.

          • Excuse me, but I am. By the time these startups find me they’ve hired 3-4 shitty people in the role and are desperate. then I clean up messes. rinse, lather, repeat.

          • Please tell us how not to get ripped from startups as contractors?

            I worked as a contractor for so little with CEO’s massive promise that better days are coming… until I assessed the situation and concluded those days might never come.

  • Q – Legally, do founders have right to fuck around with slow growth while keeping employees and contractors on low salaries with big equities?

    To me it sounds like a proper labor slavery.

    • as long as they are paying you minimum wage/salary then yes, it’s legitimate. typically startups salaries are a 25-50% pay cut from market rate

      I’m all for the idea of building something together so long as we’re actually fucking building something together, not I work for slave wages while you take your sweet time growing the business because it makes you hot to think of yourself as a CEO and you’re too good to go to work for Google as a product manager for two years when you sell..

      • “so long as we’re actually fucking building something together”

        Nicely put… I used to work on a slim wage only (no equity!), for the startup that grew slower than a snail and I always wondered why this company attracted rather retarded people…folks who agree to anything and believe in fantasies of early childhood injured ego maniac called CEO.

        Overall I think some labor protection got to enter start-ups too as there is loads of exploitation and bs going on.

      • true that… but it’s hard once you sign a “deal” with a devil to move on… I only wish I left the day I thought this is sooo NOT for me. (which to be honest was after day 2) …but we all need to pay bills too. (sigh)

  • For my next startup contract – please advice

    What to say to them when they ask why you left?

    I left because I didn’t agree with CEO and his business plan or slow growth.

    Sounds good?

  • After reading all this, one thing comes into my mind.

    It looks like not only VCs have task to conclude is the company worth investing, employees also got to find that out prior to joining the madness. BUT HOW?

    Are there any indicators to check out prior to joining startup? Can anyone advice on this. And I am not talking only about IPO and getting filthy rich, I am talking about working for the company that makes you feel proud and gives you enough money to live comfortably.

    • You can’t check indicators from a startup other than the CEO. If you may be employed by a startup, at “startup conditions” (wage like peanuts but equity promises), you must be hired by the CEO, so you can talk to him/her directly and frankly. You can ask anything: if the CEO promises you equity in exchange for hard work at low wage, you need to know all relevant elements to make your own risk/reward assessment.If the CEO does not tell you, walk out. If you are not hired by the CEO, walk out, this is not a startup, it’s just a low wages company.

      Remember: you wouldn’t be inquisitive in front of a fortune 500 CEO: he has nothing to prove you. But a startup founder is a guy or girl who must convince you, because he/she must be trusted by you. You can ask what you need to trust them. If you don’t, it means you need any job at any condition.

      • Thanks for this advice.

        ” If the CEO promises you equity in exchange for hard work at low wage, you need to know all relevant elements to make your own risk/reward assessment.”

        When I asked about all the relevant elements he didn’t reply to my email. I was kept on hourly salary for another 6 months and then they decided not to renew my contract despite massive funding they just got. How awful to be treated like that. I wish there is a law that protects workers from bad practice and exploitation.

        I only wish I left right back when he didn’t come back on that mysterious offer, but then I was hopeful. Total time and money waste.

        In my last attempt to join a start up I did ask many Qs about IPO etc…but they didn’t like that sort of Qs as it feels like I was there only for the big bucks.

        I have no idea where the balance is in all this. 🙁

        • I understand your confusion. When I gave this advice to speak up with the startup CEO, it is based on my experience. I worked as an employee in 3 startups, and I am now a startup CEO (but I didn’t hire anyone yet, my startup is too young). In the 3 startups where I worked in the past, I always had been hired by the CEO and had opportunity to talk. Retrospectively, I didn’t talk enough with any of them. In one case, the CEO was a crook and I simply lost a few months of my life (plus a few weeks to swallow my anger). If I talked more, I would certainly have avoided that. In a second case, the CEO was not in the startup for the money, and it was a very good experience. I didn’t earn lots of money, but I had my fair share and it was enough to live. But I learned lots of good things, about technology, people, and myself. I didn’t talk enough before getting hired, but this CEO talked much to me so I didn’t have to check anything. The third one was here for ego and money, and I certainly should have talked more about his future plans. He was not dishonest, but I was not enough aware of his projects to avoid disappointment. I can’t blame him about white lies, because I failed to ask. I should have.

          Your remark about giving the feeling you are there only for money if you ask something is correct. All is in the way you ask. If I am hiring someone, and if he asks me lots of question about what will be in the package for him, of course I will wonder if he is there only for the money. Your questions must be fair, and balanced. You can say: “If I do this for you, I can commit to, what is the value for you ? What would you pay me ?”. If you are honest and self confident, you can commit to objectives and be payed based on objectives you can choose yourself. I think any startup CEO would like to pay for guaranteed results. It is easy to know what you are ready to pay for anything. But if you ask money without giving reasonable guarantee you will provide value for money, you won’t be hired. Because when you don’t have that much money, you avoid taking large bets.

          If you are really confident, you can ask this to a CEO: “If I create the product which makes you a billionaire, how much will fall in my pockets ?”. Some CEO will answer very seriously this is your job and you are already paid for that. Other will talk about glory, personal satisfaction… But some will answer if can do that, you would be wealthier than them. Or you would be the boss.

          In all cases, it will be an interesting chat and you will know more about each other. Isn’t it the main goal of an interview ?

          • A little addition to my long post above, in a try to make it clearer and shorter.

            You can have large ambitions about money. If those ambitions are for yourself only, you should never work for a startup. But if you are ambitious for all the people working with you, for the whole startup, and you just want your fair share, your ambition is a good asset from a startup CEO’s point of view.

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