I’m a developer working on a MVP on a short deadline. It’s not going well. How much of a dick am I if I quit?

A CEO/founder is paying me, full stack dev, hourly to build their MVP, but they are pretty unprofessional, have trouble with boundaries, and are a terrible product manager. They want to be on the phone all the time, are still bouncing around ideas, and can’t be pragmatic about prioritizing features despite every effort to guide them. The “MVP” has horrible scope creep and the beta is supposed to launch in just over a month. This person is pressing me to commit to the deadline, which they are going to communicate to a potential customer tomorrow. I don’t believe in the product, the approach, and I think the deadline is pretty much impossible or only possible if we launch with 1/3 of the features this person is demanding. It just doesn’t seem set up for success and I know I’m going to get blamed if it doesn’t come through. On the other hand, if I quit, there’s no way they will make their deadline (and only kind of a chance they will make it if I don’t).

Really want to bail. How shitty would it be? Probably can’t really do it without burning a couple of professional bridges, though. Ugh.

  • Developer turned founder here……..I’ve been in some very similar situations.

    Best thing is to just confront this founder and tell him exactly how you feel. I’ve worked with some people that are just very aggressive and confrontational, it might be easier to type out your thoughts and reasoning and send it an email so you can really communicate clearly.

    If they are paying you just as a consultant you don’t have to keep working. But if you just bail it could hurt your reputation. It’s better to help find the right person and help with a transition to another developer and leave gracefully and without leaving this founder in a fucked position of customers expecting a product and no path to deliver it.

  • Non tech founder here – stop working. Tell them you are not interested and quit. Turn in what you have. Sign the papers to transfer the IP.

    Anything less is chicken shit.

  • Non tech founder and CEO here.

    You need to tell them upfront what you think you can deliver by when. If it is not clear cut so you can tell what you think there is 80% chance you can deliver, 50% chance and 10% chance.

    Let them take the risk of what they will promise to the customer.

  • Service provider here.

    If you’ve already scoped out the project and they’ve paid you: Tell them you don’t think that you’re a good fit for the project, and give a refund for the hours that you haven’t worked. Then, give them a recommendation/reference for other service provider options so that you can save a bit of face.

    Next time, you’ll be better suited to filter who are good clients and who aren’t.

  • Tech Founder here: this situation happens a lot, but you should’ve done your job and helped managed the process (& client) all along, otherwise you got in way over your head (but hey, that’s how you learn right?). It’s also on their shoulders for not using a more experienced project manager (but sounds like they are learning too).

    It’s time for a “Come to Jesus” meeting and tell them what you think (hell, even show them this thread) and then work WITH them to come up with a realistic launch plan (like 1/3 of the features) and timeline (like push it out a little). This whole start-up thing is ad-hoc anyway, so all have to be upfront AND more flexible to make it all work — Else everyone involved fails.

    Good luck (and yeah, maybe hit the record button 🙂

  • Serial technical CEO, here.

    MVP and pragmatic don’t mix. Your post “reads” like you’re on a high horse.

    Scope creep is only possible by “you” saying yes. As a professional developer, one has to take on the MVP task they’ve been given and deliver it quickly, before adjustments are made to what the MVP might be; anything that takes longer wasn’t an MVP.

    Prioritization is your problem to manage when you say yes. Reduce the scope to what “can” be delivered on time, demonstrate your process on paper to the CEO as your “strategy” for completing what you believe is the MVP core goal(s), and then how you’ll layer on the “extras”. All the CEO wants is for you to have a strategy to deliver, and they might not have any idea that when a developer says “sure, yeah, okay” that it means anything other than “absolutely”.

    If I may suggest a reality check: learn about business, it will make you a CTO quality developer

    If I may suggest a really good book: The Career Programmer: Guerilla Tactics for an Imperfect World

  • Tech founder and CEO here. If you can’t meet expectations, you must talk, and maybe quit. But you don”t have to feel guilty. If expectations are not reasonable, it is not your fault. Maybe if you quit the founders could find the right guy… Probably they won’t and their startup will fail. You don’t have to feel guilty about it if you say what you have to say. If you hide the truth and say yes to anything knowing it is impossible, you would be a fraud. Keep telling the truth and everything will be fine.

  • Non tech founder, that became a tech founder because of a dev that did this on my startup. First, did you get paid? Did you deliver anything? You need to understand that the minute you knew you couldnt deliver, you were wasting their time. And time costs money. They are spending their runway and resources while they are waiting on and “trusting” you that you will deliver. You should do everything possible to communicate where they are at today and if you dont want to burn the bridge, find them a solid replacement now and either give the money back and chalk it up to lessons learned or negotiate a small amount for consulting but it is your fault not theirs. You are the technical spokesperson for the project and getting paid only to give straight forward responses and deliver work based on their goals and budget and your approvals. You’ve set them back by BSing your way until now. Its not other people’s responsibility to pay for your learning. Thats what corporate america is for. If I take my car to a mechanic, they would be sued if they represented themselves as professionals but were “learning” on my dime and didnt have the skills/resources to deliver. In some industries, its considered a scam especially if you take any of their money. You should have spoke up clearly from day one as soon as you saw the project goals. I’ve never met a single professional dev that takes on a project or money without knowing what the project is. Only the inexperienced ones do. If you expect to continue in the startup world, you need to chalk this up as your loss, not there’s. You’ve already wasted their time & screwed their deadline and potential income from the customer. You cant expect to profit as well. Welcome to being an entrepeneur and working with entrepeneurs.

    • +1. Same thing happened to me. Shame on you and all web devs bullshitting around on their clients. Karma will happen to you, remember that what goes around, comes around.

    • Devs always want to come into startups and expect to dictate their work environment and compare it to established comfy corporate environments. Guess what? The people (non-tech ceos & founders) have a super unstable, unpredictable, shitty stressful, non comfy work environment while they create companies from nothing. Why is it that you expect to walk in and have non-tech founders mold and baby your entire work experience, provide you with perfect technical work requests, know to bring in a technical project manager that is compatible with you and spoon feed and shield you during the mvp process and remove all potential disruptiveness from your startup work experience and if not, screw them?! If you dont like it, imperfect small teams & in flux projects, with potential for big gains, recognition and experience, dont work for startups. Karma is a mf.

      • I’ve lost money (huge percentage of the runway from the seed), reputation and TIME because of devs like the OP. On the flip side, I’m on my way to become a tech-founder. It was a curse at the beginning, but I’m seeing things differently now.

        This is the kind of thing that thickens our skin, it sucks, but experience is the best teacher. Thanks to it, I’ve learnt the hard way that, in business, trust is EARNED, never instantly GIVEN.

        I empathize with all of us founders who went through a similar situation and instead of cursing the unprofessional/entitled/diva/spoiled/brat developer, take responsibility for making a shitty decision in your hiring process, suck it up and get up again, by whichever means possible. Indeed, karma is a mf.

  • Fuck it… Quit. Nothing is worth being miserable… Not even for a minute. Just weigh the value of the professional relationships before you do. If they can’t help you get your next job then screw em.

  • Responses are so interesting on this one! Ranging from basically pulling a Half-Baked, “Fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you, I quit” to “It’s your fault”

    I don’t agree that it’s your fault. Non-technical co-founders don’t need to know how to exactly code their solutions, but they need to be familiar with what they are asking of consultants and employees. The company will suffer regardless of your involvement if that is the issue.

    So, take feeling responsible for the MVP off the table.

    A few posts up someone said, “This is 80% likely, 50%, 10% to get done” I have been in some monstrously close deadlines for software that touches money, and this approach has gotten me out of some real jams. You’ll feel a lot better after you have this conversation. Plus, business side will be able to respect you because you’re showing them why they hired you and speaking their language.

    If you still feel miserable after this prioritization conversation, or business side expectations are still unrealistic, then you should offer to help them find a different tec lead and quit, of course pro-rating for any work that was not finished.

  • Dear My Client,

    After serious consideration I am certain that I can’t deliver what you are asking for. What I can do is either:

    1. Sit down with you and clearly delineate what can and can’t be done and by when.

    2. Help you find another developer who might be better suited to accomplish your goals.

  • Some ppl say: If you are in a room and you can’t recognize the dumbass , it is you 🙂

    RUN nigga! RUN!!! as fast as you can

  • Be honest about what you can’t deliver. Just because you are unable to perform does not mean these people can’t go out and hire someone who can. Just spent the last 8 months dealing with this ish. Be honest, leave, and let your employers find someone willing and able instead of wasting time with your dishonesty.

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