They want to hire me. What should I do?

This company is not one of those hop-or-top startups that either grow huge or fail. It is rather one that has a strong technical USP and will definitely get it’s sales if they manage to ship a solid product. Their product is priced like a sports car and they have already a handful of beta systems out there that are used by key customers. So far the feedback is great. With some thousand sales in mind they aim at a valuation in the middle tens of millions within 5 years. Of course that is idle speculation but so far everything looks good.

Two month ago i was introduced into this company as a freelancer. Their dev team consisted of a hardware technician, a maths genius who creates their USP and one guy, who integrated hardware and math and developed the existing UI on top of it. They told me about a trade fair four weeks later and that they needed to show their product with a new, fancy UI. They wanted to have this metro style kind of thing with tiles and touch friendly and stuff like that. And since they weren’t able to build it on their own, they needed me – desperately. I asked for an attractive salary and they happily accepted. So i went back to my office and within two weeks i knocked up a complete application with everything they wanted. We needed the other two weeks to integrate their existing algorithms and hardware and the trade fair was a huge success. Well, of course i just put together pieces from my earlier projects and restyled the whole thing according to their CI, but hey, for them i am the rock star programmer.

Then darkness was setting in. Their only programmer resigned. Within four weeks this company would have algorithms that are far superior to their competition but nobody who can build the software that moves the data around. Nobody who turns the algorithms into a product. Their current application was still far from being a product. In the following three weeks i helped them to fix things and incorporate new features for the next fair and then they realized their situation: No finished product and nobody who can build it. It is their only true product and obviously they need somebody who takes responsibility of it. For them i am still the rock star programmer and i already worked myself through the whole system. And they have only one week left to replace their resigned developer.

Needless to say that they asked me to stay. They want as much commitment as i can give and they want me to be part of the company. They offered shares and assured immediate budget for another developer. I shall be the one who build their dev team.

So where is the problem? First, i have my own two-man company and my own clients that sometimes need my time. I certainly won’t let them down. Second, i have (of course) some ideas for new products that i want to try. And third, i doubt that they can afford me if i would work full time at the current rate.

So i made up my mind and decided that i can only ensure three days a week. That doesn’t mean i wouldn’t work full time in case there is justified demand, but certainly not on a regular basis. At the same time, i think this company has potential. I kind of believe in their success and therefore i would love to take the ride and join them. Basically i want to tell them: Hey, i don’t want to give more than three days and a verbal assurance that i help as much as i can, i want to work for the same rate as i did as an external and yet i want to be part of your company and get a piece of the cake. I know that i have a very strong position to negotiate but the above claim sounds like i get everything and you get nothing. What could be a reasonable compromise? What is a good strategy to negotiate?

EDIT: read comments on hackernews if you like.

12 thoughts on “They want to hire me. What should I do?

  1. Pingback: They want to hire me. What should I do? | Enjoying The Moment

  2. It’s plain to see you’re a start-up guy. You want to build things that mean something.

    But you’re going to be a dreamer who contracts forever, if you don’t commit to taking a risk.

    I think you should join them. You obviously feel passionate about it.

    With regard to your own ideas:

    1. You’ll need to find people to do them with
    2. If any of them were convincing, you would be doing them already
    3. This idea has already gone through some of the difficult risky early bits; you get the founder status without the awful beginning bit.

    I think you should take the risk, and join the roller coaster.

    If you think about ifs and buts, you’ll rationalise distractions that aren’t part of you end goal: building your own great product

    Good luck

  3. It sounds like you already have a good working relationship here, so don’t worry too much about negotiation strategy. Negotiation is an optimization process aimed at finding a best solution subject to multiple constraints. Honestly state your constraints as above – presumably they’re not secret, as you’ve posted them here – and your proposed solution; trust them to state their constraints and their proposed solution, and iterate until convergence. Don’t take it upon yourself to modify your initial proposed solution to match their constraints, because you might not fully understand those yet.

    This sort of approach is well described in the excellent classic book “Getting to Yes”, well worth the read.

  4. How would you feel if they found someone else and passed you over? Would your other work make it worth it, or would this always be a regret for you once they’re valued at 40 mil?

    • i don’t think i would regret missing out the money. I also don’t regret that i didn’t invest in this or that stock fife years ago. But i would certainly regret missing the experience to be part of a company that grows and succeeds…

  5. Nobody is irreplaceble. Don’t think that you are because you’re already working with them.

    If you believe the business, be willing to compromise on time, salary and effort.

    You’re giving too little and trying to get too much. Being greedy won’t get you a long way.

    • I didn’t want to sound greedy. I can say, i would love to join with more dedication, but as i stated, i cannot let my other customers down. I simply don’t see the possibility to commit myself more than 3 days even if i wanted to.

  6. My instinct is actually to focus on being sure you get what you need to get the product to succeed, more than to focus on your own co. That might mean delaying launch or doing it sooner and incrementally, tinkering with the feature set even if marketing doesn’t like it, etc. They need to understand what’s involved in getting a product out, which they might not understand now, if they couldn’t keep their other coder.

    But it’s sort of like there’s there’s one startup that’s in its infancy and another one that already has funding and a sales team etc. Though you have to fulfill your existing obligations with your two-man co., focusing on trying to make the other one succeed actually sounds like a pretty good deal.

    That might not apply if this other company builds something you could absolutely never find fulfilling (“this product figures out ways to deny people’s health insurance claims!”). And it definitely doesn’t apply if you have the slightest doubt that their effort to buy you in and give you the resources you need is sincere and represents a lasting commitment to making sure development works (versus a way to lure you in). But as long as the product has some real life legitimate value, there are worse things than getting to build a good product in an industry you didn’t choose.

  7. Hi, just quick note, there is a type in a text ‘ensure tree days a week’ , tree should be ‘three’.
    And if I were you, I would fully commit to the new opportunity if you really think it is something worth doing.

  8. I’ve been/am in this exact situation a couple of times. My advice, you commit full-time or you pass it up all together. The whole “I’ll work 3 days, sorta .. kinda .. except when there are important stuff” sounds great in theory, but from experience it has 0% chance of working in practice. In a start up there is ALWAYS something urgent or not working as it should etc. etc. … always, which means the 3 days very quickly turn into 4 or 5. You then get so vested into everything you have built up that missing 2 days a week seems irresponsible, your attention is taken away from your personal clients, and it can become a downward spiral very quickly.

    None of this is intended to be pessimistic, just realistic. So my advice, make a 100% commitment either way, splitting time in a start-up doesn’t work.

  9. Hi,
    I read this, and have about 2.5 cents to contribute.
    Here are a bunch of non-technical people who own some product they have no hands on working knowledge of. They contract and engage anyone who is price competitive, and have burnt their current product owner.
    This rings a big alarm bell for me, their offer should have been some time ago.
    Now they are desperate, and to submit now could be a mistake.
    I would continue to work on my terms, and contract at good rates.
    Hope this comment helps.
    Sam, @samotage

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