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App startup founder wants my help to solve urgent software engineering problem that affects a considerable percentage of users - Says will give a token sum.

It is a problem that the founder's in-house technical team is unable to resolve.

Sounds a bit like stingy cheapskate lowballing and unwillingness to give due reward for solving an urgent problem that could otherwise cause some losses if left unsolved.

  1. What is a good response to ensure a proper reward, either monetary or long term goodwill that will actually materialize? Those are the two factors. Also in a polite way without burning any future bridge.
  2. What is a good way to negotiate for more if you have a good solution that works for the long term?

More:

  • I am not an employee of the startup
  • Prefer my response to be less rude
  • Any relationship? Yes and barely
  • When you mention "burning bridges" - do you have an existing professional relationship with this company or person, that would be at stake? It's not clear whether there's actually anything to lose by just bluntly asking for your regular rate. – Bilkokuya
  • The way that the founder already mentions token sum, means the founder is either unable or unwilling to pay the regular rate or the reduced rate and so mentions token sum. Asking for the regular rate would make the person view this interaction negatively and would almost be like a rejection
  • Also, how important is your relationship with this company to you? – Seth R
    • Importance - unknown, could be useful and important in the future since the founder is a smart and capable person outside of technology
  • Does someone who is a stingy cheapskate who is lowballing and unwilling to give due reward for solving an urgent problem deserve better? – Joe Strazzere
    • Depends on whether there is a way to build a long term beneficial relationship, which could be worth more than the short term monetary value paid at the regular rate
  • Is the "token sum" an amount you are willing to work for? If not, why are you even considering this? – Seth R
    • Numeric value of token sum has not been mentioned yet, but it is probably low. - considering this to negotiate a proper amount or to negotiate something else that would be even more beneficial and of greater value in the long term.

What is the best StackExchange to post this question in? workplace.stackexchange or softwareengineering.stackexchange or elsewhere

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user44108 Apr 8 '19 at 8:25
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There's no need to overcomplicate this. Just tell them that your fee to work on this project is $X. If they find that number too high, they are free to look elsewhere. There's no reason for you to undervalue your time to work on this project.

You could lower your $X somewhat if you feel that you will gain a great deal (personally/professionally) from working with this individual, but you can't eat "long term goodwill", nor contractually ensure that you'll even get it once this below-market-rate work is done. In short, you probably shouldn't put a high dollar value on uncertain intangibles.

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  • It will be seen as a rejection. Previously was dealing with this founder indirectly. That Founder -> My team that does not belong to that Founder -> Me. The last time the founder wanted a small addition as a side request for free as a favor to help out, but I said no payment no work, that founder threw a bit of a tantrum and kept saying that I am an unhelpful person, and only calmed down after there was an essay long discussion about work is work. That Founder is a smart person not closed off to reason but... has had certain charm earlier in life when things were handed on a platter. – StingyPossible Apr 4 '19 at 15:29
  • Is there a way to put it across in a more polite manner? – StingyPossible Apr 4 '19 at 15:30
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    @StingyPossible You can work for equity. I would equate that with "long term goodwill" that actually means something. Though if you do that you should make sure that he can't dilute the equity through future stock offerings. – Jim Clay Apr 4 '19 at 15:36
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    @StingyPossible Fair enough. But it seems highly unlikely that the stingy-but-capable founder will ever stop being stingy. – Jim Clay Apr 4 '19 at 15:40
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    @StingyPossible, if you want to work for this guy, ask for what you are worth. If you want to be his friend so he teaches you stuff, invite him out for a beer (or coffee) – Seth R Apr 4 '19 at 15:41
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If its some random startup that you have had no dealings with in the past, I would suggest that you get paid upfront or at least you both sign a very binding contract.

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    Will definitely be asking for a half payment upfront. Thanks for the advice. – StingyPossible Apr 4 '19 at 14:57
  • What kind of very binding contract do you suggest, to prevent possible weaseling out? An example of weaseling out: this pizza has one less piece of bacon than in the picture of the pizza, please take it back to the kitchen. – StingyPossible Apr 4 '19 at 14:59
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    One obvious option is that you are paid for your time, not for success. – DJClayworth Apr 4 '19 at 15:18
  • @DJClayworth The total time needed cannot be confirmed right now because the problem is unknown. How would you structure the contract for the payment for the time? – StingyPossible Apr 4 '19 at 15:28
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Unless you're looking to cash in on his misfortune and charge a huge amount for the nature of the actual work simply because it's still smaller than what he's losing with this bug in place, it's pretty straightforward.

"I'd like to help and I can. But I have priorities on my time and a job like this is $X. Let's either agree to pay what it's worth or free both of ourselves up and let you move onto finding someone willing to work for 1/2X."

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  • I see. An additional question in response to your post. If I use your paragraph and the Founder says yes. There are two possible solutions and one is a lot better than the other. The very good solution would prevent other different issues of similar nature from happening. How would you bring that across? – StingyPossible Apr 4 '19 at 15:25
  • "I see two main paths for this solution. The quickest takes N hours would run $X and solve the today's issue. The long-term fix that prevents these issues from recurring takes 3*N hours and would run 3*X dollars." – SemiGeek Apr 4 '19 at 16:05
  • The long-term fix takes just another set of N hours. Wouldn't be very beneficial for me just to charge $X. I was originally planning to ask for $V/2 (more than $X) while showing the total value of saved time and cost in the future. – StingyPossible Apr 5 '19 at 3:39
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IMHO, sounds like run of the mill project engagement offering

Just get him your hourly / milestone rate you comfortable with in an official proposal letter and if he agrees, put it in the contract form and both of you sign it.

Make sure to outline deliverables vs payment schedule in the contract and go for it if you feel you will enjoy working on it.

Putting it all on paper will take care of your unease regarding low-baller trying to "knock out a quick one"

If he wouldn`t go with paper trail, you have an out to say NO, stating it, and save yourself some grief

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  • The direct monetary reward is unlikely to reach the proper monetary compensation. What would you do to arrange a form of long term goodwill that will actually materialize? That is actually more valuable than direct monetary reward. Maybe a way to learn skills that would be difficult to renege on - maybe to be able to follow the Founder for all meetings and investor meetings. Any suggestions? – StingyPossible Apr 5 '19 at 3:42
  • @StingyPossible you make the same comment in several places... if you cannot come up with a contract that gets you what you want then you are in the wrong place... – Solar Mike Apr 6 '19 at 7:26
  • @StingyPossible There is no such thing as verbal good will compensation. You cannot rely on verbal promise without solid numbers, especially from someone you know to be cheap and unreliable – Strader Apr 8 '19 at 14:10
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If you are currently employed, you’d need to find out if your employer is Ok with this. My employer would probably be willing to hire my services out for 3-4 times my salary :-)

If you are unemployed or a contractor, you should offer your services at about (annual salary before any deductions) divided by 120. Per day. Only slightly negotiable.

(Add what Jesse said).

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  • The direct monetary reward is unlikely to reach the proper monetary compensation. What would you do to arrange a form of long term goodwill that will actually materialize? That is actually more valuable than direct monetary reward. Maybe a way to learn skills that would be difficult to renege on - maybe to be able to follow the Founder for all meetings and investor meetings. Any suggestions? – StingyPossible Apr 5 '19 at 3:44
  • If you don’t get sufficient monetary compensation, don’t do it. Especially with a manipulative ceo. – gnasher729 Apr 6 '19 at 18:45

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