6

I frequently visit a coffee shop. One day a person started a conversation. He asked if I know any developers. I said I am one and what is he looking for. He sat down with me and explained me his requirement. He did not explain any technical information, but only explained how much money he is hoping to make. He also mentioned a famous website, and said he wants to compete with them. He has asked me to work for him and if I say yes, he will rent an office space and in his words, 'Together, we can make big money'.

He had a previous team which made some progress. He showed me his website and it seemed minimally functional, but looked like it needed some work.

Now I really want to believe this person, but this whole thing seems unusual. Also, I tried to remember all the figures he mentioned about revenues, number of users etc. I went online and checked, and most of them were not correct. (But I am ready to grant the benefit of doubt)

How should I find out if this company, person and his business is genuine?

  • 53
    Run. Fast and far. – Joel Etherton Feb 27 '15 at 14:59
  • 7
    @Oded: I wouldn't even bother asking. The fact that they're not there is more telling than talking to them. This guy doesn't have an idea, he has someone else's idea and just wants his "share of the pie". There is no upside here. – Joel Etherton Feb 27 '15 at 15:02
  • 6
    "He also mentioned a famous website, and said he wants to compete with them" - wouldn't we all? – Mike Feb 27 '15 at 15:03
  • 5
    Strongly recommend against going with this. He gave no technical information, which implies he has a broad idea and no clue about implementation. He says he'll rent office space if you start with him. Who would base spending money on a person they met in a coffee shop? You might be the best developer ever but he's offered to rent office space without knowing this. If he were a true entrepreneur, he'd have a novel idea (not just a replica), some enthusiasm about the implementation, and a sterling knowledge of his own figures (users, revenues). He lacks all of these and sounds like a hack. – user29632 Feb 27 '15 at 15:08
  • 18
    Did this person purport to be royalty from a sub-Saharan nation? – alroc Feb 27 '15 at 15:09
21

The simple question to ask is what happened to the previous team, if the idea was so good? You may not ask it directly (or at all), or if you do, you may not get an honest answer, but think of the possibilities:

  • The guy you met fired them all
  • The guy you met was so hard to work for they all quit
  • The team worked out that this great idea wasn't going to be a commercial success
  • The team worked out that the project was technically impossible given the resources
  • The money ran out

In any of those cases, would you want to commit to him? Most likely the great idea is as shallow as "Google makes lots of money, Google looks easy to imitate, therefore we will imitate them".

  • I asked about the previous team. They are going back to school. Not much information there... – tempusfugit Mar 4 '15 at 20:22
5

Treat this as you would a business transaction rather than interview

Ask to see financial projections, business plans etc and then try and find an impartial person to review them if possible. The answer to your question is that you put the onus on the person to provide information and then use every available resource (web, library, business registras etc) to validate it.

Where does he work at the moment for example? Is this a full-time thing for him or a sideline?

Also ask what other recruitment avenues he has tried/is trying. To have such a wonderful business plan and decide you will follow the hiring process of "chat to people you bump into in coffee shops" does make this smell slightly suspicious.

3

There are several things you can look for when trying to see if someone's proposition is genuine.

The hiring process:

  • Have they made an effort to research who they are hiring? Do they obviously want to hire the best people they can to achieve their goal?

The staff:

  • Are they surrounded by others? Is there evidence that others have stuck around, as Julia's answer pointed out? Do they have others that believe in their proposition? Entrepreneurs want people around them who are just as excited as they are about their idea. They're unlikely to bring people on board with no goal for what they'll be doing - unless they have no idea of how they're going to achieve their idea.

The idea:

  • Does it sound feasible? Is it something you think you can help with? Even if it's feasible, is there any chance it can compete with what's already out there? In some cases, reinventing something or approaching it from a different angle can be good. However, if the proposition is just to build the same product "but better", that's pretty vague.
  • Do you believe in it? Does it make you excited, do you think you can help make it the best it can be? Or do you think it's a half-baked idea and that you'll be constantly waiting on the manager to get things happening? Is it the kind of thing you'd shout from the rooftops about and get your friends to use, or is it something that you think "meh, it pays okay but it won't work in the long run"?

The context:

  • Is there evidence that the other person is invested in the idea? Indeed, is it more than just an idea? Is it more than a website, even? You need more than a website to run a business. Has the manager alleviated any concerns you might have about the "admin" side of things - office space, holidays, pensions, salary, company culture? If he hasn't, he doesn't care about making it a good place to work as well as a good product - he's likely just chasing after the "next big thing" (which doesn't work if there's already a big thing doing that thing).

The figures and achievements:

  • Do the promised things sound feasible? Is the sales pitch "This is going to be teh bezt website evaaah"? Or is it, "We've looked at the competition and ours is better because X, Y and Z"? Get something concrete out of him.
  • Has anyone else become invested in it? Can they talk about small wins for now, with clear opportunities for growth? Is there a plan on how they're funding this?

Another big red flag: will he sign a contract promising to pay you $Y,000 each week/month? If not, why not? There's no good reason for this.

Of course, these are just clues, and sometimes, someone might have a great idea. But a lot of the time, they don't, and they think "making something go viral" can be calculated and lead to popularity (spoiler: it doesn't). Don't let yourself be taken advantage of for vague promises and no concrete promises, contracts or results.

1

Sounds to me like he's just a guy with an idea who wants to make it a reality. Listen to him and see if it is sound. However, I wouldn't recommend quitting a job or anything for it. Make it a hobby project and if it turns out to be something big then go with it.

Don't do anything drastic until you have investors and a business plan involved. Business need more than just a developer and an innovator. They need accountants, lawyers, a manager, etc.

  • He wants to copy some famous website. Where's the innovator? – David Richerby Feb 27 '15 at 22:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.