I am a software engineer looking for short-term employment and/or work on a for-hire basis (for a number of reasons - I know I'll have other commitments in 2017-18).

Now - there is this guy, who got my contact through a mutual acquaintance, who claims to be "in the process of" launching his own startup.

We exchanged a few mails in which he explained me his vision and a vague idea of the business plan and asked me (without further details) if I'd be interested in doing "engineering work".

I said "yes, sure" and asked for further details.

It turns out that there is nothing in place yet (except a simple homemade website) and his startup (or startup to be?) doesn't have a CTO.

So, I answered something along the lines "yes, please call me when you are ready to start and we'll set up a meeting and maybe do a study, define some requirements and see what we can do".

Now he's taking to texting me on WhatsApp (which I never suggested was an option) because "he doesn't like email", which I am not okay with.

I like to do business through email, phone calls and face-to-face meetings, I don't like receiving vague messages and "hi"s at 1AM on my phone.

I am not pleased with the direction this thing is going.

I am worried that no actual work will come out of this at worst and that this person will make me rather miserable at best.

What are some strategies to make this clearer and more professional without jeopardizing the relationship?

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    When he writes on WhatsApp, do you respond as well? If so, you're just inviting further messages there. – Brandin Feb 2 '16 at 13:47
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    "What do I do" is canonically unanswerable. We can potentially help if you can tell us what you want to happen. If you're no longer interested in working with this person, say so. If you're willing to work with him but you have some ground rules, lay those out. If you're willing to answer random texts if you have a contract in place, say so. – Justin Cave Feb 2 '16 at 13:47
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    Based on the level of unprofessionalism so far, I would just cut ties and never work with the guy again. – David K Feb 2 '16 at 13:48
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    Do you want to work for him? Estabilish rules. Say that you won't answer WhatsApp messages and whatever else strikes you as unprofessional. You don't want to work for him? Say so. If he asks why, either tell him the truth or come up with a lie ("sorry, I just got into a big project that was too good to skip"). – undefined Feb 2 '16 at 14:05
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    This isn't a startup; it is wishful thinking. He has no no business plan, probably no investors as a result, no employees, no idea of how to do what he wants to do except to have some guy engineer it and he doesn't even understand basic professional communication. If you do the work the likelihood of getting paid is low in my estimation. I would not waste my time on this. – HLGEM Feb 2 '16 at 14:24

You didn't say whether you gave the person your Whatsapp info. If so, you might take this as a lesson to not give out your personal social media info (facebook, twitter, whatever) when doing business.

It turns out that there is nothing in place yet (except a simple homemade website)...

Sounds like there is no opportunity in place yet. I wouldn't burn the bridge by being rude, but you may want to make it clear that this is a business relationship. As such, if there is any work to be done on your part, they will be compensating you.

This smells like billable work:

maybe do a study, define some requirements

This one could go either way depending upon how much time you invest:

we'll set up a meeting and ... see what we can do

Now we get to this:

Now he's taking to texting me on WhatsApp

Some questions

  1. Is he asking for billable items from you?
  2. Is he just shooting the breeze?

You can discourage this by taking a while to answer. For the venues you want to communicate through, answer quickly.

As for him pestering you, if you don't have a written contract in place, you are asking to be taken advantage of. Seriously, get an agreement written up between you and him. It doesn't have to be complex. There are all sorts of examples on the webs (caveat: if this arrangement involves a substantial amount of money and/or liability, get a lawyer to vet your contract first or you'll be sorry later).

Until/unless you have a contract, you can be polite, but firm: "Sorry, until we get a written agreement, I can't really help out."

Last Thought

Remember that for every minute you waste on this person, an actual potential client with cash money in hand is not paying you for services rendered.

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    You didn't say whether you gave the person your Whatsapp info Of course not. The funny thing about WhatsApp is that if you have my telephone number you actually have my WhatsApp handle. My mistake here is probably not having a separate number for work. This smells like billable work Absolutely. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Feb 3 '16 at 13:41
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    If you have someone's phone number you have their WhatsApp contact. It's how it works. – Tom Bowen Feb 3 '16 at 16:13

The problems with some startups is that the founders often do not have any experience at all about how to manage a company with employees. So you can not expect much professionalism from them. If you want to work professionally (and you do - an unprofessional business partner is very likely to take your work without paying), you need to take the lead and teach them what "professional" means.

A good way to show them they are playing in the grown-ups league now is dropping the word "contract". Come up with your own contract if necessary (feel free to be bold in the fineprint) and insist that you won't communicate with them about any other topic except the contract until they signed it.

Yes it is likely that this might scare them off. But that's a good thing. Anyone scared off by being told to commit to a contract isn't serious about their project anyway. You should better avoid making business with such people, unless you are OK with investing time and effort into something which will never get you a cent of payment.

For more information about why contracts are so important when freelancing I recommend this presentation by Mike Monteiro: "F*ck you. Pay me."


Everyone has a price. Whatever method you can get through to this person, send your demands. If you really can't get over texting, increase your rate or demands to compensate.

My guess is this person will stop bothering your until he realizes no one is going to put up with too much of this and he'll come back.

Be very explicit in your demands to describe what you'll do, how it will be determined that you did it, and how, when and how much you'll be compensated. Accept nothing but direct answers. Do not deal with strangers and/or those who are not professional with some sort of "hand shake" agreement. It's not worth the paper it's written on.

  • Also, stop answering on Whatsapp. Periodically send emails to get the status on this venture. – user8365 Feb 2 '16 at 16:31
  • Did you mean "accept nothing but direct answers"? Not 'except'? – Brandin Feb 2 '16 at 17:32
  • @Brandin - That's a misspelling. Not sure how it changes the meaning in this context. – user8365 Feb 2 '16 at 18:52
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    @JeffO: Rest assured, I never once thought about answering him on the dreaded thing. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Feb 3 '16 at 13:44

People use WhatsApp mainly because they don't want to pay for long-distance phone/text fees. I am assuming that your potential employer is from a different country. Their cell plan would charge him an arm and a leg to call you.

I wouldn't treat it much different than email. It is not unprofessional just because it is different. I do work in southern Florida sometimes. Try talking to anyone from South America or Russia on anything but the WhatsApp - and these are people I am working with in person in Florida... Unprofessional no, annoying I agree with you. The easiest thing to do is answer him during one slot a day. If he texts after, then you answer the next day's slot.

On to the real problem... he wants to use you as a consultant for free until he can figure out if he needs to hire you. It is up to you to figure out how much of an upside he offers to mitigate the free hours you might work. It sounds to me like this is a dud. When your gut tells you it is a dud, make sure that you are clear that you would love to continue having conversations but you would have to charge your standard consultation fees. This would be prior to the "owner" making a firm offer or job contract to you. Obviously expect payment up front or in very short increments.

  • He lives 30 minutes from here, actually, but that's not the thing that bothers me. Obviously expect payment up front or in very short increments seems sensible advice to me. Can I ask the downvoters to explain why this does not make sense? – Some Dude On The Interwebs Feb 3 '16 at 13:45
  • Well other reasons for using WhatsApp... he is on a foreign cell plan, he talks to foreigners a lot and is used to it, or maybe he is at work and that is his choice over texting. Who care about that though? Look at his business plan. His idea means NOTHING, it is all about how do you make money. – blankip Feb 3 '16 at 15:39

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