This is a long, complex situation, and I'm not sure how to proceed.

A bit of backstory, I made friends with a guy that I work with. He bails more often than not on hanging out, which is irritating after I've turned down other plans to hang out with him.

He's gone into website hosting, and I agreed to set up the server for him for beer, provided that he owned the business and the IP and didn't take on frivolous employees as is the temptation when one is new to business. This is my 4th or 5th "startup", by the way. I agreed to come over 5 times as the site is at his place, and twice he didn't contact me when we were supposed to meet. As he had just moved, I did not know where his place was. I saw him playing pokemon go the next day in the hallway at work with a collegue, and later I texted him to ask why he didn't get back to me after I'd cooled down a bit. He sited serious ongoing health concerns, which would have indeed prevented him from contacting me.

Finally, we made contact, I came over, then he asked me to leave, telling me that his father wanted to see him and he had to go over.

Then the next time, I came over, set up a number of services for him, but the SSH wasn't working correctly by the time he asked me to leave again at night. We set a time for me to come over and fix it, and then he bailed again, saying that his father asked him to come over and help him work on their house, which is his boilerplate excuse.

Now he's texted me that he's reinstalled the whole server and everything is "working correctly now," which I take to mean he can now SSH into the machine. He struggles with basic server-client, web concepts, so I want to wash my hands of the whole situation to cover my bottom, and I believe that the server was set up insecurely and in a manner that wouldn't even work, as this was the case the last time I came over. I had to walk him through setting up port-forwarding.

However, when I set up the server, he told me that someone else had created the website, who he was going to pay for it. I know they haven't worked out who's IP it is. Additionally, he listed off a number of employees he's paying, who basically consist of almost his entire friend group, some of whom are under 18 years of age, 10-20 employees, although I didn't count.

This isn't his fault that he's inexperienced, but these are not the terms that I agreed to help him free of charge. He's told me that he would pay me, although it was offhand and we didn't agree on a price. I'm not expecting to see any money, but I'm considering telling him my freelance rate, which is a lot more than just beer, and letting him know he's violated our terms, which are in writing. The other half of me just wants to let it be, let by-gones be by-gones, and just letting him do his thing, but turning down any help he asks for in the future, as I want to avoid the "zomg-we-haven't-done-backups-in-a-month-please-recover-our-wobsites-nothing-is-working" call and being on the hook again for that situation, when I've been giving him help to avoid that from the get go.

I also want to, as his friend, see him succeed in his business, communication shortcomings aside. And lastly, I don't want to have things be awkward at work, as it's distracting from the work I want to be doing.

Should I say something? Should I send him the bill? Should I not say anything and just pass over the entire situation? The gods know that I haven't been perfect either, and everyone makes mistakes.

  • 2
    @JoeStrazzere "Now you think you should be able to decide who should get paid and who shouldn't, and wondering if you should retroactively charge him your "freelance rate"? No. Please read the question before commenting in the future. I agreed to work for beer on the grounds that no one was being paid, including him. When I found out that he had other employees that he had agreed to pay, I told him I expected to be paid as our terms were not met. He agreed to pay me. This was before I did any work but after our third meeting was set up.
    – jfa
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 17:47
  • 2
    "He's told me that he would pay me... we didn't agree on a price." Directly from the question.
    – jfa
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 17:56
  • @JoeStrazzere So assuming he's still open to negotiating, should I quote him my freelance rate for the work I did, as per the question?
    – jfa
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 18:04
  • 6
    I 125% agree with Joe Strazzere. Give it up already and move on. Take this last experience as a learning to not get yourself wound up in crazy crap like this again. Be your own businessman at all times going forward, Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 3:04
  • Also don't be mean to Joe. He owns this place
    – nardnob
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 22:13

5 Answers 5


From experience (mine and others): People value things according to how much they paid for them. Your "friend" paid nothing for your help. Guess how much he values you and your help: Zero. Because he didn't have to pay for it, your help to him is absolutely worthless.

You saw this - he didn't come to meetings, giving just some lame excuse. If he had been billed $100 for a missed meeting, you can be sure he wouldn't have missed them.

I suggest you cut your losses. If he asks for any work done, figure out a realistic rate and charge before you start the work.

  • 6
    "People value things according to how much they paid for them" - you seem to be implying that most people don't value any of the friends they have, nor any gift they've ever received, at all, which I couldn't disagree with more. But of course this particularly person might not value OP or their help. Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 17:09
  • I think you're correct about valuing the work.
    – jfa
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 17:09
  • @Dukeling: I don't say they don't value their friends. But how much they value their friends is proportional to the effort they have to put into having that friendship. How much effort is needed to get a gift. I have met parents who spent £10,000 on a car for their daughter, she didn't like it, sold it for £5,000, and told the parents proudly how much money she made. She actually believed she made £5,000 proft because that was the difference between the value of the car (zero to her) and what she sold it for.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 22:13
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    @gnasher729 If you were to have said "how much they value their friends is proportional to the effort they're willing to put in", I'd agree with you. I don't think someone not understanding how money works and being inconsiderate is a good example of the point you're trying to make. Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 22:32
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    "People value things according to how much they paid for them" is, frankly, a very silly thing to say. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 23:37
  • As soon as he can pay other people, you should stop working for beer
  • The most important point is: figure out if he is professional enough to work with, even if he would pay you. I am not so sure about that.
  • If you decide to continue to work with him (and he pays you), it is important to define responsibilities, and an open word could help.
  • If not, say to him "sorry, to busy"
  • 1
    "As soon as he can pay other people you should stop working for beer"- That's exactly what I did, I told him if you're going to pay other people, I expect to be paid.
    – jfa
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 17:42
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    "If not, say to him "sorry, too busy"", Don't lie about it. "I decided that I don't want to work for you, especially not for free".
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 22:15

I think the most important thing for you to do is to get out from under any liability or legal responsibility for the damages to his business that will result from his server being set up incorrectly.

You need to document the fact that he did not allow you to complete the work according to your specification and design. This should be easy to do since your contract calls for 5 meetings and these have not all taken place. Just make sure that you have a paper trail showing that you tried to complete 5 meetings and it is his fault that they did not happen.

It can be very difficult to maintain proper boundaries with someone you would like to hang with, but in this case the lack of a clear delineation of responsibility for the server can end up costing you serious money and reputation.

Once you have protected yourself from unwanted legal association with the failure his web hosting business, it should be safe for you to go back to being his buddy and pestering him with sage advice that he doesn't want and will never thank you for.

  • Thank you for reiterating this. I have this all in writing via text message which have been backed up and dated.
    – jfa
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 17:48

You say he's inexperienced in running a business, and that's why he's running this one poorly? Well, now he can gain some experience-- by having a core employee leave as a result of his poor, haphazard management of his business.

He's going to learn a lesson either way, but it's up to you if that lesson will be that his behavior is acceptable and is enough to retain talent, or if it will be that operating this way will lead to problems (including, but not limited to, attracting and keeping skilled employees).

It's an actual problem for him if and only if you end your "professional" relationship here, and explain why you're doing so. It's not even really about him, it's about your time, skill, and professionalism. It's not that he's a bad person, just that you can't/won't work for a person or organization like this.


[Update] The answer below was deservedly downvoted for not giving advice as to what to in the current situation.

Answer: life is too short, just walk away, life's too short. By all means try to part on good terms & remain friends.

To address

Now he's texted me that he's reinstalled the whole server and everything is "working correctly now," which I take to mean he can now SSH into the machine.

He struggles with basic server-client, web concepts, so I want to wash my hands of the whole situation to cover my bottom, and I believe that the server was set up insecurely and in a manner that wouldn't even work, as this was the case the last time I came over

I would suggest sending an email which says nicely "since you set up the server and I had nothing to do with it, you don't need me any more, so I am out". It's probably enough to have it in writing that way that he set it up. If you want to you can add a bit along the lines of "since you set up the server ...it is your responsibility ...".

On a side note, after you quit there is a very good chance that he will ask you to come back or "just help out a little" ... "this one last time". It's your decision - and I would not, but perhaps you want to do it to keep his friendship - if you do, obviously do it with a contract (preferably compensated, since he is paying all and sundry), but with something in writing that says 1) he can't put it into service without inspecting & signing off on it 2) after that, it's his responsibility.

Personally, I would stay well away from "mom & pop" start-ups like this one.

First question: "do you have a written business plan?". When you hear "no", politely decline.

The second question - if you get that far - should be about funding, then you discuss what you will do for what return and put that into a contract.

Stay away from hobby projects and find real startups, preferably your own.

  • 1
    I removed some personal commentary from your answer, but with or without it, you don't seem to have answered the question. The OP isn't asking what to do next time but how to handle this time. Please edit to address the question. Thanks. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 22:28
  • 1
    Wow! I can't believe I did that. Good enough advice for the future, but missed the current situation. I have updated my answer to rectify that. Thanks for point it out (+1)
    – Mawg
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 7:28

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