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What Would You Have Done? Lessons Learned from Working with an Incompetent Developer

“It’s like a rollercoaster ride.”

“I feel I’ve aged 10 years the last couple of years.”

These are just a couple of statements I hear constantly as an entrepreneur. I’ve never felt them to be more true then this past week.

Yes, I said this past week and it’s only Tuesday. Let me explain.

I’ve been heads-down the last few months viciously working on 123Linkit’s beta launch. My CTO and I departed earlier this year due to his other commitments. Since then, I raised a small F&F round and have been working with contractors to get the product ready for our next release.

The main two contractors I’ve been working with have been referred to me by friends. The first, we’ll stick with his first name, Dan, has been absolutely exceptional. He is in constant communication with me, updating me on what he’s working on, reaching out when he’s stuck, and he’s been honest and straightforward in his time estimates and rates. I love him almost as much as I love chocolate. Almost.

The other is a WP developer (who shall remain nameless for now)  from the  suburbs that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting. I needed someone to refactor our plugin, he had the credentials, I trust my friend so we worked out the details and signed a working contract. I’ve had the extreme opposite experience with this guy. He’s barely in communication, full of excuses and has missed EVERY deadline we’ve set. Even more so, he runs his own development shop!

The difference between the two has been frustrating. On the one hand, I have this star developer who I possess the highest accolades for. On the other, I have to babysit this supposed business owner who’s full of broken promises.

Focusing on the latter developer, we had originally agreed on a delivery date of April 23rd and I paid for half of the development costs up front. I’ll save you the million and one reasons we ended up being six weeks overdue. I will say that at every deadline, I had to reach out and ask for an update. I almost never heard back on the same day and when I did, I was fed yet another reason the project was being held up. Regardless, tension reached a standstill a couple of weeks ago and I sent an honest email explaining how the project has not gone to expectations, how we’re more than a month behind schedule and that we had an impending launch date getting closer and closer. In addition, I provided a proposal that gave him 10 days  to send me the final product and in return I promised we’d depart as friends and ensured I would fulfill the rest of his payment.

He responded within the hour, saying I’ll have it BEFORE the June 6th deadline I outlined in my email.


Wait, not so fast…

We went back and forth a couple of times and yesterday, I received this email:

I’m saddened to report that I could not complete this on time and to expectations. I hate having to admit defeat, but I just could not figure out the issue of why this was working incorrectly.
I feel that at this time its best to just break contract and go our separate ways so that I quit wasting your time and so you can find someone that can actually resolve your issue.

What?! Did this guy really just wait until the day of the newly proposed deadline, after the project has been overdue by SIX WEEKS, to say that he can’t finish the work?

As you can imagine, I was LIVID. I cursed up a storm, threw things around my poor boyfriends’ apartment and repeatedly punched his couch pillows (Shhh…don’t tell).

I drafted a few responses, deleted them, and sent a note back saying I’ll call him to discuss getting a refund on my down payment. We talked later in the afternoon and he promised to have a check to me by next Monday. I was civil, didn’t raise my voice, didn’t scream at him…it’s as if I had taken lessons at a lady etiquette school. Then, a friend of mine brought up a good point. “All this guy has done is make promises he hasn’t kept. How do you know he’s really going to send that check?”

Ah, that is true. I called him again, said exactly that and he promised again he would send the check out by the end of the week. He sounded so calm, so undisturbed that I couldn’t hold back any longer and I started telling him how his actions have set my Company back. Not even 3 sentences in, he interrupts and says “If you called to complain, I have work to do.”

Wait…what did you just say asshole?

How can you make sure you don’t work with someone like THAT?! I took a step back and analyzed what could have gone better and here’s my list:

  • Get references! Even if your Mom swears on him/her, do it anyway. This is my biggest regret.
  • Set expectations early. I assumed because this guy ran his own shop, he would be in constant communication with me. That was clearly not the case. Don’t micro-manage but ask for updates along the process and establish a schedule before you began.
  • Set milestones together. Our original timeline was two weeks to complete the project. What I wish I would have done is worked with him to put together a plan on what he’s going to do for those two weeks. For example, he’ll work on refactoring the plugin for the first 3 days. I’ll test it to make sure nothing broke, send it back and he’ll finish it up. A week later, I should have a complete version to test against the issues we were having before the refactoring. If something doesn’t work as expected, we’ll go back and forth to get resolved. Two weeks in, we’re almost finished and we were in-sync all the way (this is how I wish it would have went down).
  • Pick up the phone! I prefer communicating by email and so did this guy but I wish I would have initiated more phone calls. I never met this guy, we didn’t have a relationship other than the mutual friend that referred us. You can only get to know someone so much by email.
  • Don’t ignore warning signs. This particular guy is extremely active on Twitter. Take a Twitter buddy of yours that’s always on the site and multiply his usage by fifty. Yes, this guy tweets incessantly. Nothing wrong with that…except when I see you’re BBQ-ing when you told me you’d devote your weekend to the plugin, when you’re complaining about all the work you have to do, etc.
  • Nip it in the bud. I had the chance to voice my frustrations early on but I decided to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. BIG mistake.

Our beta launch has now been pushed back two weeks as a result. Don’t get played like I did. Less than six days and counting until I’m supposed to receive my refund. Should we take odds on whether or not I’ll have to take him to small claims court?

  • phil_ives

    pay the $35 bucks and have the check picked up by Courier. 

  • http://www.keylogger.in keylogger

    It is really very hard to work with irresponsible person. Your tips are good to manage and done the work with incompetent developer.

  • Stephen

    What I would have given to have been a fly on the wall when the things were being thrown and the pillows were being punched…

    Valuable advice! Too bad that it wasn’t simply hypothetical… :-(