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Our Team Won Startup Weekend and All We Got Was a Shitty New Boss (medium.com/rboyd)
561 points by orf on Sept 18, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 414 comments

I think his response to someone suddenly "owning" the company is odd. Here's what my response would have been:

---- Hi, Billy. Thanks for telling us about your other company with your friend. I'm a little disappointed that you weren't open that you're already in this space. And that your existing company is in direct competition with the one we all agreed to start that weekend.

However, I'm flexible. I'm willing to license my code to your other company for a flat fee of $10,000. This includes all intellectual property rights to my software.

That fee is reasonable given my time and experience. I think that the others on the team will have similar opinions about their contributions.

If you choose to not take me up on my offer, I wish you luck finding programmers to re-implement the software from scratch.

Sincerely, Programmer. ---

... does anyone not understand the legal rights behind IP? Billy has zero rights to use the software in his existing company. He knows that, which is why he's trying to bamboozle everyone.

Instead of arguing about an "existing" company, they need to talk about their code. They own it. They control it. No one else has the legal right to use it.

What's the problem? They don't give Billy the right to use their code, and he goes away.... or gets sued.

Exactly. In fact as a team I believe they have the power to vote him off the team. Since he registered the name and domain they can simply come up with a new name, move the code to their new domain and continue working on the startup. Billy has zero rights to the code and as such should not be allowed to make any use of it.

This pretty much leaves Billy in the same spot he's been for the last 18 months.

If they could bang the thing out in a weekend then he can get somebody else to rebuild it. He is the only one among them that can or will sell it to restaurants. He's the only one with any emotional attachment to pushing this very little idea forward.

I think programmers here are assuming "execution" means coding. It really means sales, pitching, customer development. Also product development - refining the features over time. Billy will screw that up for sure.

"If they could bang the thing out in a weekend then he can get somebody else to rebuild it."

Can he? He incorporated 18 months before Startup Weekend, and had literally nothing to show for that time, except a business plan. Evidence strongly indicates he could not (easily) "get somebody else to rebuild it". Which is why he came to Startup Weekend and defrauded 8 developers out of their time and skill. He clearly couldn't (or wouldn't) pay market rates to get it done, or he would have done so in the 18 months preceding this.

TL;DR: I think everyone is massively underestimating how much Billy has to lose here. The developers signed away a weekend of work for a 0.4% stake. Billy signed away some undefinable chunk of 18 MONTHS of biz dev for a 0.4% stake!

If Billy gets their code, then they compete against Billy using his client list, his price lists, etc. because those were exposed during the weekend.*

And, it's not like Billy has super exclusive access to the restaurant business. They could partner with other restaurant owners in the region who are similarly turned off by people like Billy. I'm sure those people exist, given the homophobic and generally condescending comments on display here...

So, Billy has: a code base he cannot easily iterate on because he's fucked over his entire potential employee base.

Developers have:

* A lot of Billy's biz dev work over the past 8 months.

* The freedom to exploit personality conflicts in the local/regional business scene to score additional business partners.

* Far lower costs. There are probably tons of bugs in a weekend code sprint product, and Billy isn't going to find any free labor to clean those up. Remember a big chunk of software dev is extending and debugging existing code... Billy ain't going nowhere with a static code base.

* Worst case, the "fuck you" factor and access to free skilled labor (their own) necessary to make break-even or even loss leader pricing structures. This is a unique advantage in their negotiations with Billy.

The last two together would totally screw over Billy. Imagine these developers going into a meeting and demonstrating security flaws or bad GUI glitches in Billy's product during a live meeting... the client might not go with these guys, but in the VERY BEST case for Billy, he's got to hire a freelance developer to clean up the code base. Not going to be able to exploit a hackathon for that sort of stuff, and 80% of software developer is maintenance...

* Maybe Billy claims they only get access to his work done that weekend. But that's bullshit; they developers didn't teach themselves to create rather specific types of products in a weekend... to the extent that there's any contract there, if it came out during the weekend, then it counts toward the agreement.

I disagree. I think the circumstances point more clearly to Billy being an equal partner in a group of 9, who own the entire codebase collectively. Absent any pre-existing business agreement between them, the partnership decisions would have to be unanimous, rather than a majority vote.

Billy could block the other 8 partners from using the code written at that weekend. But they don't need it. They would just need another weekend. Conversely, any one of the other 8 partners could block him from using it. He would still need a cooperative coder.

Billy might be able to make the argument that if he used the code, and no one specifically objected, it was implicit consent from the other partners. Any one of the 8 should be able to send him a cease and desist letter, and he would be stuck.

Billy didn't code anything so he doesn't own shit. SW clearly states that no contractual agreements can be made during the weekend the work is preformed. Any work conducted after the weekend Billy owns, but nothing during that weekend.

In situations like this it's very clear that whatever you make, you own.

> SW clearly states that no contractual agreements can be made during the weekend the work is preformed.

Absolutely false: http://startupweekend.org/about/firsttimer/ "Startup Weekend doesn’t support or take part in the signing of any legal documents"

Startup Weekend would be a lot better if it required all participants to sign waivers releasing all IP generated over the weekend. That way everyone knows exactly what they are getting into.

Why the fuck would anyone go to an event where they create a bunch of code and release all rights to it?

People would go because they understand that their weekend of work is not worth 10% equity in a 10M company.

If you really think a weekend of coding is worth something then why would you go now? It allows complete strangers to join your team and pollute the IP ownership.

>> People would go because they understand that their weekend of work is not worth 10% equity in a 10M company.

10 percent of the effort is worth 10 percent of the equity, no matter how few days that effort is provided.

>> If you really think a weekend of coding is worth something then why would you go now? It allows complete strangers to join your team and pollute the IP ownership.

Strangers yes. But they self selected into groups.

At the end of the weekend, the code is owned by someone. If there's someone interested in it, the author should be as well.

I would agree that one should not have high expectations going to such and event, but one should expect not to be exploited, and if something does emerge that has legs one should be entitled to his share - and if fact (s)he is entitled to it by law unless someone cons them out of it. Copyright goes to the author.

I don't think you understand. If you join my startup team and spend one weekend working on it and then disappear for a year while everyone else keeps working then you didn't build even 1/2% of the effort. Anyone that thinks a weekend of work can generate 10M of value is delusional. It's better to keep them filtered out of the process from the start.

And just to clarify - if everyone on your team signed away their rights then you would still be free to take your code and do whatever you want with it. You could build the business on your own if you didn't like any of the other teammates.

If it is just a partnership, Billy can't compete with partnership in another company. That is a breach of his fiduciary duties to the partnership.

It's not the legal definition of a partnership. It's more like a nine-way joint tenancy.

An actual partnership would probably have contracts and articles that make it easier to do business. Notably, many allow for ratification of business decisions by majority vote of the partners, weighted by their ownership share. There may be a conflict of interest if you try to make your partnership buy something you already own individually, but as long as you disclose your interests up front and recuse yourself appropriately from conflict decisions, that's rarely an issue.

> I think the circumstances point more clearly to Billy being an equal partner in a group of 9

That's shitty for Billy; he just signed away 18 MONTHS of business development for a 0.4% stake. Or else he doesn't get access to the code. The sure thing is that he doesn't get it both ways...

Does the 0.4% "handshake deal" potentially cause issues with this, though? Couldn't that be construed as an offer for the work that was produced that weekend?

If I was being uncharitable, I could say that the reason the 0.4% offer came up in the first place was specifically to deal with this problem - by offering a trivial amount of equity, Billy has an argument that the other programmers were compensated for their time in a form that they mutually agreed to. Why else would Billy bother making this arrangement?

The 0.4% deal applies to Billy, as well. As I understand it, everyone is entitled to 0.4% of whatever venture follows from the work they'd collectively do over that weekend. It wasn't Billy who offered it, it was a friend of OP, one of the devs. Any of the devs could start a company as well and all of the other team members including Billy would have a 0.4% share in that, too. In fact the most sensible thing to do is for the 4 members to say 'let's start this thing up, take nearly 25% each, give Billy 0.4% and do our best'. They'd likely beat Billy in competition as they can iterate on the codebase, Billy can not without hiring a new team. If the devs aren't interested in running that startup then they'd still be entitled to 0.4% of what Billy is going to run.

(edit ignore the exact percentages, they ended up with a team of 8 devs than 4)

No, the relevant copyright law does not accept a 'handshake deal' to transfer copyright ownership as work for hire. Quoting from http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf :

> A work created by an independent contractor can be a work made for hire only if (a) it falls within one of the nine categories of works listed in part 2 above and (b) there is a written agreement between parties specifying that the work is a work made for hire.

Is access to the biz dev IP probably included by a handshake deal?

What sort of IP are you talking about? There's no trademark infringement, there's no patent. I didn't see mention of any trade secret, or anything that sounds like a trade secret (eg, "information which is difficult for others to properly acquire or independently duplicate").

If there's no law covering it, there's no IP.

From what I read Billy didn't make the arrangement, one of the developers did. The idea was that if the entire team of 9 didn't stick around to when the startup becomes successful then they at least get 0.4% equity for participating at startup weekend.

An idea I just thought of:

If you're working on a hack project like this then insist on all copyright notices in the code and site being assigned to a made up organisation with all the names in it. So put

@copyright SmithJonesZuckerbergOrg

in all the source files and html.

Those files would be a record of the interaction and activity on the hack weekend and would allow for a neat place for lawyers to start in negotiating a smooth buyout in this situation. Because I would rather accept $1K than work with that type of individual.

Or just push it to GitHub. Git records the author of each commit with it, assuming you've set up your .gitconfig correctly. In the absence of a contract stating otherwise, copyright remains with the person who wrote each part of the work. 'git blame' will show exactly who wrote what. GitHub gives you a third-party, subpoenable, record of who committed when.

Can you give me a reason for "subpoenable" as a requirement? I mean wouldn't the github data be authoritative and easy to check? Or do we really need to be forcing githubs lawyers to get involved to provide answers to a subpoena if there's a lawsuit?

Anyway, you make a great point about the commits being clear assignment of copyright, and thanks for that!

The subpoenable requirement is because you can rewrite history in git. If you just have a local copy of a repository on your hard disk, your opponent's lawyers might argue "Well, you might have used git commit --amend or manually altered the bits of the repository", and you can't show otherwise. Once you push to GitHub, the repository has become public, and a copy exists somewhere where you can't just manually alter the bits or run git commit --amend.

You don't have to actually subpoena GitHub and get their lawyers involved. The fact that you can means that opposing council will know that you're not bluffing or lying when you say "I authored this commit, and I have the commit logs to prove it". Or if they think you are bluffing or lying, they can certainly subpoena GitHub themselves...but if you aren't, that works in your favor.

To be fair the commit time and the authorship time are not the same. You can author something at work and wait to get home to commit it and vice versa.

Yeah, you can, but that's more of an issue when proving "Does my employer own my work or do I?" For the startup weekend case, time doesn't matter, you only need to prove authorship - and while a git commit that says "Bobby Boyd <rboyd@gmail.com>" doesn't necessarily mean Bobby Boyd wrote it, that plus Bobby Boyd saying he wrote it, plus a GitHub log showing that the authorship attribution hasn't been tampered with, is pretty good evidence that he wrote it. If Billy NoLastName had written it, why didn't he claim credit for it when he pushed it?

> plus a GitHub log showing that the authorship attribution hasn't been tampered with

Unless Github has some backup logs somewhere, that entire log can be wiped out and replaced with whatever someone wants with a simple `git push -f`.

Which is why it's so important to sign commits. You sign your commits, and keep your private key private, and as long as any copy of the repo exists anywhere you can access, you can prove authorship/ownership.

Commit signing is also very useful for vouching for code integrity.

You still can't prove authorship. You can prove that at some point you signed that particular commit. But I could easily take a repo including signed commits from you and rewrite and resign the commits with my own private key. This only works if the one doing the signing is a trusted third party.

That's a good point, but if you combine signing with an indelible timestamp, like one of the blockchain services or other trusted legal timestamping services, you'd be in pretty good shape.

I assume you're suggesting something like including such a timestamp in the commit message? If that's the case, that makes a lot of sense to me. It would be cool to have a tool to automate this. Or something like GitTorrent[0] might do the trick if it had wider adoption.

[0] http://blog.printf.net/articles/2015/05/29/announcing-gittor...

(Sorry for late response.)

No, for this to work, you'd really need to timestamp either the git tree hash or (preferably) the hash of the GPG signature (or the signature itself).

Most timestamp service hashes are necessarily public (for trust reasons), so an attacker could grab one and go back and include it in his signed commit message.

But if you timestamp your commit hash (which is a cryptographic hash after all -- albeit an increasingly weak one) or timestamp the signed commit, then it can't be forged (since the attacker can't go back in time and use a cryptographically-verifiable timestamp, like the ones indelibly embedded in the blockchain).

Sorry, what I meant was to include a hash of the commit in a public blockchain and then attach this timestamp to the commit. So I think we're on the same page.

I assume GitHub has backup logs of all activity somewhere, if only to prevent the "Somebody guessed my GitHub password and replaced all my repositories with a README saying 'HAHA U BEEN PWNED!', please help!" situation.

It's not a problem for Billy, software gets built by itself if you have the right ideas. Just throw some dollars at an over-seas team. Execution is never a problem.


You might think you are joking, but this blog clearly proved it to be true. All you need is a startup weekend and 8 "fucking nerds" to scam into coding your idea for free.

I would bet that if Billy actually took this code to the "customers" he has lined up, they wouldn't use it. They'd have a bunch of other functionality they'd need implemented first before they even considered it. Then he'd take it to an outsourcing firm, who would collect a fee, throw out the original code (because they can't understand it), and then deliver another pile of code that doesn't work. Nerds can scam back, particularly when they live on other continents. Maybe he'll try another outsourcing firm, or maybe he'll try a naive college student, but I think the chance of him actually delivering a product that people will pay for and that stays at the forefront of the market is about zero.

This method of founding a tech startup doesn't really work. Either learn to code yourself, or build a trusted long-term relationship with someone who can.

I've met guys like Billy.

His goal is not to get customers with this code. His goal is to get investors. And, I wouldn't be surprised if he succeeds. He helped the team win Startup Weekend with a seemingly effective presentation, after all. Further, I wouldn't be surprised if his plan now (that it's become clear his developer team wants nothing to do with him) is to raise money with the prototype built at Startup Weekend, and then trash it and start over, so he believes he is free of the obligations he agreed to in order to get the code (that 0.4% stake everyone agreed to). Investors always ask who else you have equity and economic obligations to...and I'll wager he neglects to mention the situation with 8 devs owning a total of 3.2% of his company.

Regardless, dude's a douche hat, and I would hope nobody would fund him. Nobody smart would, since he's not gonna be able to deliver a product worth selling.

Yes, unfortunately too many people see it this way.

I think it comes from the fact non-technical people don't necessarely understand what building software is. All they see is some nerds doing arcane magic with keyboards.

The question is, can we do anything to make things better?

We need to educate ourselves.

Such a startup weekend would be a wonderful occasion. Why organizers do not draw up a simple legal checklist is beyond me.

Just drafting a paper signed by the whole team at the beginning of the event stating "I am going to put ~30 to 40 hours at my hourly rate of $X and thus my contributions can be bought for $Y", or whatever stock terms float your boat, would set clear expectations. They actually were less naive than most since they had that "handshake deal", but they should have gotten it in writing.

That, and realizing "Applicant tracking system in an original niche" is not a revolutionary idea. They owed that Billy guy absolutely nothing and should probably have kicked him out.

Because the organizers themselves are ALSO suits.

They see SW's (in general) as a way to get free labour, they've just learnt enough nerd-speak to bamboozle them into providing that labour.

I've been in the receiving end of "You know this'll be a commodity soon enough" from a guy who's product still relies on a database from 1992, renormalized of course, and who stores dates in packed 16bit numbers.

My advice is to reply with "Great. Best of luck, but you can't use my IP." Better yet retain operational control at all times - don't give out Heroku credentials, etc.

They usually go quiet when you finally show your cards and it's a straight flush.

And hopefully they don't have the need to take it as far as suing you once you withhold things (as you rightfully should in such a situation).

What would suck is doing everything to protect yourself, and then need to waste money (if you can even afford it) on a lawyer if the idiot tries to sue you.

Yes we can do a lot to make things better!

1. Nerds should run companies. The core problem is this assumption the CEO needs to be a "biz guy" like this seeming frat boy. I don't know why nerds think this, I think it may be some high school trauma.

But being the CEO is a lot easier for a nerd than it is for a biz guy-- biz guys at best are going to not touch the product development side, and more likely are going to undermine it... while nerds can easily manage a VP of sales, a VP of marketing, etc.

So first solution- don't work for biz guys. Only work for nerds. (and for purposes of this discussion, I consider Tim Cook to be a nerd- his nerd area is global manufacturing, but he's not a "guy who owns a restaurant" and thus has no relevant skills for a tech startup.)

2. Biz guy ideas are not better than nerd ideas. I don't know if SW doesn't allow it, but they should have come up with an idea that they, as engineers, were passionate about and worked on that. I think the results would have been better.

3. Focus on bootstrapping. The way biz guys get in is that they have connection to money or money and they use that money to take over and exploit the nerds (VCs and the bad angels are nothing other than these exact same biz guys--only VCs are incentivized to get you to bet it all on a longshot to be a unicorn because it's better for their portfolio, even though it diminishes the likelihood your company will be a success. )

Sorting humanity out into "nerds" and "biz guys" might make sense from 20,000' if you squint hard enough but like any form of tribalism it does way more harm than good when used to make in-the-moment decisions about real problems affecting real people.

It's a sometimes useful generalization, but it can also be a shortcut people use to trick themselves into thinking that they are part of some wise and good group of people (who coincidentally are just like them!) and gives them carte blanche for othering anyone they decide they don't like or don't want to work with.

It's almost impossible not to do this, it's kind of a necessary evil when you're constantly dealing with lots of different types of people and don't have much information about them to make more nuanced judgements. Not a problem as long as people don't start mistaking the mental shortcuts and generalizations we all employ for reality. Most of the time I behave as if pi is 3.14 because that usually works fine, but I never allow myself to start thinking that it actually is 3.14, which is the vibe I get whenever anyone starts talking about how everybody is either an "x person" or a "y person".

I'll respectfully disagree with your characterization--being a CEO isn't easier for anyone.

Diving in a bit better: a tech person may well obsess over implementation details (because they understand, or think they understand) them better than whoever is on the dev team. They may rabbithole working on a rewarding intellectual work that has nothing to do with the success of the business.

They may not even know how to deal with a veep of sales or marketing, because they may not have any idea how that world works. I have a friend who is a CEO that, for the longest time, thought marketing was basically lies, and so saw no reason to invest time in it. They've since reconsidered their position as their business intelligence has caught up with their technical intelligence.

As developers, especially ones who haven't really built and scaled a business, we always love to think "Hey, I build the product--how hard could the rest be?"

We're usually wrong.

I've seen time and again that technical expertise does not imply any sort of ability to run an actual business. This should not be underestimated.

Sales, marketing, legal, taxes, accounting, organization, etc., are hardly things people automatically know how to do.

I agree with most of what you say, but let's be honest in that most "biz guy" types are far better salesmen than engineer types, particularly in niches like this. Having a network of influential family members, college buddies, and relatives of buddies is a powerful sales tool. Not saying it's fair, but it's reality.

Now, that doesn't mean they'd make a good CEO, just a better sales person, which is also a critical skill for most startups (although I do like the "growth engineer" movement, which puts some of this power back into the hands of engineers, in marketing if not in sales).

> software gets built by itself if you have the right ideas

And for those that read everything in the literal sense: this is a joke because of the /s.

I've seen some really scary situations that started with throwing things over the wall- like having investors and board ready for the finished product in a few months, while it's just some wannabe CTO and maybe a family member helping holding the pile of shit code with some seriously rich and powerful people expecting that they will be in production soon, for large companies they've already talked with and planned to sell it to.

Steaming piles of shit become rolling tumbleweeds of shit doom become ticking plutonium-enriched time-bombs of every-kind-of-animal feces...

This sounds exactly like a contract that I had once...


Execution is never a problem. GOOD execution is THE problem.

This is a nice platitude, but doesn't hold up to scrutiny. For example: I'd suspect most ideas aren't that good, so it logically follows that execution would not be THE problem in most cases.

More like:

GOOD execution is one of the major problems.

But then how else can we continue the narrative that it's the Engineers (because we're not programmers but Engineers with a capital E) who are the end-all-be-all of any tech startup, and it solely on our shoulders that the company lives or dies?

As a programmer, I can promise you that engineers are not the be-all-end-all. It's sales.

This is why engineers should not be afraid to sell, or at least, not be afraid to be out in front. The power in any organization comes from who sells the product.

Sales is not the be-all-end-all. It's engineering, and sales, and product/UX, and finance, and sometimes even customer service/marketing/PR/legal too. Salespeople need a product to sell, which has to be built, which requires money.

Good businesses understand that all their functional areas are important, and don't try to preference one over another. You may need to focus on one at first to make progress with it, though I'd argue that when you first get started, that one area should be none of the above (it should be customer development in the Lean Startup sense: talking to people to get a sense of what they need and how they do things).

Expensive and underperforming products are sold for millions every day in the enterprise software industry. That's not due to their engineering or UX, and certainly not to their customer support, it's mostly professional sales in action...

I suspect that engineers who work in enterprise software would strongly disagree with you. I've done consumer stuff for the last 8 years, but I started in enterprise software, with 2 different jobs and a few internships over the first couple years of my career.

The big challenge in enterprise software engineering is that your "customer" is the person who forks over money, not the person who uses the software. Pretty much all engineering effort is devoted to pleasing them. Engineering requirements for enterprise software are often insanely complex and sometimes even conflicting, and most of the engineering effort is devoted to satisfying them.

If you look at product/UX debacles like Taleo or Lotus Notes from the perspective of a department head buying them (rather than from the recruiter, job applicant, or ordinary worker who will be using them), a lot of enterprise software makes sense. There's a lot of effort devoted to reporting requirements, to making sure the buyer has visibility on what all of his department is doing and conversely can make that "productivity" visible to his boss, to covering one's ass with regulatory requirements, and not much effort devoted to making things pretty or productive for the end-users. That's because the end-users are not the buyer of the software.

Indeed, a lot of the investment thesis in consumer/smallbiz Internet is this idea that software should replace middle managers entirely, and so the end-users should be the actual buyer of the software who need it to make money, basically replacing management with markets.

I wish it wasn't true, but strong sales staff can sell crapware all day long. Again, I'm a programmer. I had to learn this the hard way so I could insert myself higher into the process.

This is my exact thought. It seems "Billy" here won because he paid $200 for something worth a whole lot more? adekok's response is perfect and really shows how to deal with this situation. Be clear about your rights, don't let people like this get away.

No the startup weekend awarded a roughly $200 prize to each member of the winning team. Billy didn't pay anything, he simply started a company without discussing it with anyone, in which Bobby has the right to 0.4%. OP then forfeited it seemingly for the reason of simply being disgusted and not wanting to be associated with Billy anymore.

Billy doesn't exclusively own the codebase or product. Any of the devs could reasonably start a company, use the product, as long as they award 0.4% to each of the members in his venture. That's what the handshake deal seems to have been all about.

It makes sense for the devs to either say 'buy out exclusive rights to the work and we forfeit the 0.4% share and be on your way, or keep the work, we'll compete with you (and grant you 0.4% in our venture, too, according to the handshake deal) and we'll see who can iterate on the codebase faster and run a successful business.'

The devs still have the power despite Billy's asshole move.

If someone offered me 0.4% for getting their company off the ground, I'd tell them to get lost. That's absolutely insulting.

If your goal at a startup event is to have fun, jam on something, see what comes of it, then it's easy to succeed.

If your goal at a startup event is to make something valuable, you've already lost. There is no winning. This is the worst possible environment to create a new business in, and there are way too many variables. Everyone will feel cheated no matter what the arrangement is.

> If someone offered me 0.4% for getting their company off the ground, I'd tell them to get lost. That's absolutely insulting.

I think you've flipped the situation around a little bit here.

The point is, it is startup weekend, it's time to have fun, to learn, collaborate and do something interesting and a lot of the guys going aren't necessarily interested in ditching their jobs and going full-time startup. In fact most people came to the weekend without any ideas they actually wanted to launch, simply interested to join an existing team and have fun.

So one of the developers who is like this basically proposed the 0.4%. You make it sound as if Billy said 'hey guys work for me for 2 days for 0.4%'. When in reality it was a developer who said 'Hey look, this is going to be fun but let's agree on something simple, if any startup actually does come out of this, let's all have a 0.4% share even if you're not interested to invest anything in the startup apart from this weekend's work. This way everyone is rewarded without having to exchange any money, and only if whatever we built this weekend actually ends up having value'. And the others agreed with that.

This may not make sense in every situation, but I think it was pretty sensible here and I don't think it was insulting either, particularly when the dev proposed this reward himself, for himself, not as some kind of payment to others for getting his company off the ground.

What they should do is work an equal split. Five parties? 20% each. If the "leader" wants to run with the project and pursue it in a more serious capacity they can make an offer to the team that will result in dilution.

I'd argue that they'd need to make a case, and the additional share would be conditional. Like "If you can close $100K in financing then you will get another 40% stake."

Likewise if team members really do want to quit their jobs and chase after this, they'd be accommodated in a similar capacity. Adjust the share balance when events happen, not by padding it heavily up front with the expectation that they will happen.

Otherwise you're valuing your contribution vs. some future unknown, yet saying with certainty your contributions are worth 0.4% of that. The chance of that being fair is basically zero.

> What they should do is work an equal split. Five parties? 20% each. If the "leader" wants to run with the project and pursue it in a more serious capacity they can make an offer to the team that will result in dilution.

Exactly, that makes total sense. Why then did one of the developers, OP's friend, another developer that agreed, propose 0.4%? This is where I get the feeling OP isn't telling the whole story.

Knowing nothing else and asked to speculate, I'd say that they proposed 0.4% knowing that Billy wanted to work on his own idea and wanted to turn this into a company, while they just wanted to have a fun startup weekend working on someone else's idea and then go home and go back to their normal lives. As a reward, they propose 0.4% of whatever company arises out of the startup weekend, without wanting to be part of anything else later. Billy said he's happy with that arrangement and they go forth.

Why 0.4% and not 100% / n team members? Because it makes no sense for the team of 9 people ultimately for each to have 11% equity in a company that perhaps only Billy will be running. That would mean if a company is formed and everyone gets an 11% share, but nobody actually works there except Billy who works 80 hours a week the next 10 years and turns it into a success, he has the same 11% share as any of the other guys who merely spent 20 hours over a weekend on this. That's why, if you're not interested in running this company beyond StartupWeekend, you'd propose 0.4%, a small percentage for a weekend contribution that is still significant if the company ends up worth a lot (e.g. $10m, means $40k for a weekend of work). A more granular valuation of the work is to simply value it as a fixed amount of money, say $1k per dev, but then you're getting in the realm of 2-day work-for-hire which doesn't make much sense in the context of StartupWeekend, it requires money transfers, investments and risks, and it just doesn't make much sense in a 2 day context to hire random stranger devs. Saying let's see what is possible, if it has any value well let's each have 0.4% even if we don't continue past this weekend, is more practical.

This is why I suspect that the article is only part of the story and that perhaps everyone was aware that Billy wanted to turn this into his own company and that the rest just wanted to work at it over the weekend for fun and get 0.4% in case their weekend work turned into a valuable enterprise. Why else would you agree to 0.4% and not just say 'let's see what we can come up with this weekend, and after incorporate it on an equal basis if we want to, or buy out the work by those who aren't interested in pursuing it further'?

> Bobby has the right to 0.4%.

I thought they never actually signed anything with regard to that.

True. But whether it holds up in court or not is a different matter, but they agreed. And contracts do not need to be signed to be valid and enforceable. Handshake deals and verbal deals are just as valid and have indeed held up in court (even on cases worth more than a hundred million dollars). The issue is that without signatures contracts are very difficult to prove and thereby rarely hold up in court unless e.g. there are witnesses, or statements made in reference to the agreement etc, which can serve as proof.

Did they agree? It didn't look like Billy actually did, and in fact it says there was no actual handshake, they just started working and the reader is left to guess whether Billy ever agreed (unless I'm missing something in the article of course).

We don't know, it says Billy was 'happy with the handshake deal'. I doubt Billy actually literally said said "I'm happy with that', before moving on, but rather said something like 'sure, that works', before moving on, which would be agreement. But that's just speculation on my part, I really don't know and you can't tell from the article.

From what I understood, Billy didn't pay Bobby $200 for the code, he just paid out a portion of the prize money they received from Startup Weekend. From the tone of the emails, I'm almost certain Bobby didn't sign over his rights in exchange for that $200.

He still owns all the code he wrote. If Billy uses that code in his own business that would be unauthorized and legal action can be taken.

Of course actions can (and should) be taken. The OP protected the identity of the parts involved, but I am feeling free to drop in more info about the whole thing: http://www.caledonvirtual.com/2015-startup-weekend-columbia-...

The start-up is called StaffedUp and it's site is up and running (with that unlicensed code, I presume): http://www.staffedup.com

If he actually managed to build it into something, even better. That's more spoils when they win the lawsuit.

Out of curiosity: You're feeling free because you're another member of the team or have prior knowledge of the situation, or because you Googled it and just want to?

Because this touches me in a very personal way, regardless the fact that I may or not be a member of the team.

Exactly what I've been thinking. Like yah Billy is definitely giving the asshole vibe from the story given (granted it is one perspective) but regardless of that, and how the programmers conducted themselves during the weekend, Billy has no rights to the software that the others created without having established a contract, and based on the current evidence, there wasn't a contract to begin with other than a gentleman's agreement that they would have ownership stakes if it went off the ground.

hmm -- why couldn't everybody on the team (technical and non-technical) claim ownership to any collateral developed over the weekend?

Because the non-programmers didn't write it. That's how copyright works, and it's why big companies are so careful about this, and make you sign reams of papers.

This is also why it's such a pain in the ass for open source projects to changes licenses -- they have to get permission from everyone and anyone who contributed code, or rewrite that person's contributions.

You write it, you own the copyright for whatever part you wrote unless you formally transfer your copyright via contract. You don't even have to file any papers to get copyright, it's automatic.

thanks for the clarification - the part about not having to file any papers is something I didn't understand at all.

So in this example of startup weekend, whoever writes a piece of code owns it, whoever writes website copy owns it and so on and so forth to the extent that the startup weekend ip policy doesn't setup something different for participants.

(edit: fixed the last paragraph)

All of them can and all of them have to buy in to licensing it. Similar to when an open source project wants to change licenses (for some licenses), they need to reach out to every contributor and get an agreement from them.

I'm not sure the licensing response would work in the case of the code developed over the course of a startup weekend event.

I suspect anyone on the SW "team" could claim ownership of the code and any aspect of the business.

SW trys to avoid these issues during the weekend ..from their FAQ: (http://startupweekend.org/about/firsttimer/)

How do teams address the issue of IP/ownership? As with any startup, the team decides. Startup Weekend doesn’t support or take part in the signing of any legal documents at the events themselves, and while Mentors with legal backgrounds are often present and able to give general advice, they are not permitted to give specific legal counsel.While it doesn’t hurt to be clear about your individual expectations from the start, we’ve found that teams who don’t spend time addressing this issue until it actually matters (i.e., there is a tangible product to have ownership of) are much more productive and successful than those who do.

> I'm not sure the licensing response would work in the case of the code developed over the course of a startup weekend event.

You can always license any code you wrote.

> How do teams address the issue of IP/ownership? As with any startup, the team decides.

That's not how copyright law works.

> You can always license any code you wrote.

No you can't ...not if someone else has a claim on the work you do. I can't put "copyright <my name>" on the code I write at work ... its "copyright <my company>"

EDIT: re license vs copyright : I also can't just unilaterally decide what license I use for code I write at my company. I think its reasonable to think the same would hold true given that FAQ item.

> That's not how copyright law works.

That was from the SW weekend FAQ. But I think that FAQ holds weight -- just like my statement above. If the rules for the weekend are the "team decides" you can't just go claiming ownership of stuff you did for the team.

You seem to have a deep misunderstanding of copyright law. Just because you created work as part of a group does not mean you have surrendered your copyright unless you have signed a contract to the contrary.

Without surrendering copyright, you absolutely do have the right to unilaterally license your code in whatever way you want. The entire reason that companies require you to sign IP agreements before starting work is to ensure that you don't run off with the code.

The developers wrote the code and never signed a license to Billy's company. They own it. End of story.

my misunderstanding of copyright law is indeed deep ..and I keep digging myself deeper into this argument hole :)

thanks for the clarifications.

That's because you signed a contract surrendering your IP to your company. If no contract is signed, then ownership of IP you create defaults to you, as it should.

If he is an employee acting within the scope of his employment when he writes the code, the copyright belongs to the employer because it is a "work for hire". There is no need for a contract that states the employee surrenders his rights to the company because the employee doesn't have any rights to surrender--the employer is legally the author and it is in the employer that the initial copyright vests.

exactly -- and arguably some weekend hackathon or similar event where you arguably surrender your IP to the group.

so the "you can always license any code you wrote" isn't always at all


so, my "exactly" above is a wrong. I see your point about signing a contract vs not. got it. I'm sticking with my arguments about "always" ..its all I have left :)

Yeah, to be clear, I'm in favor of surrendering IP to the group for an event like this, because if you split everything up at the end it'll be worthless.

BUT! Terms like this need (both legally and ethically) to be explicit, and should have provisions for both "person X stays on-board" and "person X leaves after the weekend."

Does "work for hire" extend to verbal contracts?

No. See http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf . "A work created by an independent contractor can be a work made for hire only if (a) .. and (b) there is a written agreement between parties specifying that the work is a work made for hire." (Emphasis mine.)

> If the rules for the weekend are the "team decides" you can't just go claiming ownership of stuff you did for the team.

That's a nice opinion. But as you say, it's a "rule". It's not the law.

And the law disagrees with you. If 5 people write code with no legal framework in place (such as a written contract), they each own their individual contributions.

got it re the legal framework.

it would interesting to see something like this tested in court.

Do you know what qualifies as a legal framework when entering a weekend hackathon? Is there a different bar for something like this vs a standard employment situation?

Also, remember there is always this special trick(im joking): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10084570

Unless you sign some sort of documents when you participate in Startup Weekend.

i'm curious, how enforceable is that? what kind of proof would one need?

8 guys testifying in court with the same message is a pretty big thing to dismiss.

The problem for them is: we are the powerful ones now.


We built this internet.


Actually, we are in charge now. You just haven’t realized it yet. Automate or be automated. If you don’t know how to map out complex systems. If you never got grounded as a kid for taking things apart. If you are too lazy or unwilling to learn our ways. If you don’t work for us yet, you soon will.

The above lines are absolutely cringe-worthy and take away from what is for the most part a decent account of the events. I can understand if someone temporarily holds onto such feelings due to the emotional shock of being wronged by someone else they consider a 'bully' (but really just sounds like an immoral/unethical businessman). However, if you actually hold onto this mindset day-to-day, I would say that is problematic.

That part made me cringe too. "Actually, we are in charge now. You just haven’t realized it yet." is a complete joke. Whom ever pays the bills is in charge, and if you work for anyone that ain't you.

I believe the entire ecosystem of "hackathons" to be a scam for Billy like people to exploit naive developers. In fact, if one reads the terms of many corporate sponsered hackathons, the corporation (I'm lookin at you Intel) backing the event claims usage rights to any ideas pitched.

> I believe the entire ecosystem of "hackathons" to be a scam for Billy like people to exploit naive developers.


That combined with the frequent references to Billy being in good shape and going to the gym just felt like a really heavy handed attempt to get "nerds on board against the jock".

Yep. I found this story horribly and very immaturely expressed, but it may still serve well as a cautionary tale.

And what did you think of Bobby's emails? All just fine to you?

I'm not sure what point you're making here. I don't see how those two things are connected.

Indeed. Some very smart people built the Internet over a few decades. Appropriating the work and effort of so many other people is disingenuous. Building a website does not equal "building the Internet."

And lets not forget the great quote “The Internet was so well done, but the web was by amateurs”.

I can't take developers like this guy seriously, he definitely falls in the amateurs camp Alan Kay talks about.

I read this piece as a rejection of the author's entire line of thinking. Being taken advantage of is something that can easily happen no matter what your technical skills are, because your people reading skills are still lacking.

This isn't just about "Billy," this is about the startup CEOs that champion "hustle" for their programmers who are on an options plan to earn at best a hundredth of what their bosses will get.

In the end it's all about value: the value you expect to get out of your work, the value you put into yourself, the value you project to the world and the people signing your checks.

Right. The moral of the story shouldn't be "the tech people are in charge, fuck people that can't code." There is some value to what Billy did (or would do). The problem is that this particular Billy is an asshole.

The moral of the story is "Don't work for/with people who don't respect what you do." Billy wanted a few code monkeys, and saw Startup Weekend as his way to get a few code monkeys to build shit for free.

If there's value in what someone like Billy does, then software developers should learn those skills; business, negotiation, finance. Then we wouldn't have a story like this at all.

The moral of the story is people like Billy won't succeed in the tech industry, because the 'coders' have choices.

Seems to be lot of morals of this story. I hope young developers have read this and taken it to heart...every hackathon I have ever been to has had at least one non-technical person pitching their business idea, and often they're looking for suckers to work for free. And, the real WTF is that they often find them (then again, it is usually inexperienced developers who can't deliver much in a weekend, so it probably just serves as a learning experience for all parties involved).

Yes, though there is value to specialization

Yeah he needs to get over the whole bully narrative. He sounds like he's still 16.

Excuse me, but I am proud, card carrying memember of the Kingmakers club.

The author of this piece doesn't really sound like a much better person than this Billy character. He sounds extremely entitled and arrogant. Just because "we build the Internet" doesn't mean we own the world. Billy's handling of the situation and his open homophobia are deplorable, but so it thinking you're superior to everyone can't hack. This kind of attitude is a big problem in our industry

I've known Bobby for 20 years now, and while this makes me biased, this also makes me informed.

Bobby is not entitled or arrogant. He works hard and preserves friendships. He has a strong sense of fairness, and it's my perception it was extremely riled by the actions of Billy.

Bobby's assertions about the software development being more important than the good-old-boy networks and the braggadocio are generally celebrated in this forum, I don't see why there's a minority backlash.

I believe it's clear from what I read that this situation had a non-technical "co-founder" try to screw over technical co-founders, and Bobby is calling him out on it and using it as a teaching moment.

The way I read this article, Bobby does not come off very well in this episode (though he may be a great person in general). He's the one who said Billy would throw them under the bus. And he's the one who drops his tone to calling Billy an asshole.

Billy is way off base thinking his company owns the code. That is clear. And his demeanor... I dunno, maybe he's not the kind of guy I'm gonna grab a beer with. But he seems to genuinely believe what he is selling, which to me just means he is misinformed. But all that takes is standing up for yourself, explaining... maybe rallying the troops. If the troops cannot be rallied... well I dunno. There seems to be an implicit acceptance of this agreement which seems odd to me. The reaction seems to be "Why didn't you tell us about this llc and your plans?" versus "Your llc has absolutely nothing to do with this team or our product. We'll happily switch to another domain. Everyone else aboard?" Yes, he has some power because he has forged the sales and has the relationships. But they mean nothing without the product. Just as the product means nothing without sales.

Anyway, having done a couple of these types of fast startup events, I think they're just rife with these types of situations. Nobody has gotten sleep, people are pushing themselves to the limit, and everyone feels emotional. Just not worth it.

I don't understand this. I read the entire thing and even though it is from the authors point of view, to me he come across poorly relative to the business guy. The only thing I can see the business guy is accused of is that he didn't make it clear enough that he has been working on this idea for 18 months and has an LLC. The author acts as if it is obvious this guy is an asshole but aside from going to the gym and having blond hair and saying "gay shit" (without any clear reference to homosexuality) what did he do that made him an asshole? Even the joke he made that was supposed evidence of his being a bully was in response to the author's joke about remembering to throw the team under the bus.

The author on the other hand comes across as a guy with a chip on his shoulder. Based on this article I would be reluctant to work with him.

I had the same impression. The constant "we built this internet" and "we run the show now" displays so much ignorance and insecurity about our field its not even funny anymore. These people usually can't explain the first thing about how the internet actually work, even if they can build websites every day.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the Dunning-Kruger Effect while reading this article.

I might be off a little on my facts here, but Bobby left high school early to come work at GlobalCenter, before it was bought by Frontier, before it was bought by Global Crossing. He worked on early MPLS and helped grow the Internet very substantially. Bobby helped turn up one of the first 10G Internet links. So, it's easy to cast arrows, but in this case Bobby actually did real work in making the Internet grow back "in the day."

I have no doubt the author is a good developer. He does seem to undervalue all the hustling Billy is doing. Sounds like he has customers lined up. I would kill for a startup founding partner like that

"The only thing I can see the business guy is accused of is that he didn't make it clear enough that he has been working on this idea for 18 months and has an LLC"

Which is more than enough to make Billy a grade-A asshole.

Startup Weekend terms are clear. Hackers show up to build something new, with everybody on an equal footing in whatever results. Billy wanted free code for "his" business, and so he defrauded 8 developers to get it.

I've never been to one and was unaware of this rule. If this is true it should have been the focus of the article and made very clear. It wasn't. It also isn't clear to me that Billy gets free code. If the other guys refuse to sign up why does Billy end up with free code? it isn't stated in the article and doesn't strike me as obvious

"I've never been to one and was unaware of this rule. If this is true it should have been the focus of the article and made very clear. It wasn't."

I only know it because the article covers it, even quoting the Startup Weekend rules. Admittedly, the article is rambling, and the anger and passive-aggressiveness of the author somewhat distracts from the basic facts, but it's definitely covered in the article.

"If the other guys refuse to sign up why does Billy end up with free code? it isn't stated in the article and doesn't strike me as obvious"

That's a valid question. I certainly wouldn't sign over my copyright in these circumstances, and I'm surprised the author would, either. That said, if Billy were to pursue the business and keep using the code, the legal hassle of preventing it is probably not worth the trouble for the developers (unless the business actually becomes something).

I think if I were in the author's shoes, I would simply send off a contract requesting a formal agreement on the 0.4% stake in exchange for a license to use the code (I'd also want my share of the winnings from startup weekend). If Billy doesn't agree, he doesn't have code. He still cheated people out of a fun experience, by being an asshole and taking advantage of the Startup Weekend; effectively stealing these developers' weekend. They signed on for one thing, and found it was something entirely different. But, at least if the "handshake deal" is fulfilled, then nobody is being fiscally cheated.

But, it's better to just steer well clear of assholes like this. I guess it takes time to develop radar for them. I usually spot'em within 30 seconds of talking to them (and, being a nerd my whole life and involved in the tech industry for ~20 years, I've talked a lot of them).

Then, here's a teaching moment: both Bobby and Billy acted incredibly irrationally and unprofessionally.

"Unprofessional" is a trump card played by sociopaths to take advantage of people who maybe aren't as adept at human communication as they are.

It's a shield behind which the unempathetic and uncaring hide.

Fuck that.

I'm going to advise you to look up the word 'unprofessional' in a dictionary, it seems you are using the wrong meaning.

I don't have any issue with Bobby standing up for himself, that wasn't the part of the article I was discussing. The biggest problem for me was the way he kept creating this "us vs. them" mentality of engineers against the world. It seemed over dramatic and again, entitled. I believe you that this isn't the kind of person he is, but is the image I, and other HN readers, got from reading this article.

It kind of is, though. Engineers, especially good ones, will autoexploit themselves given an opportunity, and produce value that they themselves will never recapture.

It's not unreasonable at all to be observant and complain about an exploitation that's gone on for decades, perpetrated by MBAs and good-old-boys.

It's because Bobby is an adult and is still fighting the battle against the jocks that everyone else gave up years ago, and can't deal with people who do not toe the party line on what he considers acceptable language with fortitude or maturity. This colors whatever good points he may have with an aura of something like entitled peevishness.

Bobby is entitled to his own work, and an aura of 'peevishness' is more than appropriate when faced with someone who is trying to dishonestly bully him out of it.

Adults don't get bullied, kids do. Adults don't complain about how they were bullied, it's pathetic to hear an adult say he was "bullied" by another same human being.

Do you think that Billy being muscular or confident or saying stuff is gay has a lot to do with the business dealings?

Author is stuck in high school.

Do you think that this sentence: “Haha, yea. I’ll say, ‘all I had to do was find a bunch of fucking nerds to build it.’” has anything to do with Billy's attitude towards engineers?

Quite possibly. It's also very possible that it was a knee-jerk reaction to the "joke" preceding it, impugning his character.

He said it, therefore it is his character.

In this case, the analogous "jock" is exhibiting bad behavior. Another poster talked about how this sort of behavior is not supported at hackathons. Another person said that Bobby was 'tricked.' I don't think you're suggesting it's okay to trick people at hackathons to work for you? Regardless, I think Bobby is imperfect, but I have huge respect for him. He went through an experience that was unpleasant with an unfortunate outcome. This is a good example for people to read and learn about so they can avoid similar situations.

I wouldn't be surprised that Bobby has a pleasant demeanour in real life, but ElComradio's point is also valid. The nerds, when they harbour resentment against the jocks, are playing the same power game as the jocks ... and as such are, ultimately, no better than the jocks themselves (except for the jocks being more successful). As Eric Fromm said: "There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as 'moral indignation,' which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue."

Bobby comes off as a child. Those guys who go the gym! Those entitled CEOs who are useless! And they call stuff gay! And I name things "anarchist"!

Seriously, it is impossible to separate the story from the source here. Nobody should trust this is an accurate conveyance of the tone of what happened.

I got the idea that what the author really thinks (whether he knows it or not) is "It's our turn to be the bullies now"

If it makes you feel better to knock the author down a peg, by all means.

But don't equate the two. The author built software and expected professional discussion about a business opportunity. Billy attempted to take everything using his 'existing' incorporation that was against the rules.

These actions are not equal, and the author highlights that there were plenty of warning indicators he should have, but did not pay attention to.

I didn't write this to comment to "knock the author down a peg". From the facts of the story, my sympathies totally lie with the author. But the way he comes off is as entitled and arrogant. There is no reason that I can't feel that Billy was in the wrong, but I also dislike the author's attitude.

The author is upset at a blatant attempt to take advantage of him. Isn't that appropriate?

Entitled to what? Entitled to ownership of IP he produced? Entitled to the 0.4% equity stake that they agreed upon at the beginning?

The backlash in this thread is mindboggling. The author's "attitude" seems pretty appropriate for someone who was very recently betrayed by a team member. I understand if you don't like the "nerds vs jocks" imagery but frankly that's not arrogance, it's colorful storytelling.

I agree with you, what did the author think was going to come out of a Startup/hacking weekend? You are basically giving away your talents at those events. One has to manage expectations better, and also avoid the Billys of the world.

"You are basically giving away your talents at those events"

No, you're entering in to a team relationship with others, and sharing your talents with those people.

An even bigger problem in our industry is that, somehow, a lot of us think we are unworthy, lowly enablers of "the business"'s genius ideas. Enabling tirelessly, preferably over a weekend, for a 0.005% share of the company

Grow a pair, people.

BTW, I treat all human beings (coders or not) with equal respect, but I also learned to avoid the "Billy"s of this word like the plague.

you're both right, IMO. because there's a whole world between being a jerk and being a push-over. and btw, opposites typically have way more similarities than differences. (it actually says so in the definition of opposites in classical logic, but nobody seems to pay attention to that.) meaning, both attitudes sometimes come from the same place.

"Confident people do not belittle those who disagree. Arrogant people do."

Edit: This is not a comment on your comment, which is valid. Just a quote I liked.

I agree, but for different reasons.

I think the author (or his friend at least) entered in the event to test his Speculative Stock Warrant. (It is a ways to get a small kick-back if startup goes big 10 years later) So he already entered in the event to only get an shadow option of a potential good company.

He complained that Billy did not valued enough their weekend hacking and put an outside parter in the company. But he already only had 0.4%. If I was Billy I wouldn't think of someone who had this kind of deal with me as a cofounder.

The SSW only activates the 0.4% if the participant decides not to stay with any business that evolves out of the weekend, otherwise separately negotiated terms would drive the equity allotment. I actually rather like the idea since it seems to protect the interests of people participating in a startup weekend from a Billy (and even protects Billy).

I think him writing this after what happened accentuates this, as he was writing "angry." That being said, his preconceived notions of Billy are almost as bad as Billy's of "nerds."

He is pushing back. He clearly thinks other people have value, otherwise he wouldn't have agreed to work with a business person at all.


Am I the only one that thinks Bobby the poster is acting oddly, with odd expectations?

Maybe it's because I'm not familiar with norms around "Startup Weekend" type events.

I have no doubt Billy the pitch man is an asshole (almost all restaurant owners are, for one thing). I also think he's being completely reasonable being confused about why this guy he just met thinks he should own a piece of Billy's company.

But I confess I've never understood why anyone would want to go to a 'startup weekend' kind of thing and code for free on someone elses business idea, someone you've just met, in the first place.

I must be missing something about the general cultural expectations of such events.

But it does seem odd to have an event focused on starting businesses (and creating teams likely to work together in the future on the business?) among people who have just met, with no written contracts involved (even prohibited!) based just on cultural expectations which may or may not be shared, and no time to discuss them or get to know each other in advance. Do successful teams actually get created from this process sometimes?

The idea of the event is to get people to work together for the weekend, see if they like working with each other, expand their network etc. Its not to do work on someone elses startup. I've seen many teams that randomly formed at Startup Weekend go on to build a real startup afterwards.

As noted in the FAQ, it was actually against the rules for an already existing company to show up.

That's part of the reason why contracts are not allowed - everyone owns the IP then so there cannot be an owner-employee relationship in any sense.

No, you're not the only one. The guy wants 40 basis points for 10-20 hours of work. In real companies, you would have to work 4 years to get that kind of equity. He thinks he's a founder of the internet when he's actually a guy in backwater Texas giving himself way too much credit for modeling a basic CRM schema.

To paraphrase a former governer of Texas, he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

"In real companies, you would have to work 4 years to get that kind of equity."

When Billy builds a "real company" he can make those kinds of deals with developers. Right now, Billy has nothing like a real company. He has an idea, no ability to execute by himself, and a 50% partner who also can't execute said idea.

Startups are not real companies, and equity for working on a startup is very different than equity for working on a real company.

A real company also expects to pay market rates for developers. So, by that metric Billy should have been paying these developers $50-$150/hour (depending on market, experience, etc.) for these 20-30 hours worth of work, if they were contractors rather than employees. It sounds like at least some of the team has enough experience to be on the high end of the rate scale, and if they actually delivered some sort of working prototype in that time, they certainly delivered value.

They agreed on 40 basis points in advance. That's a contract. If 40 basis points was "way too much credit" then Billy-the-idea-guy shouldn't have accepted those terms.

Also, saying that X% of something is "a lot" independent of stage or size is absolutely inane.

So what implies that Billy has any more stake in the company than Bobby if they each owned 0% of nothing at the start of the weekend?

Just to clarify, this didn't happen in Texas.

Generally if you're quoting Texas politicians you're already on shaky ground.

Not when it's Ann Richards

Also not when it's a great quote in its own right.

First understand this. "I code on your business idea and it becomes our idea." Idea's worth nothing.

Ideas are not IP.

I'm confused by the 0.4%. Who was intended to own the other 98.4%?

> "contracts aren’t allowed from the event"

Isn't this kind of conflict pretty much guaranteed then?

From http://startupweekend.org/about/firsttimer/:

> "How do teams address the issue of IP/ownership? As with any startup, the team decides. Startup Weekend doesn’t support or take part in the signing of any legal documents at the events themselves, and while Mentors with legal backgrounds are often present and able to give general advice, they are not permitted to give specific legal counsel.While it doesn’t hurt to be clear about your individual expectations from the start, we’ve found that teams who don’t spend time addressing this issue until it actually matters (i.e., there is a tangible product to have ownership of) are much more productive and successful than those who do."

Oh, but it's more "productive" during the weekend. OK...

> we’ve found that teams who don’t spend time addressing this issue until it actually matters (i.e., there is a tangible product to have ownership of) are much more productive and successful than those who do.

OMG! i was just about to ask what's up with that "no contracts" policy. this is incredible! they should rename to Exploitation Weekend.

0.4% seems like nothing, too. That was very confusing to me.

40 basis points is an insanely large grant for 10-20 hours of work. They wanted 160 bps: 40 per person. At any normal company, you would have to work 4 years to get that amount. If you work at a company as engineer number 1-5, prior to any funding, you might expect 50-300 points, over 4 years, after working for a small salary, and under highly uncertain conditions.

These expectations are ridiculously misaligned and totally unreasonable.

Why exactly would you take 0.5-3% to work for a startup with no money under highly uncertain conditions, when you can take 33-100% of equity to found a startup with no money under highly uncertain conditions?

> Why exactly would you take 0.5-3% to work for a startup with no money under highly uncertain conditions

Because you believe in the team, the idea and the opportunity.

> when you can take 33-100% of equity to found a startup with no money under highly uncertain conditions

Those who can, will.

But this guy wants to do neither. He wants 0.4% for 20 hours, and then he wants to walk away and let someone else build up the value of the company. Assuming his total stake is ~12%, that's equivalent to a demand for a 4 month vesting schedule with no cliff, for what? A weekend?

He doesn't want to found a startup -- he wants to spend one weekend building a shitty prototype. He's not talking about being there when the thing goes live, fixing the broken deployment, troubleshooting the errors -- you know, the actual work which keeps the customers satisfied. He's talking about writing a model one time, and letting someone else take all the risk.

Well, if you can find someone who believes in your idea that nobody will pay for, the opportunity that you can't prove exists, and the team where some folks are taking 90%+ and others are getting 0.5-3%...more power to you. This is why startups find hiring, hard, though. These folks are a.) hard to find and b.) prone to leaving when they realize they're slaving away for virtually nothing.

And IMHO, pretty much everything in this story is set up for failure. This is not how startups get founded. Actual startups get founded by a team working for equal or nearly equal shares, who do all of the work necessary to build something that people want, and then either take funding or use revenues to hire people once they can pay market-rate salaries. Startup Weekend is for meeting people. 0.4% equity deals with no salary are for wasting time on a lot of drama.

> and the team where some folks are taking 90%+ and others are getting 0.5-3%

I'm not sure how you keep missing this key part of the argument: 0.4% over 20 hours. I've italicized the part which I find ridiculous, so that you can better understand where I am placing my emphasis. Him wanting an equal share for an equal amount of work -- no problem. Him wanting to get a full, post-funding engineer's grant for 20 hours: wild overestimation of his own contribution.

I'm missing that point because of this part of your original comment:

> At any normal company, you would have to work 4 years to get that amount. If you work at a company as engineer number 1-5, prior to any funding, you might expect 50-300 points, over 4 years, after working for a small salary, and under highly uncertain conditions.

It's not normal to work 4 years to get 0.5-3% equity, prior to any funding, under highly uncertain conditions. If the company is funded, growing quickly, and paying you market-rate salaries, sure, that might be fair. But if it's just a bunch of guys with an idea, you're pretty crazy to take that deal, and even crazier to keep working on it for 4 years.

It's also not normal to take 0.4% for 20 hours of work, but that's largely because it's pretty crazy to actually expect to start a startup at Startup Weekend. Go use networking events to meet people, and then if you like & trust the people, make a commitment to working with them for a longer period of time for normal founder equity stakes.

> It's not normal to work 4 years to get 0.5-3% equity, prior to any funding, under highly uncertain conditions.

What is that based off of? I've seen that plenty of times to know that it's quite common. I've never seen employees #1-5 being treated like a cofounder, so from my experience, what you're describing is way off base.

> But if it's just a bunch of guys with an idea, you're pretty crazy to take that deal, and even crazier to keep working on it for 4 years.

A bunch of guys who are paying you (admittedly below market). And yeah, if you keep the same salary after 4 years, after multiple rounds raised, after various milestones met, yes you're woefully underpaid.

I know a number of guys (roughly a half dozen startups) that have taken the "Let's get college students to work for us for cheap, or recent grads who are really excited about breaking into the startup scene." Their startups have all failed, without exception. The best outcome was a talent acquisition that netted the founders slightly less than they would've made working for Google over that time period (they were both ex-Googlers).

I also know 2 guys who have exited for ~$80-110M after taking $5-7M in funding, plus the founder of a unicorn who once asked me if I was interested in being employee #2. They all followed the same pattern: the founders built the initial product, they found customers willing to use it, they got funding, and then they hired people. (For completeness, I know an additional half dozen or so people that have followed the same pattern without success, usually getting absorbed back into a big company or other startup that's already gotten funding.)

A dozen data points isn't a statistical survey, but I know which strategy I'd rather follow (and am following).

There's a big seedy underworld in the startup scene that's filled with people working on bad ideas, with minimal funding or just their own savings & credit card loans, who try to get anyone they can to work with them for really cheap rates and small equity promises. Usually these startups end in drama, as they go belly-up and people realize they've spent years being underpaid. If you'd like to be a part of this scene, more power to you, but I'd rather steer clear.

If you want the argument-from-authority perspective, here's Sam Altman:


I think we're talking past each other at this point. I've seen enough deals happen (I used to work in VC) to know that nobody pays the first employees 40 basis points for weekend. Teams cofounding a company together is a different situation, and that's not what we're talking about here. I've consistently been making the point that expecting a 0.4% chunk of a company for building a first prototype is delusional. Your stories of people agreeing to start companies together and waiting until they find P/M fit before they hire up are all great and agreeable, but totally non-sequitur.

I think 0.4% was just for the weekend worth of work. Like just think of it as everybody vested that much over the weekend so the company still had 96.4% unvested equity with very unclear ownership. That makes it seem a little more reasonable although not any less confusing.

Here's how I understand it. OP's buddy proposed the 0.4%, they ended up with 5 members in the team, OP, 3 other engineers and the guy who pitched the idea and is depicted as the asshole fitness biz guy (Billy), so 2% of the ownership of the startup the idea would potentially evolve into would end up in the hands of these initial team members regardless of who runs the startup.

i.e. if after the weekend 4 members said 'that was fun, now let's go home', and 1 member said 'oh guys, can I use all the code and make it into a company?', then the other 4 guys would each have 0.4% ownership in that company even if they didn't put in any money or any time beyond the weekend, on the basis of their work that weekend. I think that's a sensible idea: 0.4% is not a lot, but it's a weekend of work, and if the startup ends up worth $10m or $100m then it's a nice kickback for a weekend's work. If it ends up being worth nothing, no biggie, after all you just worked there a weekend and didn't do anything after to make it a success.

In short, the 0.4% is a reward for anyone who decides 'I don't want to be part of the process of continuing this idea, but I want a small reward relative to what the idea I helped initialise could one day be worth'.

The issue is that when it's all said and done, the process to decide who'd want to turn this into a startup and who didn't looks to have been really authoritarian. One person turns it into a company and splits it 50/50 with a friend of his who wasn't even part of the startup team, and then declares himself to be the owner and leader of the gig which is absolutely ridiculous. A fair process would either be 'alright let's sit together as equals, decide on how we launch the startup, who becomes the leader, equity, salary etc, and anyone who isn't interested gets the 0.4% regardless'. Instead it was 'I'm the leader, I'm half the owner, the other half is someone you've never met, you can still be part of the startup but it's under my conditions and if you don't like it you can have the 0.4%'.

In short I can see the problem OP has with this, added to implications that Billy was being a condescending asshole.

Fact of the matter is however that (1) OP and the team can decide to use the code and run a similar project themselves if they want and iterate on it faster than Billy ever could given the former have all the expertise of not just development but the codebase as well and (2) if they were never interested in that, they'd still get 0.4% of Billy's venture (as long as the handshake deal is upheld i.e. which didn't seem to be put into question).

I think the handshake deal was sensible and I see absolutely no legal basis for Billy to be able to appropriate the work exclusively to his startup. In short I think OP had the power, met an asshole, still has the power. They still have just as much right to the work, still can run a startup without Billy and still can own 0.4% of Billy's venture.

edit: they ended up with a team of 9, billy and likely 8 devs, rather than 5, billy and 4 devs. Can't be bothered to adjust the percentages etc but the same story applies.

Billy ended the weekend co-owning the codebase with 8 other partners. Absent any pre-existing business agreement (forbidden by the competition rules), the future disposition of that codebase requires unanimous assent of all 9 owners. No single member can use any of it without permission from all the others.

If Billy already was 50/50 owner with another person on a completely unrelated LLC, it would have to license/purchase the code from the entire group of 9 to use it. As the 0.4% deal was agreed to at the start, it is unlikely that licensing/purchase agreement would be accepted without including that provision.

Ideally, each member of the team (including Billy), gets a 1/9th split of the prize winnings. Billy-the-LLC buys the code from Billy-the-team-member at a reasonable price, and each member gets 1/9th of that. Additionally, Billy has to grant each other team member 0.4% ownership stake in his LLC, or they never agree to sell their code.

The team members, of course, surely realize that 0.4% is going nowhere if Billy is trying to run a tech-based business without respecting the nerds, so they might just sell it right back to him while he is still full of himself, and before he realizes that he is dead in the water when the first customer makes its first feature request.

The end result is that the 8 nerds get a nice paycheck for one weekend, and Billy gets a stale codebase that he can still monetize through excessive schmoozy salesmanship. It should be a win-win. The only hitch seems to be that Billy seems to think his LLC already owns the code, rather than his informal partnership-of-nine.

I've always had the impression that whoever writes the code owns it, unless there are agreements in place that say otherwise. If Billy didn't create the codebase, and never contributed to it, does he still have partial ownership of it?

The writers of the code do own it. Clearly, a team was formed for the purposes of submitting an entry into a competition. Since they intentionally commingled their efforts, they own it as a partnership rather than as individuals.

Each one of them owns the whole code. If they want to do anything with it outside the existing nine, they need all nine signatures on the agreement. For practical purposes, that means Billy does not have much leverage. He needs to get all 8 of his partners to cooperate, and none of them need him in the slightest.

If he chose to block any partnership agreement, they could just reconvene as a partnership-of-8, and spend another weekend re-creating a better codebase from scratch. He would be left with nothing. The reasons they would not do that are because the idea itself is rather lame and unoriginal, they could probably come up with something better on their own, and having proved themselves as a team, they might want to try something new anyway.

I agree in a normal or typical context, but the 0.4% thing muddies the water a bit and it makes me wonder if Bobby is telling the whole story.

The 0.4% proposal that was agreed on implies to me that they may have known that Billy was interested in turning this into a company and that before-hand they'd agree that each member has a 0.4% stake in whatever venture comes out of the work they do that weekend regardless of who uses it.

Why else strike such an agreement? Without this proposal, naturally every member would have a 100% / n share if they formed a company out of the team, and no single member could, as you describe it in your post, simply appropriate all the work without consent of the rest of the team. The 0.4% suggests that one member wanted to start a team before-hand, the rest didn't, but that this would be their compensation for the weekend of work regardless of who ended up using the weekend's resulting work.

Again this is all just speculation, but I'm having a hard time understanding a potential rationale for the 0.4% proposal, which was a developer's proposal of OP's friend, not Billy's idea to do a bait and switch or exploit the devs.

> If Billy didn't create the codebase, and never contributed to it, does he still have partial ownership of it?

I would say so yes, but only insofar as him being a part of the team. Some members of that team wrote code for that team's goals, not on their own in private hours for their own goals. Therefore the code is owned by the team which Billy is a part of.

That also means that all the sales contracts Billy landed or they pitch they did, is also owned by the devs.

That would indeed suggest however that Billy going off on his own creating a 50/50 with someone else, using the team's work, is like Eric Schmidt (supposing hypothetically for a moment he was a business-oriented member of the pre-Google team on day 1) taking page rank and starting a new company, i.e. total bs that wouldn't hold up in court.

The whole 0.4% thing muddies the waters. It may be interpreted to say that whoever uses the produce of the team's weekend work, must give 0.4% of their venture to the rest as a reward, and having given that reward, no other remuneration is necessary to use whatever the team came up with that weekend. That makes sense in the context of a single startup arising out of this deal, or even competing ventures who both use the software and each award each member 0.4% in their respective ventures, it starts to fall apart when you look at the non-software stuff, i.e. who can appropriate the sales contracts, the logo etc which can't simply be used by two companies. It's a muddy deal that could probably go either way in the courts, which is why Billy's move is so asshole-y and why Bobby probably wanted to wipe his hands of it right away, forfeiting a 0.4% for real other reason other than wanting to disassociate and taking his $200 in the prize share he has a right to regardless.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer so what makes legal sense to me is pretty meaningless :)

> 0.4% is not a lot, but it's a weekend of work, and if the startup ends up worth $10m or $100m then it's a nice kickback for a weekend's work. If it ends up being worth nothing, no biggie, after all you just worked there a weekend and didn't do anything after to make it a success.

How can you say this with a straight face? A $100M company takes years to build. You think in 2020, if these guys walk away from the table with $400k each for ~20 hours of work they did in 2015, that's reasonable? That grant would be bigger than anything any subsequent engineer would earn, and it's beyond dubious to think the contribution of this guy -- who's patting himself on the back for figuring out a CRM schema -- is worth more than the guy who stays for 4 years and actually helps brings the product to maturity and exit.

In reality, each of these guys did at most $1,000 of work. If you wanted to express it as equity, they're off by at least one decimal place. Them coming away in 2020 with ~$20-40k is a much more reasonable valuation of their contribution.

> A $100M company takes years to build. You think in 2020, if these guys walk away from the table with $400k each for ~20 hours of work they did in 2015, that's reasonable?


It's a lottery ticket with less than a million-to-one odds. The expected value of the hypothetical payout is arguably lower than 20 hours of contract work.

Ok -- at 40 bps per 20 hours, assuming that their total stake is ~12% (there's 8 of them dividing the whole pie) their vesting schedule is a little short of four months.

There's a lot of big talk on HN about being a tough guy negotiator, earning your keep in this harsh Darwinian landscape, looking out for number one, etc. I'd like to meet the person who's negotiated a 4 month vesting schedule with no cliff.

Once you put actual numbers to the proposition, it's instantly obvious that these badass negotiators are suddenly full of shit. Reminds me of being elementary school recess, where everyone's dad was the strongest man in the world, and this one time he picked up a car and lifted it over his head.

That grant would be bigger than anything any subsequent engineer would earn, and it's beyond dubious to think the contribution of this guy -- who's patting himself on the back for figuring out a CRM schema -- is worth more than the guy who stays for 4 years and actually helps brings the product to maturity and exit.

If I've learned anything since I got out of graduate school, it's this: what you're "worth," what you "deserve," are meaningless concepts. You get what you negotiate, no more and no less.

Someone who thinks that 40 beeps for the founding team is too much probably shouldn't invest in this startup. For me, if I thought that the company would be worth $100M in five years, the $1.6M the SW team would be getting would be the least of my concerns, well behind 'how do I get in on this?'

> Someone who thinks that 40 beeps for the founding team

Not the founding team. Some guys who contributed 10-20 hours one time.

> For me, if I thought that the company would be worth $100M in five years, the $1.6M the SW team would be getting would be the least of my concerns, well behind 'how do I get in on this?'

Nobody would be complaining about how difficult fundraising is if investors were all so amenable.

Not the founding team. Some guys who contributed 10-20 hours one time.

The guys who built the MVP.

You've posted this all over the thread and I don't understand it.

It doesn't matter what you or I think of 0.4%. They all agreed to 0.4%. Either that agreement is honored, or all IP remains with its creator--and Bobby takes his code and goes home.

I have a feeling this will be downvoted like hell but objectively speaking, if this Billy guy really wanted to, couldn't he just drop the software and let these "teammates" do whatever they want with it, and hire another developer and start from scratch? I'm saying this because I don't believe there's much value in some software built over a weekend which doesn't have any users yet. (Maybe it does but the users probably came and will come from this Billy guy's sales and marketing due to his expertise). Compare this with for example GroupMe, which is a pure consumer app, which blew up over a hackathon weekend. In this case it was the app (which was built by the team members) that brought users. If one of the founders wanted to go build another groupme clone after the event, he could, but it wouldn't get enough users anyway that way. I am not saying I am rooting for this Billy. He's an asshole and everyone knows that. I'm saying this Bobby guy is not so much better either. I couldn't help feel disgusted reading the entire passive aggressive thread, plus the fact that he posted this on Medium in an attempt to "bully" Billy.

Billy had 18 months, 18 months to work on the idea. Obviously he couldn't find designers/coders/PM for the cheap to build it so he went with the bait-and-switch route. I can almost imagine the conversations he had giggling with his partner as the 'fuxxing nerds' were pounding away on the keyboards.

Like, "oh my these stupid fuxxing nerds. They may know code but they don't know shxt about business and using people."

I prefer passive aggressive over passive passive (aka slave).

If the story is true, Billy deserves the 'bullying'. Did you read the shxt he tried to pull on the coders?

"I had the idea for 18 months and filed for LLC, so I own it." Really?

Yes, I think your comment deserves a downvote...

As opposed to "I showed up and worked 20 hours on your idea, so I own it." ?

I can't see either side being 'right' here.

Bobby never said he owned it. He didn't have hidden agendas going into the competition.

Billy says he owns it. Billy did have a hidden agenda.

Bobby at least owns a lot more than 0.04% of the company.

Had Billy hired the coders to do the work and say I own the company, I have no problem with that. But here, Billy tricks people to work on a project without fully disclosing his intention for virtually free, and than he claims he owns the company.

It's pretty clear who's wrong and who's right.

You're probably right, but remember that we are only hearing the story from Bobby's side.

Unless Bobby has fabricated the emails and slack conversations (and there are 8 other people in the world who would be able to refute them if they were fabricated), I think we've heard it, at least partially, from Billy's side, as well. What has been included is more than damning enough; the email detailing "ownership" is all I need to see, given the terms of Startup Weekend (which are easily verifiable by looking at the website).

Billy came into the weekend with the intention to commit fraud on Startup Weekend and on any developers he could sucker into working with him.

A side replete with evidence from emails and chats.

It's like people have forgotten that we've got a lot easily-recordable evidence these days.

The only problem is that Bobby doesn't provide and emails and slack conversations until after things started to go sideways.

It's like people have forgotten that anyone can cherry-pick evidence to put themselves in the best light.

A fool and his code are soon parted. Sad but true.

I said "I am not saying I am rooting for this Billy. He's an asshole and everyone knows that". Please read the entire comment before going on a rant and a downvote for something we agree on.

One of my college roommates was the tech for a student startup that had worked on getting off the ground for a while. He was like the 3rd or 4th guy to take over tech as previous people left. The founders weren't bad people, they just didn't understand the tech side of a tech startup.

Give people like that enough failure with engineers they try to onboard, mix in a little ethical fluidity, and after a while they'll see no distinction between dedicated teammates and expendable assets who will fold before putting in the "hustle" for "your" vision.

I was in the winning team in SW once and another time in the second team. Story is very familiar. I think the key takeaway is that you should never take SW seriously. Hackathons are not the way the startups are built. It's not a real team and it's not a real startup. That's why Billy character here is wrong. If you have a real business idea and serious plans don't pitch your project in SW. In an hackathon, every team member should have the equal rights on the project, regardless of their contribution level. Just have fun during the weekend, share the prizes equally if you win. And after the weekend, just throw away all the code, the brand identity or any other IP. If some of the team members want to further pursuit the idea, they are free to do whatever they want starting from scratch. If you want to make a handshake deal before start, agree on these principals. I know its hard to think like that with all the adrenaline in your blood but this is the only way it would work out. So I think the 0.4% deal at the beginning was the first sign that this story won't turn out so well.

"Hackathons are not the way the startups are built. It's not a real team and it's not a real startup. "

I could not agree more. It's a curse of the Silicon Valley mentality; anything can be hacked together in a weekend!

In real life, businesses aren't built with a bunch of random personalities thrown in a room, cobbling an idea together for a weekend. It demonstrates how much value SV places on "code" over "business".

Just as the restaurant owner sounds like he has a tendency to take credit for more than he actually did, the software engineers here sound as if they have an irrational belief in the importance of their own contribution relative to that of others. And an ego problem. "A dream team of developers"? It's 2015 and you built a simple website in Python.

Both sides in this story need to grow up if any of them ever want to launch a successful business.

Do you understand how hard it is for an 'idea guy' to recruit a technical team? There's a wonderful Dilbert where the boss says "I have a great idea; I just need a technical team and investors". Alice replies "The economic term for what you have is 'nothing'"

>"Do you understand how hard it is for an 'idea guy' to recruit a technical team?"

I just read an article where a guy walked into a Hackathon and convinced a dream team to build his app, for free. The "ideas are worthless, execution is everything" is a curse. It's perpetuated by "technical" people to assert their value. The truth is both the idea and execution are extremely valuable. Don't believe it? Go look at all the beautiful apps in the app store that make nothing. Execution of terrible ideas.

It isn't difficult to recruit a technical team. Like it or not, with a good idea it hardly takes a "Python Dream Team" like in the article to get something done. Most applications aren't pushing technical boundaries. What it takes is money.

You know what is difficult? Convincing your banker to give you that money. That takes an idea and sales skills (both of which, apparently, Billy had).

That is a succinct validation of that 'curse'. App store full of beautiful, worthless apps? Because nobody can tell which idea is a good one. Thus, marginal value of 'idea' is pretty near zero.

Go to any 'meetup', its almost all 'idea people' and no tech talent. That means, its very hard to find that talent.

It doesn't take a 'dream team', no, but it does take some team at all. To get that, you have to convince Engineers your idea is good. Almost as hard as convincing the money men.

So lets reword: its hard to get the money, and hard to recruit the talent. That leaves the ideas, which are a dime a dozen. Clear?

>"Because nobody can tell which idea is a good one.

Maybe because none of them are?

Again, you're assuming that these are all "great ideas", that just can't be discovered. I'm claiming the opposite. Go grab an app at random. I'll bet you it's an attractive, functional app that's utterly pointless. Thousands of people have executed their terrible ideas.

>you have to convince Engineers your idea is good

Exactly. The idea is important. As is the execution.

>That leaves the ideas, which are a dime a dozen. Clear?

Ideas are a dime a dozen. So are technical people. Good ideas are not, just as good technical people are not.

If I were starting a business, I'd take a great idea and random technical people over great technical people and a completely random idea.

> Do you understand how hard it is for an 'idea guy' to recruit a technical team?

Not hard at all. The first one takes time because you have to be really careful, from then on it's just a matter of contacting a recruiter and specifying exactly what you want, interviewing and making offers that are at market rates.

Investors are much, much harder.

> Do you understand how hard it is for an 'idea guy' to recruit a technical team?

It's really easy. You pay them.

Which is the crux of the issue here; Startup Weekends aren't meant as places to get/recruit cheap/free labor, so when they are used in that way, bad feelings happen.

Agreed. OP should have seen this coming from a mile away but instead he got tricked into doing a weekend of freelance work.

the author might want to tone down the pretentious comments about ruling the world. sorry, but world rulers don't get screwed like this.

although i believe that the Billy guy is a jerk (but no, BTW, does not really seem a bully), i kinda had a harder time sympathizing when comparisons with google started flying, while what they were developing was a seemingly usual web app, whose only distinction was the actual business idea, and even that was not original. and why enter into something like this with unknown people, sacrifice family time, work like an ass day and night, all without any contract - i'll never get that. the whole event is simply preposterous.

Neither side made their expectations clear at the beginning. I can't find either blameless. I also don't believe that engineering is the most important factor for the kind of product being described. For what the author calls "secrets", yes. Early Google was just so much better than the competition that it won. However, a lot of tech history shows that marketing trumps tech in many cases. Windows wasn't technically superior to OS/2 for example.

Honestly, the OP is trying to be a bit ingenious trying to push the example of PageRank into the argument. Google's core advantage is its tech. The PageRank algorithm was so much better than anyone else on the market that it was bound to win.

In this case, there is no real innovative, patent-worthy tech. It's just an idea with some very basic tech any developer worth his salt can put together in months if not weeks.

I see this all the time: developers confuse pure tech companies (like Google or SpaceX) with tech-supported companies.

Oh no, again this PageRank myth.

Google won, because it was fastest and had good links.

Fastest was more important than better links. How did they get faster than their competitors? They bought cheap servers all over to beat the transportation times to the clients. Also their page was smaller, not overloaded, so the results could be presented faster.

Their bot was also more aggressive. A more aggressive bot contributes more to the link quality than the algorithm, because you get deeper and new stuff more timely. People are searching for new stuff.

That's how Google won. Not because of PageRank alone. PageRank was a contributing factor. But renting out cheap servers in every datacenter out there and keeping the page small and fast and dealing with the consequences of cheap servers (HD fails, fallbacks, ...) was more important.

Eh, I remember the early days of Google, their results really were a LOT better than the existing competition (AltaVista? other?). Whether that was mostly due to the PageRank 'secret' or not, I couldn't say (and we all know at this point Google's relevance algorithms are orders of magnitude more complex than a 'PageRank secret'), but people didn't just start using Google because it was fast, but because they found what they were looking for much better than in existing solutions. In my memory.

That's absolutely correct. AltaVista wasn't slow (until they filled their page with garbage; they were originally as minimal as Google), but you'd have to hunt through pages and pages and pages of results. Google usually found what you were looking for right away. This is what I remember from 1999 - I had been using AltaVista as my primary search engine for several years, and once I found Google I started using it almost exclusively because it was so much better.

Speed was certainly a factor. I remember I used to use a desktop application[1] for web searching, and after using a little while always noticed how the results from google were returning about 30 seconds before any of the other results.

It wasn't long before I dropped that application and just used google, I wasn't waiting around for any of the other results anyway.

[1] Copernic - Long since pivoted into desktop search

Another reason Google won was because their minimal page. People like me, who was managing large corp networks in the latter half of the 90s set Google as the default home page for all machines because yahoo was (is) a hideous pile of shit as a main landing page.

This helped get users used to google as it was the first page on every machine I had control of as it manager...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't they start off with custom servers? I read somewhere that Page made a server stand out of Lego...

I think you missed the point. He said that the starting idea was not important, and made examples of actually important starting ideas (page rank). His point is that the execution mattered way more, given that the idea was not really mind blowing.

"Windows wasn't technically superior to OS/2 for example."

Windows required less resources to run and that made it "superior" in mass availability.

Bobby needs to learn how to deal with people in a productive and non-passive-aggressive fashion. If you got fucked over, it's through your own doing.

The "we are the nerds, we built the blah blah" is terribly cringey. Awful stuff. There's no reason that a 'nerd' can't have an interpersonal and business acumen.

I've no idea what the licensing agreement was before they sat down to write the code, but if it was as informal as the handshake-that-wasn't, I'm gonna put forward the following idea:

By default, code belongs to the author of that code. Unless another agreement is in place, Bobby owns his own contributions to that project.

With that thought, the potential outcomes of this become a little clearer.

If no contracts were signed, I wonder if that would be the default, anyways. If it were to go to court, the absence of a contract would signify that no change of ownership has occurred, and since the work was done for free, there would be no implicit agreement of work-for-hire. Therefore, deciding ownership would be a simple (ha!) matter of examining the commit logs.

I was in a business (music publishing) for a number of years that dealt heavily with copyright law, but IANAL, so I could be way off here.

Right. If we have no written agreement beforehand, and I'm not getting paid, then you have no right to my work. I'd have told Billy to go pound sand.

2 questions:

1) Pre-weekend: why would you only accept 0.4% equity? Given there was nothing but the idea the company was worthless. So why wouldn't the guys building it demand a much higher slice?

2) Post-weekend: given the company was basically just the code at this point, the devs could have just said "no" to this guy and set up their own company. Why wouldn't they have done that?

1) Because it was just one weekend of work. Not everyone might continue working on/at the startup after the initial weekend. Would be weird if a fifth of your startup is owned by some guy who helped out one weekend, even if that weekend was the very first weekend. 2) They totally could, and Bobby did, right? There is the question of IP though. What parts of the IP are of Billy's LLC? I'd agree that the code made that weekend is not, it's bound under whatever the team agreed to. But the idea of the company might really be Billy's, even if that conflicts with the competitions rules or spirit a judge would still have to rule on that.

Dick move by Billy, but the end result is only a wasted weekend.

Serious question- does the team then negotiate new terms after the weekend for those that do want to stay on-board? Who holds the 98.4% in the meantime?

The impression I got was that the 0.4% was a guarantee for what you walk away with. If you stayed you would work out ownership of the whole thing with the rest of those who stayed to build the new startup.

Yes, Billy states this as well in his email.


That email from Billy seems pretty reasonable to me. Not to you guys more familiar with 'Startup Weekend' cultural expectations?

The guy didn't belong in a startup weekend. The team at the weekend is supposed to own/share the results. Not some guy who can't recruit engineers and uses startup weekend to defraud the real talent to promote himself.

1) Fine - so in that case as a dev I would ask that the devs start out with 50% which gets vested over time

Daily vesting schedule :P

It was a web application in Python. It was at a startup weekend. It was 2-3 days of work. Can we let it go? Do we have to go to the internet to post about it with screenshots of chatlogs and all?

I feel so awkward reading this post.

You're NOT being fair at all in saying, "It was [just] 2-3 days of work."

Why disregard the full scope of opportunity costs the author mentions?

He's not banking on a lucrative outcome. He's sacrificing time with the family AND rest on the weekend. Now, multiply that by the size of the team.

Taking what the author says at face value, he got stuck with a duplicitous character who single-handedly dragged a team into violation of the hackathon's terms. The event explicitly asked for relevant disclosures.

As others mention too, his documentation's a valuable urge to caution.

If you never prosecute the small crimes, people will start committing them more often.

(To be clear, it would also be a failure mode to always prosecute the small crimes.)

You feel awkward because it's uncouth to talk about this kind of thing in public.

Unless it's spoken about publicly, this kind of thing will just keep happening. Which is why it was made uncouth in the first place. If everyone has to learn the hard way, there are more warm bodies pumping through the system.

I want more people to understand what they could be getting into when they enter into events like this. So what it if requires a bit of akwardness to get there?

I'm going to add this up see how much little scratch we are talking about. 8 developers at let's say a $60 dollar rate 60840 = 19,200

Now lets take into account that they put a contract of equity at the start so they are also 0.4% of equity owed of that company to each one.

Last but not least it kinda ruined the experience over the weekend.

think you're missing the point. whether it was cringeworthy or not, it's a lesson in learning to stand up for the software you've written and the rights you may have. just because it's not a 100 million dollar business doesn't mean you can't take anything away from this

Sorry you had a bad experience on the weekend. I've been a volunteer for 4 years so I have seen all permutations of teams that come to startup weekend (been to at least 30 events).

People who come to SW and look at is as a free way to get something built for their startup are not the target. It makes it a bit predatory and you get the reactions that you experienced. I try to warn people of this but some folks have their own ideas.

Coming with a team already formed also isn't ideal. The point of the weekend is not to start a company, its to work alongside other people and go through the exercise. With that mindset, you won't be disappointed when you "lose" but you'll gain some experience and grow your network. Thats the main point of going to the event.

If someone already is thinking about equity and contracts while doing a SW, run the other way. Its the wrong attitude for starting a company in general and in my experience generally ends up badly as they focus on the wrong things at the wrong times in other ways as well.

I went to a SW just as a developer, and the first few teams I talked to already had their MVP and were essentially feigning that they were a new idea. Basically just wanted some free labour for the weekend...

Ended up making a team with nothing but devs and we built a silly hardware prototype. We ended up winning, then stuck with our day jobs. We were all taken our of our comfort zone, would definitely recommend SW despite the few that try to take advantage of it.

As a shy dude who just writes code all day, it basically forced me to become a better communicator.

I went to the same SW as the one mentioned in this post. Our team ended up being almost all devs and 1 biz guy where we created a way to edit neural networks with a web interface, a.k.a. no potential business/profitability. We had a lot of fun (got an honorable mention) and I got to network with some people, basically what I think to be the goal of a SW.

P.S. It was pretty obvious that Billy was looking for cheap devs when he gave his pitch. The warning flags were there if you talked to him 1-on-1 at all.

Sucks that people were doing that but its good to hear that you had a good experience.

I've been a volunteer for 4 years

It makes it a bit predatory

So, what are you doing about it? I'm not trying to sound accusatory in asking you, but from my position you risk losing the attitudes towards the weekend that enable a culture where people collaborate instead of just showing up to find cheap labor.

All the hungry guys at "hackathons," "jams" and whatever else they're called have slowly put me off from participation in anything but work weekends at a hackerspace full of existing friends.

I handle it by speaking about it at the events that I facilitate and speaking directly to the folks who are behaving outside of the parameters of what the weekend is about.

This type of situation is pretty rare for me, though as on average theres probably one group out of 20 at the events I go to who have this type of setup/issue.

I think SW's stance on contracts is hugely short-sighted.

SW should require that teams sign a (written) contract laying out who owns what at the end of the weekend, and offer several templates to keep the process painless.

You could even just put something into the FAQ saying "if no contract is signed, then all team members acknowledge that each member owns all IP he or she produces, following United States copyright law."

But "don't think about equity and contracts, just code" is exactly the attitude that leads to lawsuits, hurt feelings, and people taking advantage of each other.

Contracts are not a red flag, they are a way to avoid assumptions and assure that everyone gets a fair deal. Avoidance of contracts on the other hand is a massive indicator of either ignorance or bad intentions.

Its not ignorance or bad intentions. Its not a startup factory, its a fun weekend to push yourself and learn some skills. Stories like these get voted up on HN but they are not the norm in my experience.

With Techstars now being involved, I can see them putting in more clear language about what the outcome of the weekend is as there will always be people who miss the point.

"Its not a startup factory, its a fun weekend to push yourself and learn some skills."

Then... don't call it "startup weekend". Call it "hacking weekend" or something like that. "Startup weekend", as a name, carries certain connotations.

I completely understand, but reading and signing a simple contract takes 5 minutes. Preventing (yes, rare!) cases like this is worth the small overhead, IMO.

Your comment makes me think that startup weekend runners should be more aggressive about preventing people like Billy from participating - those who think they already have a company, or an idea, or ownership of something.

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