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“A tale of lies and deceit” – GrabGas CTO let go by founders (julianee.com)
87 points by visakanv on Aug 26, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

It's just that you are unlucky to bump into pyshopaths. They suck up your energy slowly until you are too late to realize. It's a lesson that everyone should be aware of. I'm glad that you jumped the boat quickly.

If the author's reading this, it sounds like you're fairly early in your career and learned a tough business lesson the hard way. Not to downplay what went down, but take solace in the fact that you have a set of hard skills that will earn you lots of money over the course of your career; the others in the story obviously don't have this. The best way to get revenge when you're screwed over by someone is to keep pushing forward and accomplish greater things than what you lost. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, this attitude is almost a requirement considering the endless setbacks you'll face. Best of luck going forward!

People talking about getting ink need to focus a little more on the underlying issue, the gas-lighting of greedy "founders". My employment contract & bonus contract had to all be walked out on as it was all predicated on my CEO being trustworthy. I recently met up with several other employees who didn't get paid for the end of their contracts either. The thing we liked most about talking was figuring out it definitely wasn't our problem.

> If the author's reading this, it sounds like you're fairly early in your career and learned a tough business lesson the hard way

Yeah. Second that. Experience is good. Knowing what it all actually looks like, the phrases, the mannerisms, is very valuable. You can take bigger risks when you know how the terrain rolls.

As an example of my senses getting more developed, recently I talked to a "CEO" of some startup I was interviewing and asked about someone else I liked who I knew at the company from earlier. Check this out:

"Oh, yeah [person] is really great...blah blah blah."

"So how is [person] doing?"

"Oh, well, they decided they wanted to do something else...blah blah blah."

Complete total waste of time was brewing if I didn't probe into the non-specific answer that artfully implied that [person] hadn't left the company and was soon part of my awesome team. I would have at the least researched them more. When you have to waste time on things like this, it makes getting where you want to be way harder and makes it harder to justify risks.

"My employment contract & bonus contract had to all be walked out on as it was all predicated on my CEO being trustworthy." In what way was it predicated on your CEO? A CEO can't simply decide to not honour a written and signed legal document, without risking a court case (the onus is on you to go after what is rightfully yours).

Learning to navigate human interaction in business (and make no mistake, a employee/employer relationship is a business transaction) is a skill needed in any industry. These kinds of things are not new, in this industry or any other.

Unless you have a large pot of money to spend on litigation (or the amount of the contract falls inside the limit for small claims), all contracts amount to trust. The cost of fighting a legal battle is enormous, and mid-sized to large businesses can fight battles of attrition in court.

Indeed, unless substantial amounts of money from a client who can pay are involved (think Brian Reid (!) who was let go from Google 9 days before their IPO because he was too old: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Reid_(computer_scientist... ), contracts only serve to memorialize decision and promises, they help avoid "but I thought you meant X" retrospective flaky human memory.

Settled out of court for undisclosed terms? Sounds like Reid really made out well then?

That's my impression.

The optics were horrible, it sounds like he had a fairly strong case, and for those of us who knew of him starting from his works like Scribe way way back when, well, we're inclined to believe his story.

All we know is that Google made an offer he and his lawyer chose not to refuse, but as long as they thought they were going to win in court before a jury and all that, it had to have been generous, although I'd imagine it wasn't as generous as his original ability to to participate in the IPO and beyond.

They can lie about having the means to fulfill the contract or any basis to pay damages etc. CEO is a good job to lie from. You can always complain that your employees should have made you filthy rich so that you could fulfill your promises.

One reason I quit was that all of the mounting promises were predicated on me in the end. If that's true, go alone instead of giving yourself bread through a middle-man.

Rule #1 of freelancing: If there's anything you definitely want (i.e. money) then always get it in writing beforehand.

Some people will make it deliberately hard for you to get things in writing - these people are looking to screw you over.

If you are a nice guy it's sometimes hard to understand that other (usually more wealthy) people would exploit you. However, the sad fact is some people's default position is to try and exploit others.

On the plus side, sounds like you have some real skills, just needs to be more formal when selling them.

Never ever trust non technical founders. They usually don't have as highly marketable skills as you do. They live by fleecing programmers for the most part. The few that are worth something will be honest because they have marketable skills. The rest are hucksters and snake oil salesmen. They are good at seducing naive people into working for free. Then they steal your labor.

Always get your deals in paper, up front.

These guys will not succeed in the long run.

By the way, if you did not sign an employment agreement, you as the author own all the software. They don't. You can sue them for using your software. That's the case in the US.

TL;DR: Always have a written employment agreement before beginning work.

> TL;DR: Always have a written employment agreement before beginning work.

Funny thing about that is it's true for the company too. Sounds like he took all the "tech" with him and now they don't have the code for their own platform.

Not under US law. I am guessing this wasn't the US. Oral contract is still binding. Given there is evidence he did the work for no money a judge could reasonably determine that he did agree to equity compensation.

What rayiner said, plus I will point out that the other major point of written contracts is to force a "meeting of the minds." Basically, when someone offers you "significant equity" did they mean 1% or 10%? Is there vesting? On what schedule?

Without this and other critical information in writing, there is a huge chance you have totally different understandings of what the other party had in mind. This isn't to say they are trying to screw you, simply that there are ranges of "normal" for all of the important bits usually governed by an employment contract. If you don't have it in writing, your best hope is that yet another party (a judge) will impose her understanding of the terms. Not what you want.

A written agreement can help ensure that the dispute never even gets before a judge.

Oral contracts are only binding if you can prove it happened, and even then not always. In the absence of a detailed written contract on the IP, the OP still owns it. Personally, I'd have probably let it roll a little longer and used that for leverage to get what was promised, but I don't blame him for walking away. It's a pretty good bet he figured out what the original tech guy already knew.

Oral agreements are legally binding as well here in Iceland, but good luck trying to have word-against-word stand up in court.

It appears this was in Malaysia.

And make sure you understand it and it's implications. (aka, expiring options etc)

Sounds great, but how many people even have this as an option? Admittedly it's a bit different when we're talking about CTO roles, but still.

Everyone? Why would you not have one? If you're cofounders shooting ideas, just write down what you've agreed on a napkin at least before writing code.

If you're joining as an employee, even more reason to have an agreement in place, for both parties protection. Otherwise the code you write doesn't even belong to the company, as shown in this case.

…or grow muscles and use it when needed.

Sooo he did not talk terms, he did not sign anything, and now he is complaining? Sad to break it to you buddy, but the real world is not fair game, and you got played.

and you're victim blaming. He already learned this lesson. He doesn't need it pointed out that it's his own fault.

By the tone you take with your statement, you're saying it's okay to exploit people this way. It's not. Period.

I think a lot of the small startups, if you start talking legal, signing things, creating contracts etc will get scared or annoyed that your taking control.

Maybe that's a sign not to join though.

A lot of them do get this way, and it is a sign not to join.

Unfortunately, when enough people wriggle, the founders get their act together and stop behaving that way when they really know they need someone and can't do it alone... by which time, they get someone else that didn't have to fight to get things done right and you missed out because the timing was wrong. So it's a bit of a double edged sword in that respect.

You mean the (often) same company that will insist that you sign an NDA lest you steal their ground-breaking, change-the-world idea?

But you have to. In many countries, the copyright sticks with the author unless there's an agreement that says otherwise. Normally, that is part of an employment or consulting agreement.

Further, if he was an employee, in many countries, it's illegal to work for free or "defer" pay until there's cash in hand. And it sounds unlikely he was a contractor as there is no mention of invoicing or similar.

Getting rights and responsibilities in writing protects everyone involved. And do it before cash and emotions are involved.

If someone burned me for 4 months of my life I would definitely publicly out them. First off it's important to warn other developers to be cautious when working with them in the future, and second because I'd be upset and want to hurt them .

The world is often not kind to people who readily trust others. It's a tough lesson to have to learn. I'm glad to see that this author seems to be dealing with it fairly well.

I understand why he chose to take his side public, too, and I think he's right to have done so. Maybe it'll help someone else avoid getting owned the same way. Maybe, too, it'll encourage the guys who dealt with him in bad faith to behave somewhat more circumspectly next time, lest they further impair their already blemished reputations.

I would like to digress for a moment.

When I read things like the TL;DR of that article I get the feeling the tech industry is full of entitled children who are playing imaginary. No product, no orders, no revenue, no resources... isn't that usually just called no company?

Why do tech "startups" delude themselves into thinking that a group of guys and/or gals is something other than a group of guys and/or gals?

Can you imagine going down to your local shopping plaza, and there is this guy standing outside of an empty building, holding a big cardboard sign that reads:

    This behind me is supposed to
    be my store. It's supposed to
    have groceries and other stuff.
    But, we don't have any money
    or customers, or a store, or
    any groceries. We have a name
    though... and a logo :)
You probably can't imagine seeing that, because that person would be entirely delusional.

All companies, even modest shops in plazas, start as just an idea on someone's head. Some people who have these ideas are delusional and go on to create nothing. But some of them go on to create successful businesses. A few go on to create giant corporations.

There's little harm in indulging people's fantasies a bit. Especially when some of those fantasies will turn into reality. One of the magical things about Silicon Valley is how open people are to this idea. In most other places in the world people's dreams get crushed by cynicism before they ever have a chance to take root.

It's pretty clear in the article that they're in Kuala Lumpur. It's even explicit that the currency values are in RM.

What constitutes a startup?

Because they did have customers and revenue for the service that they offered. They had everything that is part of a business (albeit, a very slow and unprofitable one). They're missing the ability to scale since they had no tech stack to speak of, but their MVP did not really need one.

I think that this startup is based in Malaysia, although the main characters may have been schooled in the US.

Only comfort might be that assholes like this never gets anywhere in life because noone wants to work with them. Sure they got $25k from a acceleration program and $15k from an early investor. But they will burn through that in less then a month. And now they have no product, just an idea, so they own 100% of nothing.

Tech guy sounds naive plus responsible for the outcomes and maybe should just accept lesson learned.

I only read the TLDR but it seems this is exactly what he's done. He's just published his account of what happened and how he felt throughout.

There are lessons there for other naive tech peeps to learn from so it seems a worthy read.

The bonus lesson for the same audience: if you "go public", focus on the general aspects of the events that others may encounter and anonymise/obfuscate the people and company involved so they're not the centrepiece of the story.

Er, while I agree with you (partially), making the company and the situation the centrepiece of the story gives this story distinction from the rest of the "Here is my great business advice that nobody will listen to for the day" pieces that nobody ever reads or takes to heart.

Having the company name, having the situation exactly as it unfolds from the perspective of the guy who got fucked (and I don't use that word lightly) gives this story incredible power in peoples minds. It's real. If you anonymize it, it's just another fluff piece about how to not get screwed in business that gets glossed over and nobody gives a shit about.

The very fact that the company is named is the reason this piece made it to the front page of Hacker News. Without it, it would've slid silently into the night without anyone giving it a second thought.

I see your point. I was thinking that by posting from a personal account, anybody who really wants to find out the company and people involved can do a little digging.

You can burn a bridge with individuals or you can nuke the whole area to the point where other people may not want to work with you in future.

This is true; but on the other hand do you really care if you nuke sociopathic founders that are willing to exploit anyone else they can for their own material gain, screwing over others in the process?

This is not just about treating other people as you wish to be treated yourself, but also holding others accountable for their part in that.

Business is a two way street. Quid pro quo. If you have my back, I will have yours, until death do us part. But if you're willing to callously knife me in the back to get ahead, do I really care if I burn that bridge... or if the fire burns your entire business to the ground in the process?

There are lines that need to be drawn in the sand about how you treat people and treating others honorably as you would want them to treat you is where that line should be - at least, it is in my mind. Clearly this is not the case in some peoples minds.

I'll never understand the callousness some techies have for the less business-savvy of their own kind.

Any time a head-to-desk, business-null developer gets exploited, they say "just desserts", not realizing it weakens the bargaining position of developers as a whole.

Really sad imo.

> Any time a head-to-desk, business-null developer gets exploited, they say "just desserts"

This behaviour from anyone is just a really big black stain on humanity. It's one thing to leverage someone else's work for the gain of all, it's entirely another to totally exploit their good nature and hang them out to dry while you take all the benefit. Business is supposed to be a win-win-win situation not a win-but-screw-everyone-else-over-in-the-process situation.

While I can see that the author was incredibly naive, I can totally understand his naivete, having been burned like this myself in my earlier years. Being burned like this obliterates any trust you have for working with founders on future startups and makes for a potentially toxic working relationship in any similar situation.

Also, I think people's opinions of situations like this really lets their true colors shine through. Those who are victim blaming and shaming the author by pointing out the lack of apparent contract or that he should have known better are really just justifying the abhorrent behavior of the founders who have totally exploited someone else for their own material gain. The personality trait that lets you treat other people like that is sociopathic. Shame on them.

Hey, for what it's worth, I totally agree with you.

Yeah the guy was naive, but also, he's not asking for anything! All these people saying "suck it up and move on"... that's exactly what he did! They seem to be upset that he didn't just go out quietly.

There could be any number of reasons why they show angst over this:

1. They've been burned like this before and didn't have the courage to stand up for what they believed in. The author's standing up for what they believe in throws this in their face.

2. They identify with those that exploit others and feel that their behavior is justifiable because the author "had it coming to him for being so naive."

3. They are happy to accept that this is just the way things are and deal with it rather than rock the boat for the benefit of everyone in it.

4. They perceive this as just another whiner that got screwed and they're sick of listening to it, but rather than do anything about it, they just tell the whiner to stop whining and suck it up.

5. They see this behavior works for co-founders because most victims slope silently away with their tails between their legs and hope that when they model this behavior, their victims will do the same.

I say kudos to the author for writing the piece. It sucks he had to learn that lesson the hard way. I hope things turn around for him going forward.

> Those who are victim blaming and shaming the author by pointing out the lack of apparent contract or that he should have known better are really just justifying the abhorrent behavior of the founders who have totally exploited someone else for their own material gain.

That's a false dichotomy. It's entirely possible to condemn the exploiter while also pointing out where the exploitee made bad decisions.

Analogy: Advice like "Don't insult random strangers" does not justify or excuse physical violence by people who have been insulted.

It's not a false dichotomy at all.

When people's default position is "you should have known better and done better" towards the "exploitee" as you put it without any blame portioned to the exploiter, you're victim blaming, in the exact same way as the girl who got raped "had it coming to her because she should've known better than to walk around downtown dressed that way."

Sure. But naieve? Worked for weeks on the project, but only talked about ownership for what, 3 seconds? That was galactically bad due diligence. Had they asked anybody for advice, that advice would have universally been "You're being played; get something on paper!"

Also, this is HIS side of the story. At that, it doesn't come off favorably.


There's no evidence they didn't mean exactly what they thought they'd said. "Will you be our employee with good stock options?" Name-calling isn't helping here. Its easy to take the side of the technologist here (on HN). I get that.

I'd say the owners also learned a lesson - explain clearly what you mean! Don't leave an employee hanging, wondering if or assuming they will get more than you can give.

And the 'rape' metaphor is inappropriate. We're talking business, which has rules. Its not what you deserve in business, its what you negotiate. That's all.

> Its not what you deserve in business, its what you negotiate. That's all.

Business is a human transaction. It's not about exploitation. It is this sentiment that allows people to justify exploitation of others for their own gain. It's unacceptable.

I tend to agree. It feels to me like crab-bucket thinking; my experience is that a lot of the sneering comes from folks in a similar position, or worse, to the person they're sneering at.

It's very rare (not 'never', there are sociopathic pricks everywhere), in my experience, for someone who's actually been successful to cop this particular 'tude. Probably because they've been there, they know it's difficult, they know it's worth pulling together.

Don't believe anyone says "just desserts"... but think about it this way. If you're learning a new technology and want to get it into production - won't you learn everything around it, even probably things like how to contribute to it, process around bugs, PRs and what not?

This shouldn't be different. If you're getting into a role - especially as a shareholder/founder make sure things are well known and documented (term sheets) and well understood by everyone.

In technology terms what he did sounds like - "a friend told me of this great software and I put it into production w/o any testing and it crashed and burned my entire customer base"...

> If you're learning a new technology and want to get it into production - won't you learn everything around it, even probably things like how to contribute to it, process around bugs, PRs and what not?

There's only so much you can learn -- so far out you can go. This guy built their platform and an app pretty much himself. Give him some credit. I can count on one-hand the number of web developers out there I know that know all of the surrounding technologies related to what they work on.

Talk to most "full stack" developers about Unix sockets and routing protocols and watch their eyes roll back into their heads.

Oh definitely... the poor guy got screwed. No two things about it. He worked hard and they screwed him. Shame on them. However, I hired a lawyer when I bought my house. I'm definitely hiring a lawyer if someone asks me to be a "shareholder" on something like this. I sympathize with him. I'm business-null as well. But there's people you can hire to make sure your exposure is limited.

He's writing smiley faces in negotiations (sloppy) and caving unnecessarily. He's not being exploited. He's selling himself short and he acknowledges that in his closing reflection.

I see it as constructive, all around.

It can be both sad and stupid. Simultaneously. I generally pity people who are being exploited, as this guy clearly is, but if you're going into business you need to be better prepared. He should just suck it up and move on.

Which is what he has done.

Yup, he keeps going to back to things said in conversations, talking about him being a shareholder.

He doesn't mention any contracts he saw, or signed

(At least this is the impression I get from the TL;DR, maybe the full article discusses contract more).

Always read the contract. Even with my standard large company job, with a perfectly normal benefits package I read the contract and took the time to understand it.

If you're doing something complex like becoming a shareholder in a private small business understand what you're getting it to (or in this case not getting it to at all).

Your overall point is worth taking, but it's also worth appreciating that verbal contracts are still contracts.

Dude got screwed.

I've seen similar scenarios play out for a few of my friends early in their careers. Those experiences made me wonder why there isn't a class in college (or even High School) where students are taught the basics of business deals. I think many people are given a false sense of security due to employment law which does give some fairly strong guarantees about things like being paid for work. In a B2B deal none of this exists -- there is no "payment police" and no default law giving you rights you might reasonably expect. Employment law covers most of the friends/family a young person comes into contact with leading to an implicit assumption that the same kind of rules apply to business. Someone, at some point in their education, should stand up and yell that it ain't so.

I was lucky to have several mentors who had started their own businesses and I also got to learn from my friends' mistakes.

Never work without a written contract. Doesn't matter if it's tech or flipping burgers. Do not assume you will get paid without a contract, ever. Definitely don't assume a group of people will you a large chunk of their company if they don't legally have to.

Another perspective:

"CTO quits startup, takes tech with him after team ‘screwed him over"


I saw the TechInAsia article with quite a contrasting headline (I'm pretty sure the TIA article was even posted here, but now I'm not seeing it appear in the search results anymore -- was it removed?).

What do you think? Was he "let go" or did he "quit" himself? Did others leave at the same time? Were they engineers? Any ideas?

First sorry you got screwed.

You are not first tech guy who got screwed over. While you should have something more concrete before you worked for them, this doesn't excuse them. They scammed you.

For some reason, and we can discuss why this might be, tech work is treated as something we need to give away for free and after it, often we don't get a respect that we deserve. This happens in situations where tech guy is key to success, happens in companies where you are one of the employees and part of the team.

The more you charge or ask for your services, the better you will be treated. Let that be lesson to all.

You rarely here both sides of a story like this but I've had a few occasions where I was a passive observer. Everyone always writes about "getting screwed" but nobody ever writes about "doing the screwing". Carnegie, Rochefeller and Pullman weren't bashful about parading their successful plundering - and where are the universities and museums?

But from what I've observed, the other side will usually tell you how they "got screwed" too. I'll bet the other perspective puts the blame on this article's writer.

Sorry for the author. I think we've all been burnt like that to various degrees, and hopefully, we all learn the lesson: if it's not written down and signed, it doesn't exist.

it's easy to say that anyone should have had a written agreement in such circumstances, but the first 4 months of any start up are likely to be hectic and there's no time to take out for this kind of thing. Especially when you think you're working with your "friends".

Nevertheless, a very clear verbal agreement should have been made. I know this cant be enforced without proof, but it does mean than those involved know the counter-parties also know what they agreed to. it makes things harder to deny.

The reason being that, it would be madness to betray each other, just as things start to work. A thing started is far from finished, and they will need everyone and more.

Most important of all, it would seem the tech guy legally owns what he has built, in the absence of a proper agreement. Even with a backup copy of this tech, the remaining people aren't likely to be able to extend it easily.

The tech guy should consider forming his own startup with the tech he has made.

I understand his frustration. I'm not saying that I agree with the whole misleading or misunderstanding that may have happened.

Unfortunately we don't live more in a society that keeps their promise, word and honor. So, having everything written is a great way to protect yourself and others.

But this is a good lesson to learn: what is not written, does not exist.

Was the author naive? Yes, we all go through there but the rule always applies, always have a contract.

That said, I don't really understand people here that criticize him. Per the screenshot they called him a shareholder. That word has a clear meaning and they clearly screwed him over. I think he was right to walk away with his tech.

The next sentence after "You want to be a shareholder?" is "What percentage are we talking about here?" followed by "When will the paperwork arrive? That's when I can start contributing." That conversation failed to happen (for weeks). There's some responsibility for the meltdown shared by both parties here.

Oh, I completely agree. He was naive and he has some responsibility for the issue but they were clearly dishonest while he was only naive.

Even if there's responsibility to be shared and good lessons to be learned by new developers reading this, it doesn't stop the fact that he was not the dishonest party in this.

That's a supposition made on very small evidence. They offered him employment with shares - one interpretation of the ambiguous offer. To suppose they meant anything more is pure conjecture.

We do have the screenshot he provided of the facebook conversation which is pretty damning and very clear. Employment with equity != shareholder in any well used definition of the word shareholder.

So, as long as we assume that the OP didn't falsify the Facebook screenshot, it's not small evidence.

Still nothing concrete - to be called a 'shareholder' is not terribly meaningful, is it? Terms like "honorary co-founder" are meaningless.

I don't hold them harmless - it was not right to let the ambiguity go on so long. But s/he was complicit in that.

As many others have pointed out in the comments; Never, EVER, do work without a written contract listing everything. Does nit matter if the people you perform that work for are friends or family. If money is, or might become, involved you need a contract.

Live and learn.

One thing I don't get. I have only read the TLDR so the answer may be in the full text. Even in this summary, there are many instances where lies were pandered to the public and to the press. Shouldn't ths have raise some serious alarms bells?

Fairly standard occurrence in the startup world tbh. Desperate startups wanting to get press attention will exaggerate or make up stories.

Media doesn't care, because they get a nice story to print.

That woudl really suck if this ever becomes the normal behaviour. How could you ever have any trust in your co-workers/boss/team? Sometimes, these relationships need to be tighter than marriage.

It sounds like he could reasonably dispute any company assets, at least up until the formation date. Ownership of the code would seem to be either shared or fully belong to the tech guy. How about he have a lawyer write up a formal claim against the company and then do nothing else until they raise money. Then sue.

He already took the code. It was definitely his since there was no formal agreement in place for assignment of IP. The company's domain (http://grabgas.com) just points to their Facebook page now.

I think accusing the tech guy of naivete is like blaming a rape victim for dressing sexily.

no, but it's a bit like leaving your house unlocked while you go on holiday and asking the next door crackhead to water your plants.

Except this is business. With its own rules. Let the Buyer Beware

Bull. Just because you CAN exploit someone doesn't mean you have to. At least it backfired on them by losing their tech.

DDOS your competition's website. Hire rebels to eliminate socialist movement.

Sounds like these founders were playing GrabAss ...

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