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Welcome to the club. It's pretty much a rite of passage here to spend some time with a psychopath VC, a completely self absorbed CTO with a rich investor dad that fuels his fantasies, or an idiotic CEO with an ego problem, and to pay the price for it (just time if you're lucky, time+money if you're not).

I've encountered this myself several times (down to the CEO using hire fast fire fast as a mantra), and judging from my friends' stories, most people have or will. When there are large amounts of money at stake, I guess it makes sense for charlatans and sharks to flock.

There are very few ways to tell accurately from the outset at first who's going to screw you over - I've heard horror stories of the sort from friends at startups backed by high profile entities like YC, famous startups that are often in the media for being "the best places to work at", companies with celebrity founders who have reputations for being "the nicest guys in the world", etc.

It's the kind of thing that you can only learn through a few painful experiences, I think. You do learn your lessons: never pay in advance for anything, don't put your own savings or core livelihood on the line for someone else's dreams, get everything in writing, talk to former employees of a company/colleagues of a founder before getting involved, never ever assume that what you have is anything more than an employer/employee relationship, etc.

I have to say that I'm impressed by how the poster handled it - keeping documentation, filing wage claims, etc. - the only thing she could have done better was not staying on so long when she wasn't getting paid, but it's an understandable mistake when you're in the moment.

I for one am glad I learned my lessons at 22 rather than at 45 with a family to care for and a mortgage to pay. The upside is that there are plenty of genuinely nice, passionate people - when you find them, stay close to them.

Outside of the edit window for my comment, but wanted to add: the H1B situation sounds fishy as hell. 8 H1Bs costs a lot of money, which the company does not seem to abound with.

It seems like something weird might be going on here - if the founders are willing to forge receipts and lie about the company, it might not be beyond them to hold on to passports or some such for "immigration reasons", which would then explained the unwavering loyalty. If something like that is going on, I hope the devs get out of it unburned.

here how it happens:

a company, that is not really a company, keeps applying for tons of h1b. they usually have some title like consulting.

they get the h1b and don't even bring the programmers from India. they become "visa holders" companies.

the h1b's then start to look for work on their own, or the holder. and once the programmer is hired, the visa holder company gets paid, take 70% (or 60% if the programmer found the position themselves).

and this is how most h1b contractors that work on Google and such live. they will endure it for the 10 years the us forces them to stay as h1b. always trying to get transferred to the hiring company directly, and almost always failing.

the final company pays much more for a contractor via a visa holder, but they have the benefit of paying it via a small consulting company, so it won't show up as head count for the investors. everyone but the programmer wins.

There are plenty of organizations that use H1-Bs properly and correctly, but when people talk about H1-B fraud it's exactly as you describe. They've poisoned the well. It also explains why there are people that can honestly claim we need more H1-Bs because legitimate use is being choked out.

> "They've poisoned the well. "

That's exactly right. It has always costs every company I have been with more to hire an H-1 than a local person so we have only done it if we can't get anyone local -- which is exactly the way the system is supposed to work, and that intended system seems perfectly fair to me.

These scammers fuck it up for the rest of us.

Never have I seen this laid out before like this, and so I thank you for that! I think it's a real tragedy that we can't just have a rational Visa system- you get an offer from a company, then you should be able to get a work visa. Work visas continue for as long as you are employed plus one year. That gives you a year to get a new job.

This is how you attract the best and the brightest and this is what america needs.

I really dig your .plan!

In EU it's called a Blue Card.

most of what you say is true.

they can endure such jobs only for 6yrs, beyond which the company that sponsored the visa has to file for a green card (if they do, then the employee can continue suffering for a few more years).If they dont file for a GC, then its a one way ticket back to their home country (or go to Canada with a PR ready).

the 70-30 split, is something I used to fume about, thinking its unfair to the employee etc. But that is how contracting companies work (not just for H1b employers). They pay the employee $.7X, and charge the client $X for every hr worked.

the benefit for the final company is that the headcount of H1b employees on paper remains low, and the cost of H1b kinda gets prorated into the hourly rate. It doesn't make sense to hire an H1b if the company knows for sure that they need her for just one/six months or a year. But a staffing consultancy can certainly justify filing for the H1b, if the same employee can work with 3 clients for 1 year each.

Though this looks like they (the companies filing for H1b visa) are doing something illegal, it is not, as long as a LCA (Labor Condition Application) is filed for the client's location and is approved, its totally kosher with USCIS, DHS and DoL.

Sadly, its hell for those on such H1bs (and I'm glad to never have worked with such consultancies)


the problem exists with those h1b consulting companies, that fudge resumes, fake phone interviews to get someone with zero knowledge into a job with a client. Those are the companies that are poisoning the well and making it tough for people like us and employers like mine, who are using the H1b option the way it is meant to be. In fact, its worse for those who who studied in US, and worked with an employer for ~2 years on Optional Practical Training (work auth while on student visa after graduation), lose out on H1b lottery because it was oversubscribed by such fraudsters. Its not just the employee losing out, even the company that invested in that employee is losing out.

Once, I interviewed a senior engineer to join my team and it was shocking for me to come across a resume that was as experienced as I was, but had zero knowledge. Later did some prodding on the candidate's past experience, realized its a fake resume with fake experience.

I can only pity those h1b employees at this scamming company. The sad H1b rules, that tie them to the sponsoring employer, is the reason such practices exist.

> They pay the employee $.7X, and charge the client $X for every hr worked.

That's a failing consulting company. A profitable consulting company needs to bill at 3x to 5x wages to support the overhead of sales and management. Even an individual, with no overhead but themselves, needs to bill at 2x what their desired wage would be if full-time.

I read original comment far above as saying that the company takes 70%, leaving 30% for the H1b employee. Or if the employee finds their own "job" (consulting gig), then the company only takes 60%. As you say, that seems more in line with typical consulting hourly mark-up.

H1Bs aren't that much money, especially if it is a transfer [0]. You will of course need legal help but since H1B has become so popular that process has been streamlined and attorneys now use it as a loss leader in order to expand their business.

The other aspect, is that yes it'll be about $4k to transfer an H1B all in, but... consider the savings. A Level 1 "Computer Programmer" in Santa Clara has a minimum wage of $52k[1]. I'm not too familiar with Santa Clara but that is probably a 50% savings over a typical software engineer wage. Paying $30k for 8 H1B transfers all in looks really attractive when payroll is shrunk by $300k+...

EDIT: looking at some of their linkedin profiles they fit the profile of an F1 OPT employee (Bachelors from an unknown university in china, masters from a large state university STEM degree mill, recently graduated), which is even better for the employer, you get a built in tax benefit discount on their wage.

[0] https://www.uscis.gov/forms/h-and-l-filing-fees-form-i-129-p...

[1] http://www.flcdatacenter.com/OesQuickResults.aspx?code=15-11...

The easiest solution is that they've simply lied to the 'H1Bs' and immigration officials as well - brought them in on tourist visas or some other arrangement.

Excellent point. Which would make the developers even less likely to go anywhere or talk to authorities.

A tourist could only stay for 6 months AFAIK. If that's indeed the case, then those guys are insane.

Once you're in the country, even if you overstay your visa nobody is going to come to deport you. The problem arises once you leave the US and want to come back again - visa overstays will be a huge black mark then.

(speaking from a very informed position on this)

The biggest indicator I have seen when it comes to H1B1 is if the company is run by recent foreign immigrants.

I have seen 5 man team able to get hold of H1B1 - since they were that dedicated.

The process is not actually that hard if there is a will from the top for it.

I want to add that with the H1b lottery being around 20-30% for the past couple of years, being able to hire 8 H1Bs mean that they applied for ~30-40 people. I definitely would lean toward the other comments here that the situation is extremely phony

You can bet that those were transfers from some outsourcing company.

as an H-1B myself, you don't need to hold on to passports to buy that sort of "loyalty". moving here from anywhere in asia is a huge sunk cost, and the natural impulse is to hope against hope that you don't have to bite the bullet and go back home, essentially eating that cost and starting over.

plus (at least from an indian perspective) there was a time when the indian job market for programmers was so bad that people would put up with all sorts of abusive conditions, simply because they knew that if they went back home it would be to a long and depressing job search that would likely end up with a low-paying position. (i believe that has gotten better in recent years; i'm not sure what the situation in china is)

> It's pretty much a rite of passage here... most people have or will

That's pretty silly. Plenty of people working in startups never put themselves through that kind of BS.

There are at last two obvious strategies for avoiding the whole problem: (1) be a founder, (2) work in a more established tech company until you have the experience, personal network, and finances to intelligent pick a startup to work for.

You think as founder you don't have to deal with that? Oh boy, you're in for quite a few surprises. And how do you learn about how to handle this if you work at more established companies?

It's the kind of thing we all already know of because of tv shows like game of thrones. But experiencing and actually handling it is another topic.

A psychopathic peer is not the same thing as a psychopathic boss.

If you're doing your job, you know how much money is in the bank and you know what the value proposition of the business is, so the failure modes described in the article don't apply.

I'm not saying a slipper cofounder can't also try to cheat you, but they have a lot less room to maneuver when you're not a subordinate.

The first thing you learn when you become the boss: You will never get rid of having a boss. Usually the boss's boss is the customer, because he's the one who pays the boss. And as long as there are no (or not enough) customers the boss's boss is the investor.

So you won't ever be high enough to only deal with harmful people in equally powerful positions. Maybe being the president of the US or the owner of the biggest company can think like that. All other 7 billion people can't.

And there is another vector we also shouldn't forget: The higher you get the higher the stakes. Getting f'd as an intern may mean you lose a few hundred bucks. Being an engineer or mid level manager means you play in the 4-6 digit range. And on officer level or above you play for at least a few hundred thousand dollars and with a lot of possibilities to break laws (or appear to break laws) and go to jail. So you probably won't have more safety, but more risk.

If you really want to be save from these people, go live somewhere in the countryside far away from civilisation, grow your own food, and be nice to the other villagers.

Can confirm, did 1) and ended up with a deluded CEO cofounder, now in 2) and feeling much better.

Been down that route. Overall, my CEO co-founder was a very honest person; so I've continued our friendship. About 6 months after the business fell apart, he helped me meet my wife and was on the alter when we married.

When we last talked, he indicated that he was going back to what he did before starting companies. I hope it works well for him, because if he can keep within the (not CEO) role that plays to his strengths; I'd happily work with him again.

This is good advice, but I think everyone is best suited to doing number 2 before number 1. Most people are not ready to be a founder right out of the gate, and that's where a lot of the douchebag founder horror stories come from. Not because they want to be douchebags, just because they are so arrogant.

One should spend five years building stuff before becoming a CEO.

Often the worst companies put pressure on their employees to give fake positive surveys and pretend their company is a great place to work to trick people into a year or two while management moves on.

Seen it happen at a company that was voted top xx best places to work for a few years running in the local press.

I've seen HR at a major abuser massage Glassdoor rankings by disputing/threatening them with legal action for negative reviews and shilling/creating fake accounts to put in positive reviews. I believe Glassdoors policy is that they are not interested in lawsuits, so all it takes is a letter from a lawyer. Maybe even less than that.

Agreed. Startups are incredibly hard, and this can bring out the best in people... or the worst.

Just like you, I'm early on in my career. I appreciate the incredibly valuable and lifelong lessons that I've learned from them. I feel that in the long run I'll be better off for them since I know exactly what to look for to identify bad situations before I'm in them, and how to protect myself if I do end up in one.

Most importantly, I've learned what not to do to other people and find that I've developed stronger ethics as a result.

Biggest mistake is thinking you have to "get" experience.

I'm 42 and at the other end of the scale. To me the line now that "it's a good learning experience" and "I'll know better in the future" are just ways of saying "I'm making mistakes".

From someone who has been there and done that, best not to make the mistakes in the first place. I had strong ethics to begin with and compromised them many times because I thought that's what you had to do to get on. I was wrong.

Learn from listening to experience and watching others fail or succeed, much smarter.

You can never have enough advice before making decisions. Find successful people you trust and listen to them.

Much easier than having to go through your own hassles.

You'll be happier.

I totally agree! I have a number of trusted family members and advisors that have saved my bacon many times.

But I accept that I will make mistakes throughout my life. When I do, I think about them to figure out why I made the mistake and how I can avoid it next time. Then I let it go- beating myself up doesn't help. Honestly, if I'm going to make a mistake at some point, I'd prefer that it be sooner rather than later.

I'd say I had strong ethics to begin with, and these situations gave me a chance to test (and uphold) them.

> a psychopath VC, a completely self absorbed CTO with a rich investor dad that fuels his fantasies, or an idiotic CEO with an ego problem, and to pay the price for it


For some reason we are not educated about this. We learn it the hard way by being taken in with what seems a good opportunity, then getting abused and then going our own way. We naively believe people empathise for others in the mistaken idea that there is some semblance of 'compassion' in everyone.

Even if we have gone through the mill several times we may not be educated as to what is only going on. You have to be done over by someone at the extreme end of the spectrum of personality disorder to understand what really goes on with the tyrants and bullies that frequently own companies, start-up or otherwise. We even elect these 'personality disorder' types to high office without anyone pointing out that they are not fit for the role due to having these psychopath tendencies.

This really does have to be a regulatory issue as those that cannot think through the consequences of their actions or empathise with others or understand the harm they do need to be rendered powerless. Otherwise they will not learn their lesson and go on to waste yet more lives. They can do so near indefinitely, taking people on a ride for six months or more before their victims cotton on to what is happening.

There is a second problem in that the people with these personality disorders really do attract others. Cult leaders do it, to attract others with personality problems of their own, elsewhere on the spectrum. For instance, in this case, marketing. What type of person does marketing in the first place? What leads them to believe they have the secret sauce to market the product they know nothing about? There is some self-belief going on there, some belief that isn't grounded in a strong product that the customer-base will 'market' using word-of-mouth. Sure there may be some good experience and education that can be brought to the problem but often there is not.

It is important to learn the 'tells' - as other commentators have noted it is how people treat restaurant staff that says it all with these rogues. Also the 'there is no I in team' really does matter - do they say 'we' or 'I'? Sometimes we overlook these 'tells' for reasons we invent - maybe they have were brought up that way... We give them excuses for their behaviour. We keep our anger at them to ourselves and don't burn our own bridges by letting that anger out.

It is a pity that most people only get 'lightly burned' in these situations and not fully toasted. Only when you get fully toasted can you work it out properly and end up knowing about the rogue personality types and how toxic they are.

It's really infuriating how few people will believe you and follow up on the 'tells'. Even people who must have experienced that before. The only reason I can think of for that behavior is an inate hope that other people are reasonable.

and good old fashioned "it cant/wont happen to me"

I just got out of a relationship with someone who is borderline. It makes me really, really sad that borderline personality disorder is even a thing :(

witch hunt much?

obviously, there are personality traits and disorders which predispose a person to doing bad things. But that isn't a reason to assume that's what happened here, unless you happen to be that person's licensed psychiatrist.

It doesn't take a mental disorder to be shitty.

and yet silicon valley says it's impossible that discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, and age isn't happening. Not you, per se, just in general everyone believes the scam but the rest is "just a matter of opinion."

As for me I am entirely unsurprised because I've literally seen it all. and it happens more often than most people realize. the more desperate you are to be here, the more people will take advantage of you.

It's very similar to the way young girls who want to be actresses or models get "discovered" by pornographers.

> There are very few ways to tell accurately from the outset at first who's going to screw you over

Pay close attention to how they treat others.

Totally second this.

Particularly look at:

1 How they treat their customers

2 How they treat their affiliates

3 How they encourage their affiliates to treat their customers.

And how they tread people they consider to be 'below' them, such as waiters, cab drivers and so on. That's a pretty good tell.

My new best signal is if they don't seem to listen during a conversation. They only talk and occasionally pause while waiting to make their next point.

How they treat wait staff in a restaurant is often extremely illuminating.

Since it comes down to "is this CEO a psychopath", most of the classic red flags can be seen quite soon. E.g. charm, lack of history, quick rage.

Not for borderlines, sadly.

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