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Ask HN: How to hire if you don't believe in working for someone
50 points by thrway14102017 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments
I have this cognitive dissonance. We're running a self-funded startup (not profitable, burning money, I'm paying) with 3-4 fulltime remote engineers and are looking to hire more.

I feel like most people working for us are just there for the money - which is absolutely understandable, because I would be exactly the same. With most people I interview I feel like they're either unqualified, total scammers who are unable to write code, but can speak well, or good engineers whose approach is "Fuck you, pay me". And I get it. I do. I wouldn't want to work for anyone and I remember how I hated it. Now I'm doing the same to other people and it depresses me.

I would quit this whole thing and would just retire writing code myself and working on small projects - if not for my co-founder who pushes me to deliver. He means well and he's doing a good job himself, but as he's not technical, he doesn't realize the level of stress and complications I'm dealing with. Most days it's just stress and I'm not happy.

Advice?




I'm reading between the lines here (so you're welcome to correct me).. but is part of it this:

The money is coming out your pocket, and you're losing more money as time goes by. You're stressed out about that, and trying to save money. So you're trying to find the cheapest developers you can, and the candidates that are ok with you're low ball salary are those without a lot of options (ie: unqualified, inexperienced, etc). But the good developers, they want real money (which you've misinterpreted as "fuck you, pay me").

Look I run a self-funded startup too.. and people are expensive. I get it. But it's a market. Those good developers aren't refusing to work for you because they don't want to work for anyone. They're refusing because they can get other offers. Your low salary offer isn't interesting to them.

It's as simple as that.


No, incorrect. I have more than enough money to not worry about paying good salaries for a year or so. We're not in the US though, so we're definitely not paying inflated US salaries. Other than that, we're generally slightly above the market rate.


Are US salaries inflated, versus are other markets not caught up yet?


Definitively inflated. Whenever I visit the US, I notice how everything except food is overpriced. The taxes are insane, you need lawyers and tax accountants for every cough you make and the quality of life is hardly the same as in Europe or Asia. If anyone's got any catching up to do, it's the US. No offense - I like the country (visiting), but it's just unreasonably expensive. How can anyone choose to live there is beyond me. Right now it's the opposite of freedom, unless you're insanely rich - then you can feel comfortable.


I assume you visited outside of major cities and compared like for like? The US is not expensive.


Even in rural areas, most services will cost you more than basically all European countries (except for Scandinavia). Taxes tend to be higher in Europe but cost of living quite a bit lower.


Doesn't that difference in taxes make up the offset?

Also, there are extremely expensive European cities, London and Paris come to mind. Even basic necessities, like food, was far more expensive than I was expecting in Paris.


"Catching up" by decreasing salaries because you like to underpay your workers, as you basically implied in the original post? That's a bold statement.



But why are the good developers demanding more money? ("fuck you, pay me".. what else could this mean?)

It's definitely not because they don't want to work for anyone... they're out there searching for work, talking to employers. They definitely want work.


"Fuck you, pay me" is not about how much money they demand, but about the attitude. I definitely sense the attitude.


That attitude isn't an impediment to them being a good engineer with a high level of professionalism. If you dont't mind paying their rate, what's the actual problem?

IMHO the engineers that don't have this attitude have a tendency to burn out.


It could be they were burned by a previous employer and are a bit jaded now. If you're fair and open in your dealings with them and share in the success of the company (not that you're not doing these things already) their attitude may change. A lot of "good CEO training" involves learning how to get the most output with the least input when it comes to employees. I think they assume people don't know what they're doing, but it just leads to an adversarial environment.


have you considered following up with some of the good developers that didn't follow through to find out where they ended up? You can probably make a decent rough guess at how much they're making based on who their new employer is/location.

Also hiring is difficult... have you considered hiring a recruiter to help?


I think the key here is that you're hiring remote. The market rate is global salaries. You might look at around $25 (junior/South Asian) to $60 (senior). Even developed countries hiring someone in a poorer country stick to close to these rates for long term contracts.


> so we're definitely not paying inflated US salaries

If you are hiring a remote developer - what prevents them to earn an "inflated" salary from a US company?


Many factors. Most US companies want to have on site engineers. Many of those who work remotely with overseas devs already know they can pay a lot less, so the market is adjusted and those working remotely for US companies are rarely paid the same as if they were in the US.


As Jane Austen said, "People want different things."

I don't want to run my own company. I don't want the headaches. And I'm definitely in it for the money, but not because I don't want to work for someone. I'm in it for the money because my life is rather expensive. I can't take a gamble on a startup turning golden sometime down the road; you've got to pay me well, now, or I'm not interested.

But I'm also not interested in just showing up, putting in 8 hours a day coding something that will never ship, and cashing my checks. That's really cynical and depressing. I want to produce something that will matter to at least a few people, and that has a realistic chance of actually being shipped.

I want to work somewhere that has management that knows what its doing. I don't like working for incompetent management - they waste too much of my time and effort. Even if they pay me well, life is too short to merely sell my time for money.

So: You're not happy. It sounds to me like you may need to hire a technical manager or technical lead, to take the load that you hate. Or maybe even you need to replace yourself - hire someone to take your job, so that you can do things you enjoy more. You're probably going to need to stay available as a consultant, though, to give some continuity and guidance to the startup.


I'm also not interested in just showing up, putting in 8 hours a day

There's nothing wrong with this. It's not doing the bare minimum; it's having a life outside of work.

Personally, I work in bursts. On days that I can't focus on work, I can barely do anything useful. Other times I manage 12 hour stints, but it has to be a passion project. It's hard to devote yourself to making someone else rich.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13573618


(not profitable, burning money, I'm paying)

In my experience, the thing getting your goat is often kind of the dog you kick because you can't kick the real source of the problem. I imagine that burning money coming out of your pocket is a much bigger stresser driving your negative emotional reaction to the thought of hiring anyone. If it were me, I would be doing some brain storming with a trusted confident for how to address this issue.


Aside from money, what do you get from work?

  - A concrete sense of accomplishment?
  - A medium through which to grow as a developer / leader / person?
  - Obligation / duty to a worthy cause?
  - Hanging out with people you like?
  - Recognition from people you respect?
  - A sense of your own value in society?
  - Accountability and structure?
  - A stepping stone to some future goal?
It sounds like you might be lacking some of these, and so would have trouble passing that on to employees. A mercenary culture seeps in.

The first person I'd turn to is your cofounder. How does he see it, what are his expectations, is this something that he can take off your plate, etc.

After that, I'd schedule 1-on-1s with your remote employees - in person if you're close, video otherwise. What are their personal and professional goals? How can you position working for you as being directly in line with those?


I find with 'employee' jobs, you're either "in on it", or not.

By "in on it", I mean that you either have equity in the company, or a very large percent of your pay is related to the success of the company, or that you have some confidence that your career will rise with the fortunes of the company (rather than being dumped or hired-over as it grows), or there are career growth prospects in the case of larger corporations, or merely that you're accruing cutting-edge skills and experience that improve your future job prospects.

Or you're not "in on it", and stuck just swapping time for money.

In the former case people often willing to spill blood and sweat for the good of the company (and thus their own benefit).

In the later case, they will be out to get everything they can, regardless of the company's fortunes.


Sounds like you want to be developing product and don't want to be managing people. Maybe consider bringing in someone who can do project management or be the team manager -- let everybody focus on what they do best. Likewise, especially if you see yourself leaving at some point in the future, set up the company for long-term success by hiring someone who can grow a team.


Your own happiness is the biggest issue, you will have to reckon with that sooner or later.

Beyond that, the issue of working for someone else is generally not the problem, it's getting taken advantage of by fast-talking business people that turns people off. As tech becomes the new finance, the number of wheeler dealers proliferates, and experienced talent develops a well-earned distrust of the typical below-market salary pitch. This is one reason so many companies feed on the fresh talent straight out of college rather than pursuing older engineers, because it's much easier to maintain the pie-in-the-sky dream mentality that experienced hands know rarely pans out.

The bottom line is if you want to get someone cheap, you need to take a risk on someone less experienced with something to prove, or else you need to bring in senior talent either by paying something approaching market or by giving them meaningful co-founder level equity instead of the pittance that is standard for engineering hire #1. I've also had some luck building teams from people outside the Bay Area with fewer opportunities and who, for whatever reason, did not fit the mold of the typical software developer.


I know a lot of people who want to work for someone, myself included. It's a kind of tribal mindset.

While not too rare, they often want to join the best tribe. Which is usually places like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs. Or places like Medium, Asana, Atlassian, Pivotal. These people want to find a good leader and follow them anywhere.

Rarer are the people who are joining a company to try to improve it or make a difference. They tend to go for rapidly rising startups, or startups with a solid core. They are good followers and also good leaders, but they are perhaps the pickiest of all.

You either have to prove to them that you are the best leader or that you're rising rapidly. Often you might have to entice them with a bit of equity to let them feel like part of the tribe.

But if you believe that working for people is bad, they might sense that and not feel like it's a cohesive tribe. So I would work on getting them to feel like they fit in and have some ownership in the company (or at least ownership of their code).


I can be wrong but I think the problem is two fold::

First this - I'm paying.

The unfortunate consequence of paying out of pocket is that we tend to look for a perfect soludtion - decent cost, at least as per us, while being the best. But market is not like that. Good people need good pay.

Second this - I would quit this whole thing and would just retire writing code myself

I am sorry that comes across as you not really believing in the product and currently doing it only for your co-founder. And this is a vibe which you might be giving off to a developer.

If you can't convince yourself, how do you expect to convince a developer that the product is good and they should consider lower salaries with say a decent equity?


Maybe focus on Leadership skills, as in getting people excited to do what you want them to do. Google is full of bright people who are genuinely excited to work for them because they believe in the product, culture etc. What does your startup do? Can you get people excited about it? Can your co-founder?

On the other hand, just quit if you don't believe in the venture. You only live once, and in the cosmic scale of things it won't matter if you don't succeed.


On the topic of people just being there for the money:

Obviously, that's the primary reason for just about any job, but I think I get what you mean. Your team treats your project, which you've sunk a lot into, like a chore to work on.

If you want more of a sense of community, that's doable. It's just harder with a remote team. With an on-site team, it's easy to take everyone out for coffee on Mondays, occasionally show a movie in the conference room, or just shoot the shit on a break. With a remote team, it's more difficult but doable. Add a few off-topic Slack channels to encourage less formal and strictly work-oriented conversations between team members (within reason of course). Topics like games, programming languages people are interested in learning, etc.

And on the topic of learning languages, a lot of devs want two things out of a job: money and learning opportunities. No, you probably can't integrate every new language or framework someone is interested in into your stack. You can still encourage learning for its own sake. Let's say I'm really into Elixir, but my employer is a Ruby shop. If they encourage me to better myself for my own sake, I have a lot more incentive to stay on, and make sure I'm hitting the targets I need to. If I have a place to talk about my side projects with my coworkers, it feels much less like my interests are at odds with the company's interests.

---

The other big thing here is that it sounds like you have a lot of stress which nobody else in the company really feels. It's hard for me to give concrete advice here. The two things I can think of are delegating some of your responsibilities to a qualified dev on your team, and spending more time talking with other technical founders at other companies. You need to vent somewhere.


Not everyone doesn't want to work for other people.

I never want to be CEO. I am happy working for a great boss and with great colleagues. I'd be miserable working alone on a profitable solo business.

I have several other friends who explicitly like working at a big company for the stability, maturity, collaboration, and good pay check.


Aww man.. you completely miss the point of why people do what they do.

They dont do it, with feeling, for money. Money is just something they get.

Your attitude is coming across to me in this post as someone who would rather not be there doing that. If i'm getting it, how do YOU expect to get a reaction any better than your attitude?

Is there any aspect of this project that you love ? that you really want to see working? Focus on that, mentally.. get that feeling in your mind when you're interviewing... and also you need to find space in your head to actually care about the people (not their job) themselves. You'll be amazed how much a difference in attitude this will make to the people that look to you their leader.


I think many startups try to sell their startups to their employees when they are hiring and want their employees believe on (buy) their products.

There are two cases 1- You are sure about the success then pay your employees with the similar and fare rate and enjoy the profit in future. If you don't pay engineers with the same rate you are the one who ask the engineers to work without giving any guarantee on their share in the future profit("Fuck you, pay me") .

2- You are not sure about the success or the journey is too risky and you are not sure about the profit then why should a poor engineer take the risk for your profit? Then you are the one who is unqualified, total scammer.


One solution: Keep your employees by giving noticeable share of your company to your employees.


I don't mean to be personal, but I want to show you the other side of the table


This is two separate issues.

1. Hiring people that are different than you. As others commented, there are many reasons to want a job. If it is just money, that's ok, but perhaps not what is best in a startup. Vision, opportunity to learn, team, personal connection, these are all other great reasons to work for a small company.

2. Whether this company and position is correct for you. You may be a great technical co-founder but a crappy VP of engineering. You may not be happy managing or building a team. If you have given it a good try (3-12 months) then I'd try to find someone else (in consultation with your co-founder, of course).


>I feel like most people working for us are just there for the money - which is absolutely understandable, because I would be exactly the same. With most people I interview I feel like they're either unqualified, total scammers who are unable to write code, but can speak well, or good engineers whose approach is "Fuck you, pay me

Are you paying well? Do you maintain contact?

Working remotely would make team building really hard but really important. More contact could help, regularly talking could help give your employees a better sense of the struggles your going through. As they see that they may take more ownership.


Ask yourself "what is a firm?" and "why do people join a firm, rather than finding a new place to earn money every day?"

The firm is a way to reduce the transaction costs of finding work every day.

When I am an employee I see it as I am asking my manager to manage me.

Some people just don't want the tasks such as you have now and would rather delegate those upwards.

"I just want to go to work, do a good job, and go home without lying in bed at night wondering about all the things my boss has to"


It's difficult tell of course, but, could it make a difference to rather than having 4 full-time remote engineers (soon to be 5?) to have 1 great local engineer? Someone who sits next to you all day, someone you can create a bond with, someone you can look in the eye, someone who's equal to you when it comes to engineering work, someone who can cover you if you're not there for a day or two.

My experience with developers is that you get what you pay for.


Maybe work w/ freelancers instead? Or --- build a worker-coop. Where you as founder own more of the company but EVERYONE has a good stake. Of course you need to get to profitability first probably for them to get excited... having stake in something losing money isn't as exciting as being part owner of Whatsapp when FB bought them...


I am not sure how "cool" the actual product is (cool being relative to the interest of a given individual). I think it is almost always possible to find people who are genuinely interested in the problem space you are working in and then they would be much more into actual work with $ being a side bonus :).


1. Remote is higher overhead to manage. Consider getting someone locally and you may find communications easier and the sharing of responsibility and capacity for discussion helps you to de-stress and stay motivated.

2. Explain you are burning out to your co-founder (or the whole team) and ask for some support.


> not profitable, burning money, I'm paying

This, I think, is your biggest problem. Fix atleast 1 or 2 of the 3 and your stress will be mostly gone.

Ex:

profitable, not burning money, I'm paying

not profitable, burning money, co-founder is paying

not profitable, burning money, someone else is paying

profitable, burning money, co founder paying


Think of it as building an empire as well as building a product. The empire should seek to be beneficial for the peons as they build the empire too. Paying in equity (as well as cash) is a great way to align incentives in this respect.


Your perception is skewed. There are a ton of people on both sides - those who want to work for themselves capable of handling more risk and higher rewards, and those who want to work for others for a stable paycheck.


Can you elaborate on "Fuck you, pay me".

Is this to say they don't care about outcomes just do the hours and get paid?

Anyway it's fine to offer people the chance to exercise and apply abstract thought in return for a steady paycheck. Those with a mortgage and kids will definitely appreciate it.


> Most days it's just stress and I'm not happy.

As a formerly stressed & miserable former business owner who bootstrapped the entire operation in the beginning, I can tell you that to my stressed out past self everything I didn't like seemed disproportionately grey/weak-sauce/lame.

To directly answer your question, I used to wonder why everyone didn't care as much as I did. It's because they didn't. The work was kind of monotonous, they knew (I think) that the entire operation was hand to mouth (jobs could evaporate at any time), and for them it was just a job, even if it was a good job, it was just a job. I literally couldn't give away stock/shares to my employees, because they didn't understand or value them.

I later learned to appreciate I was too emotionally attached, and that my employees' "I don't care that much" attitudes was fine. They showed up, did a great job, and made me money. That's what they wanted to do, and I eventually learned to accept it. That made me sad in a way, as I understood I couldn't lean on my employees to constantly lead efforts grow, shift, and adapt to the chaos that comes with growing a business. I hadn't hired people that wanted drive the bus, but they were happy to go along for the ride.

Here's a few tricks I used to retain smart & cheap people to do work that, to me, was kind of boring:

- I sounded like I really cared about the business (it helped that I did)

- I said I could pay up to a certain amount in job ads & confirmed that in phone interviews

- I interviewed for skills & aptitude that reflected what people would need to do the job well, and then asked people to confirm they'd actually enjoy doing that kind of work

- I asked candidates "you seem bright & capable, so why do you want this job when you probably make twice what I can pay elsewhere?", and I accepted any answer that sounded legit as acceptable

- I only required people to do things I really needed them to do, and tried being flexible on everything else

After a couple years of doing the whole "I'm a boss with employees" thing, my business partner offered to buy me out. We worked out a deal, I took the money, and haven't spent a single minute missing the burden of running the show.

I encourage you to take steps to work towards being less miserable. Start by learning to articulate the bits related to "this is no way to live" in a manner that is thoughtful & without anger. I learned the hard way that when I shared my thoughts in a manner that was acute & emotional, the only thing I successfully communicated was acute emotional-ness.

I'd be happy to chat further if you like. My email is in my profile. If you need someone to yell at, I'll listen without taking it (too) personally.

Stay awesome, become awesome-r, and go conquer the world and/or retire.


Thanks everyone for taking the time to write the replies. I don't have time to address them all, but they were all helpful in terms of looking at the problem from many different perspectives you guys offered.


If you have enough money to pay salaries for all these people, why are you working at all? If you're rich, just retire and live a stress free life of luxury on the beach. If not, just give ME your money. I'll teach you how to spend it properly.


>If you have enough money to pay salaries for all these people, why are you working at all?

Most often salaries come from revenues, those revenues require the peoples output to be generated. So just because they owns the company doesn't mean they're rich.




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