Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
My Day Interviewing for the Service Economy Startup from Hell (thebillfold.com)
604 points by TarpitCarnivore 915 days ago | hide | past | web | 274 comments | favorite



Sexism, racism, homophobia (I assume that's what was going on with the marketing guys and "Josh"), long hours, low pay, "boys club", overbearing/micromanaging boss, unpaid full day "interview", false hope (Seemed like the idea of getting your own franchise was a carrot dangled before them on a stick that they would never get), and little/no structure. Wow.... And these are the companies that are getting funded?


I work in startups in NYC. None of the things described are even remotely close to shocking for me - I've seen all of the above first-hand either in offices or at startup events.

That said, I've never seen all those things under the same roof, much less in a single day. The perfect storm of insanity makes me doubt the author's story a little bit, but each of the things she's brought up I've seen.

Shit, I literally just read a racist internal email an hour ago about the new cleaning lady at the office.

Plus the pointless credential-rundown you get every. single. goddamn. time. you meet a startup person in this city. Oh, you went to Harvard 10 years ago? That's so relevant considering we just met 2 minutes ago! You used to work at Goldman and now you're doing a consumer-tech startup? Yeah, that really needed to be in the first 3 sentences you've ever spoken to me.


Oh my god it is exactly like that. As though pushing spreadsheets at Goldman has anything to do with building a software product. But they know that, they just want you to know they worked at Goldman. Because Goldman.

I once worked under a CTO who remarked "it's not like we're going to hire a woman" after interviewing a female dev candidate, which would be horribly offensive even if he was just kidding (he wasn't kidding, I was shocked he even took the time to interview her).

There's definitely a sense of "startups are the new banking." It's frustrating because there are also a lot of good people, but man is there a glut of bros who fit all the worst stereotypes of old boys club business.


|There's definitely a sense of "startups are the new banking."

We need a new word. "Startup" has essentially become as meaningless as "agile". Semantically, "startup" is now just an umbrella under which the same paper-pushers and conference-call-bros we were trying to escape from are convening.


I used to agree but I recently read this old quote from PG which nails it I think:

"A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup."

http://www.paulgraham.com/growth.html


I have nothing but respect and admiration for PG, but I don't think he gets to unilaterally decide the meaning of words.

Wikipedia says a startup is "a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model"[1]. The relevant Wiktionary entry defines it as a "new organization or business venture"[2], fairly similar to the OED's "newly established business" definition[3].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Startup_company

[2] http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/startup

[3] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_eng...


As a counterpoint, the Wikipedia definition of startup was coined by Steve Blank sometime in the past ~5 years, so it's not exactly ancient history.

I think if we place emphasis on the word "scalable," PG + Blank's definitions are compatible. Both distinguish "startup" from "new company." I don't think most people would categorize building a tech company and starting a hair salon as the same activity because of the force multiplier of scale.


I can do one better. I went to a job fair type event with one of the cofounders of the company, and I was pushing a very qualified woman we met there. The cofounder told me, with a very thoughtful look on his face, "I'm not sexist... but I just don't like working with women."


I was on a team trying to setup a spinout company in Australia of all places. My corporate overlords built a team, boy band style, to go investigate the market with a minimum product, really experienced people who had seen and done a lot. About half the team was on their second career after retiring out of their first, but all were brilliant. I think we added it up and there was something like 170 years of experience in my small group (I was by far the junior person on the team).

During the sit down on the marketing meeting a new person was introduced to the team (not unusual). They came up to the group and was obviously another senior, experienced addition to the group, hopefully with a long and interesting career behind them.

They walked up to the front of the group and introduced themselves, "Hi I'm <name>, I went to Yale" and sat down at the table and proceeded to offer nothing of any substance over the next 8 weeks until they were quietly asked to go "contribute" their Yale credentials somewhere else.

I've been hit with every kind of credential wagging since then, "When I was at McKinsey..."* or "When I went to Harvard..."+ are usually immediate signs of an immensely useless person and I go out of my way to avoid them. It's actually kind of pathetic.

The best people I've ever met actually seemed a bit shy about notable credentials in their past and it wasn't until after months of probing that I could finally learn about some cool job or notable place they went to school.

* I wrote this before reading the article

+ seriously, it's like a cliche


As an interesting side anecdote, I just spent the last 6 months living in Kenya with the same kind of Harvard / McKinsey style crowd except in the social enterprise / NGO space.

As someone who was coming from a very different background to a lot of these people, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect.

While I would be the first to admit that things are less than perfect in a number of ways, generally speaking the people I met and eventually ended up consulting for couldn't possibly be much further from some of the personalities described in a number of the comments here.

Overall I was super impressed with the humility, the intelligence and the general standard that I saw in a lot of these people.

Then again, there is a world of difference between someone who chooses to live on next to nothing in a 3rd world country where they are there primarily to help others and the types described in the article.


Thanks for the counter-anecdote. I've met so many people who start the conversation off with a credential drop and then turn out to be useless oxygen thieves that I forget that there really are some smart dedicated people out there with the same kinds of top-tier credentials as attributes who do good work.

bad Bane, stereotyping is bad!


As I understood it, it's not the credentials per se you have the problem with, it's the way people bring them up. You two might be talking about different kinds of people.


Interestingly, it's a social red flag in Australia to brag about your history by name-dropping. I gather your team wasn't Australian at all, but I can't ever imagine a local name-dropping in the same way and getting anywhere with it. Possibly name-dropping in terms of "I worked with Dr Famous", which would be uncommon but accepted in the right crowds, but not for institutions. It's part meritocracy, part preferring the underdog, and part tall-poppy syndrome that keeps people quiet, I guess...


> I gather your team wasn't Australian at all

No, all Americans. But from a wide variety of backgrounds.


They should fire the co-founder. That is unacceptable behavior.


For me, it's a huge signal when a founder or exec at a startup mentions an ivy league school or a "marquee" name. I've worked for big names in tech, I don't go around bragging about it.

Only time to brag is if you were a cofounder of the company you're referring to.

Who hasn't worked for a Google/Amazon/Microsoft/Apple/Facebook/etc?

You worked at goldman? Ok, so I'm to take from that the assumption that you're entitled and incompetent to be leading a tech startup? Good to know.

You went to Harvard? And you think this is relevant? So you care about pedigree more than competence? We can expect nepotism as you hire your friends? Good to know.

These are great services they are offering-- you know not to take the job.


Sign of the end for the startup economy imho - I remember during the first dot com bubble that when the consultants/MBAs starting doing startups (broadly) it was time to pack it up. Not that all MBAs or consultants are bad - but it isn't a good sign. Like a great party that has been discovered by the assh*les. I hope I'm wrong, but man, it feels familiar.


Well, in Uruguay, if you get to Facebook or Google or Apple, you literally make the news:

http://www.elpais.com.uy/vida-actual/felipe-primer-uruguayo-...

That's the biggest newspaper in the country, which incorrectly identified the first Uruguayan who worked for Facebook.

Interestingly, there are quite a few Uruguayans at Microsoft, and I think there are a couple at Google.


I work at startups at the valley. I was briefly employed at one that was sending candidates a code test that involved printing a picture of a naked woman (in ascii art, but naked nonetheless). In mid-2014. From a cto who was a senior manager at google and presumably took at least one sexual harassment class.


The HR guy in the sexual harassment videos you had to watch every two years at Microsoft was fired for sexual harassment. No amount of training seems to overcome base desire.


It's not about base desires, it's that some people are simply assholes. No amount of training will overcome someone's asshole nature.

There is a prevalent and totally erroneous school of thought which naively assumes that people do bad things simply because they don't know any better, and so all you have to do is take them aside as you would a misbehaving kindergartener for some "training" and then all will be well. It doesn't work that way. Some people are just assholes and always will be, irrespective of any amount of "training" you give them.


I don't think that school of thought is actually prevelant. They make you go to training classes so if there is a lawsuit they can point to all the training and say it's the individual's fault, not the company's.


The training is to teach them to hide it so they can stay employed.

It doesn't matter if somebody is a racist/sexist/homophobe as long as they don't act it out.


You're right. I made a facile comment in haste and I was wrong.


Some people, sure. But I don't think everyone who misbehaves is irredeemable.


For every problem, there is an answer that is simple, easy, and wrong.


Harassment isn't about "desire." It's about being a sociopath, and feeling entitled to control and humiliate others.


Grasshopper, the anti-harassment videos are not for the benefit of the employee. Then again, nothing is, except the dollars you get to carry home at the end of every month.

Their only purpose is to deflect liability from the company in case any employee should bring a court case. "Your Honor, we couldn't possibly be held responsible for condoning a hostile work atmosphere, we have our employees sit through those execrable things once a year." Judging from just how popular they are, this tactic is working well.


You are correct. I didn't mean to imply there was any value to the employee in watching them.


Abuse is about power and control, not "desire."


I suspect that the idea that harassment is never about desire is more like a "correct narrative" than an unassailable truth. people find it very convenient to reduce every situation to a set of accepted rules but humanity tends to be messy and resistant to strict classification.


Wow! Do you have a link or anything?


I have contacted you via email.


ack. not too surprised given all of the other issues that have come up re: misogyny x tech in 2014.


"Shit, I literally just read a racist internal email an hour ago about the new cleaning lady at the office."

Serious question. What did you do about it?


>Oh, you went to Harvard 10 years ago? That's so relevant considering we just met 2 minutes ago! You used to work at Goldman and now you're doing a consumer-tech startup? Yeah, that really needed to be in the first 3 sentences you've ever spoken to me.

I agree that it's a bit pointless to mention that you studied in a prestigious university, but unlike the other commenters I think it makes sense to say that you worked in a company that is reputed to pay well, because if you left that well paying job it means that you have high hopes for that startup. Of course it would be douchey to say "Hey, I am Sam, and I used to work at Goldman, so kneel in front of me!", but saying "I worked at Goldman but I believe there is more money to be made in the house cleaning space" is a sign of confidence in the company - something I would like to see in a founder.


because if you left that well paying job

If someone says that they worked at a well paying job, my suspicion would be that they were run out of it, doubly so if they were engaged with such a shoddy, rag tag start-up. It would take pretty strong evidence to the contrary to believe otherwise.


Your last paragraph has me cracking up. It reminds me of Todd Barry's sarcastic delivery.


There are so many of these useless, poorly executed disastrous "service startups," especially in NYC. Look up Fly Cleaners and their Yelp reviews. Total disaster.

Doesn't matter. They still get millions in funding.

Do people think this is acceptable? Building shitty businesses and just subsisting off VC dollars, businesses that would otherwise never have a chance but get subsidized because they use an app or website to interact with their customers.

I can't wait for all of these people to get wiped out.


As of a few days ago they claim to have hit $1M a week in bookings:

http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/14/handy-hits-1-million-a-week...

I've encountered a couple of startups and founders like this and as much as it pains me to defend Handy, t does seem unlikely that they could have accomplished this if they were actually as dysfunctional as this story makes them seem. I'm skeptical of the author's claims.


If you ever spent time around lead gen and marketing business for general contracting services like remodel, HVAC (AC or Heating) and the like, you'd know how many shady actors are out there.

I thought myself more or less immune to much of these schemes as I have been around that industry a number of years in the past, but recently feel for a company pretending to be a local locksmith on google maps, when they are actually a lead gen company that sold me on an unrealistically low quote. When the guy showed up at 11pm and told me it was 5x the quote and explained all the reasons why the person on the phone really did not "lie" to me, I suddenly remembered what lead gen is...


My local, neighborhood locksmith who I see at my corner bar says there is a real danger of those guys coming back and breaking into your place, now that they know everything about your locks.


This guy took 2+ hours to open the door, so I'm not really worried about him specifically. That said, I did change out locks myself later on, although I'm sure if someone wants in, they'll just bust the window...


Its happened to me to as well. Even the legitimate locksmiths charge a lot. For example for just re-keying a lock (if your moving into a new place).


I don't mind paying what the service is worth, but being promised X and then paying 5X is not good business.


I've been curious if there's a business model there. Perhaps a way to vet and white-list businesses like Locksmiths to get around the scams?

Perhaps it could be partially automated by looking for storefronts in google street view?


Right place right time.

In a booming market a company that is only half functional, often to do overtime or heroics, can appear very successful. But as soon as the market cools down to normal or even still accelerated pace companies like this (assuming it's 100% true) start to drop like flies.

High profit or customer acquisition numbers can hide serious fundamental problems for a few years.


"Recessions uncover what auditors do not."


Is this really true? It seems a lot of people are part of dysfunctional organizations out of desperation. If there were better alternatives for the employees, would shifty endeavors such as the one in the article thrive?


The company in the article clearly has very serious problems. Based on the description they're in serious trouble no matter what.

But when there's a boom going on in an industry it can be so easy to make money and gain new clients that it can cover-up a lot of fundamental problems with the way that business is run.

Because money is pouring in the door (either by earning it or from VCs) the company can afford to give out a lot of perks and raises. It's easy to hire extra employees to pick up slack or for employees to get away with wasting large amounts of time or being semi-competent. If customers buy your service once and never come back who cares if there are beating a path to your door? There will always be more so you'll stay in the black. The atmosphere can be really relaxed and fun and casual. Lots of different ideas can be tried in a "throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks" manner. It doesn't really matter if you fail, things are going really well!

The problem is what happens when the market starts to cool down. The perks suddenly disappear in the raises stop happening. Manual processes that wasted a lot of employee time or cost extra people to have to be hired suddenly get cleaned up and people find themselves working overtime or without jobs. When the executive start seeing the money disappear the feeling inside the place changes completely. You better not make any mistakes or trying waste money with a new idea. Best to stick with what used to work; that must've been correct. Wasting money is the last thing you need.

But it doesn't really matter if the employees were doing their best job and weren't slacking off or wasting resources and all. Even if they are model employees the business model may have been unsustainable (like pets.com) and never would've succeeded even if everything had been run perfectly. $300/customer acquisition cost doesn't work well when the average customer ends buys $25/year in products.

If you knew all this was going on, employees could get out near the top or skip the ride altogether and work in a company that's solid building up their reputation there. Instead they might get laid off or have to leave under desperate circumstances and might have to find another job on the quick.

All because a change in the market revealed that there was a company that never should've been successful in the first place and may have only grown through an accident of luck.


That's awesome, is that a quote from something or someone, or just something that is true?



Excellent wisdom. I love coming across quotes which quantify intuition.


Successful companies are full of dysfunction; just like powerful empires. Their competitors are dysfunctional too.

I've known coworkers to suffer daily humiliations while I'm treated with absolute respect. They'd quit, often causing obvious pain to the bosses, but the company kept growing. The bosses could replace them eventually, as the corporation is structured to treat them as cogs.

Higher-up priests & bosses are treated well. Those nearer the bottom are miserable.


There's a lot of ruin in a nation, and a lot in any company. The successful ones produce enough value to make up for all the value being lost at various levels.

This company is a disaster on so many levels. It sounds like three employees low-paid are performing a critical service function and it's very easy to see them all walking out the door.


It's not just the treatment of lower level employees. It's also the lack of control, the lack of communication, the cluelessness about the business ($250 for a bathroom retiling), and the employees' lack of respect for their management.


The company that charges $250 for a bathroom retiling is the company that needs $30M in funding.


I remember a company selling furniture with free shipping during the first dot-bomb. (I think they had the furniture.com domain.) Only after they started getting orders did they realize that UPS and FedEx (at that time) wouldn't even ship that stuff for any cost.


If they are replaceable, they are cogs :)


They're taking a hammering on glassdoor:

http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Handy-Reviews-E680570.htm

The positive reviews seem fairly obvious fakes too.

And self reported income is often bullshit income. The figure is probably triple their best week which itself was a one off, before cancellations and charge backs.


Quote from the CEO, Oisin Hanrahan, "Handy does not employee any cleaners. It appears that you are one of the service professionals using our platform as a contractor. Per terms of use Glassdoor is for employees. Oisin"

Are you kidding me?


Talk about tone-deaf. If they are violating Glassdoor's TOU, he should tell Glassdoor directly, not say "you aren't following the rules, we have rules!"

EDIT: Here's something from the CEO a month ago, in response to "dude/bro" culture:

> Dude / bro / elitism - As a leadership team we have been guilty of focusing on high performers and not giving enough coaching / support to under performing team members. We need to work on this.


How is this company still in business?


This attitude permeates businesses in all sectors. It's part of the "we're management, and that means we're better than you" mentality of management. It almost has nothing whatsoever to do with why a company is (or isn't) still in business.


Classical malinvestment during a boom period.


Wow. All of the positive reviews were completely reactionary to the negative reviews. If that doesn't scream "encouraged by upper management" I don't know what does. They read so unauthentically.


I guess that's why I don't bother with online reviews. I just feel it's a huge game and completely unreliable.


On Amazon I always read only the two, three and four star reviews. I find them to be an order of magnitude more reliable. Especially the ones that clearly list the pros and cons of the product.


The bigger question is, why isn't this a concern when investing in a company? Certainly if I were to open a b2c smb (small business) and have a horrible track record, banks and private investors would think twice. If I am a startup? Who cares?


Blame @pmarca, what VC would want to skip a "software eats the world" opportunity? Moreover, one/two of them will still be big successes, which will validate the point in the first place.


> Wow.... And these are the companies that are getting funded?

This is probably one of the more obvious downsides to strict capitalism. All that matters with regards to funding is whether or not the company is making profit doing this. If they can abuse their staff, have a toxic culture and still make money, they'll get funded and eventually probably succeed.

Even if they do get sued for sexual harassment or whatever much later down the line (ie. when they're worth suing), it'll still be peanuts compared to their total profit and thus no disincentive to their behaviour.

There is no real capitalistic answer to this problem that I've ever heard of. It requires scruples from the start and that often requires regulation in a more "socialist" style. Regulated work hours, regulated holiday, regulated minimum pay, etc...


"Even if they do get sued for sexual harassment or whatever much later down the line (ie. when they're worth suing), it'll still be peanuts compared to their total profit and thus no disincentive to their behaviour."

Interesting example you use there as some sort of proof against "strict capitalism". Indeed, you claim that the individuals can sue, yet then you attribute the lack of sufficient penalty as a failing of capitalism? And not of, say, the state that's failing to regulate it to a sufficient amount of your liking?

A capitalistic answer is this: leave it alone, and it'll correct itself. You can't create an imaginary problem and then blame an economic system for not fixing it to your liking. By imaginary, I mean to say arbitrary, imagined by each individual based on his views/limits/boundaries. Take your examples, you seem to think that "toxic culture", "abuse" and "sexual harassment" are problems, and not just inconvenient situations. Others, like Ashley from the article don't see them as problems enough to warrant her losing her job over. She has other values in mind.

If you want to call "strict capitalism" then you have to admit that people will value non-tangible things. Sexual harassment, toxic culture, weird work hours. They're all factored in by individuals based on the their situation. And the mere fact that they're in that situation means that the return they get from the job is valued higher than the negatives.

Does bad stuff happen? Sure, that happens all the time. Some do cross the really bad boundaries that the majority of individuals agree on. Those are the sorts of things that your state should be "regulating", and not the fluffy stuff below that people are willing to work-around. We suck up and ignore all sorts of stuff all the time, just look at the numerous examples in this discussion. And of course, they also stand up and complain/leave/quit if something crosses their boundary. The big difference is that a lot of people don't go crying to the state to make their special little boundary a legal binding, enforceable on every single employer and employee that may or may not be affected by it.


As long as there is significant unemployment, an employee will never feel safe to change these situations for the better. As long as the pay is low, they'll never be able to just chuck a job on ethical principles - they can't afford to.

These problems aren't something that should be sucked up. They're abhorrent and I'm surprised that you're trying to defend it. It's not like it's difficult to not be sexist/racist/homophobic...


Unemployment level for high school graduates is now about 5.3%. [1] Maybe I'm living in a bubble but I think it's hard to believe that there's literally one single job available for a person asking for a low pay and if that person doesn't take that job they would have literally no options. Especially for something like phone support job - it's not really an uncommon field (2% of US workforce, over 2 mil. employed [2])

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/10/05/sept... [2] http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=customer+service+worker...


What if it's giving you black lung?


Well, what would you do? That is the point I was making my post, in case you didn't notice. That it's not up to me or you to decide what is/isn't acceptable for the third guy that we think we know best for.


Experience shows being sued is pretty strong disincentive - otherwise big companies wouldn't spend time and money on training, manuals, procedures, etc. to avoid being sued. Of course, it may not be a disincentive to a particular person - but as soon as someone in HR realizes it exposes them to being sued - that person would be in trouble.

>> There is no real capitalistic answer to this problem that I've ever heard of.

Of course there is. Exposure. As soon as this behavior is exposed, again the experience shows the pressure is enough to make pretty big companies to listen and move. Smaller companies probably would be even more susceptible to the pressure. Of course, that wouldn't solve the basic problem (some people are assholes) but it can go a long way to make them not feel welcome and encouraged.


They just posted some very odd tweets about this story: http://imgur.com/xvjr02Z


Those tweets actually look reasonable. They acknowledge the problem and don't deny or slander. It will still be hard to do damage control.


Working there is like going through a surgery. Constant harrassment. What amanda said was just the start. They treat you like less than a human being. Constant insults. No respect for human beings. Constant yelling.


Indian culture is a caste system. It's not surprising that a Harvard-educated Indian male co-founder would treat women, gays, and service employees like dirt and set the tone for the company that it's acceptible to do so.


A lot has happened in modern day India since 1911 Britannica encyclopedia came out which where you evidently got your racist generalizations about Indians from...


>Indian culture is a caste system.

US capitalism is also a caste system. Unlike the Indian system, it pretends very, very hard not to be.


No its not. While the Indian caste system is mostly dead (at least in the educated upper class circles I travel, mostly full of brahmins), it does play a social role.

Us capitalism is nothing like it. Something closer to the caste system might be the tribalist cultural grouping of people in the us (e.g. fishtown and Charles Murrays other subgroups, or Scott Alexanders reds and blues).

I know its fun to say capitalism is just like all historical bad things, but its silly.


Degree boasting and name dropping is very popular among Indians. Even their distant relatives boast about their Harvard degrees and Goldman jobs.


To the tune of almost $46 million dollars at what I'm sure is some absurd "valuation" in the hundreds of millions.

http://www.crunchbase.com/organization/handybook

Their included Twitter feed is blowing up with damage control.


It sounds amazingly similar to a satire about software start-ups that I think is truly brilliant - http://theanorexicstartup.com/. The sad part is that you can read the story and name at least one company that's actually that bad. This description of Handy-Book reads like a sequel.


I bet they complain to congress about a shortage of qualified employees, too.


The experience of this CSR candidate is obviously the lede of the piece, but my problem with businesses like this is deeper: I think all these companies that put a pretty UI over a bunch of low-skill 1099 workers are exploitative.

Reread the section about Lupe's attempt to reach the client in time.

I feel like companies in these markets will eventually reap the whirlwind when the USG decides not to allow people filling these roles to be classified as 1099s, and the whole segment falls apart. Or maybe I just hope it.


Piketty observes that the rise of the monthly wage was essential to the rise of what he calls the "patrimonial middle class". It gave labor a degree of income stability that they did not enjoy under the previous system of daily wages and piecework.

These startups are essentially converting monthly wage jobs back into piecework jobs. Not satisfied with rolling back the new deal, we're now rolling back the progressive era.


> essentially converting monthly wage jobs back into piecework jobs

People who work these jobs never had a monthly wage job to begin with. If you're fully employed as a house-cleaner, why bother with Handy? If you're a full-time black car driver, why even bother with Uber?

This is lead-gen business for industries that tend to have a large amount of self-employed individuals to begin with.


I'm not clear on why these services can't be organized by something low-tech and essentially free, like Craigslist. I can totally see the value in establishing a marketplace like this, but don't service providers get final say on which marketplace wins, and won't they pick the one that doesn't treat them like garbage and then charge 30% or whatever?


I couldn't agree more. All we need is Craigslist style verticals (categories of work) and horizontals (cities) + identity verification + a reputation system. The overhead for that could be really low.

The $35k/year/worker support staff would seem to be the only capital-intensive aspect of the business.


There already are some services, likes angieslist. One problem is the review/reputation system. Without purchase proof anyone can review/rate providers and this in time will make the rating system unreliable.


Much like fraud prevention is the "hard" part in a payment processor, reputation systems are one half* of the "hard" part in this kind of marketplaces, and very especially for this kind of tradesman services (*the other is getting both sides to use it).

I've seen several people try to start services like "Handy" and fail due to this.

One big problem is that the best tradespeople already have work, and don't need lead generation services.


When those in charge fall asleep at the desk, this is the mess that follows.

What's really sad is that ordinary folks are complicit in the exploitation as they don't see anything past the pretty UI. They think they're hiring vetted people who're treated well, when in reality, they're better off being hired directly via old-school Yellow Pages or even Craigslist.


They think they're hiring people who have a history of getting the job done, and they are. The article talks about their "three strikes" policy for the contractors. Yellow Pages doesn't have that.


True, but we have our own version of "three strikes" via Yelp, Angie's List etc... Also, I hang out on a lot of home improvement forums where cleaners, contractors and customers frequently trade information and recommendations about each other.

For all the hoopla about Facebook et al. the old-fashioned forums are still a hotbed of activity for services like this.


>"I think all these companies that put a pretty UI over a bunch of low-skill 1099 workers are exploitative."

While I totally agree with this I wonder about whether / why people working this jobs would be re-classified?

Many if not most people I know in work in technology on 1099 and are applied in ways which would seem to be more clearly misclassified than these workers.


The USG decided how the classification works today (own supplies, control over the method of how the work is done, &c). They can change the classification system.


So the first definition I found for exploitation: "the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work."

Is that how you view it, and then go on to classify it as exploitation? The fact that these individuals are somehow treated unfairly?

Following from that, how would you change it so that it fits within your definition of fair?


Full work day interviews where you do actual work for the company are technically illegal. If you want to mess with them, you can file a suit in small claims court for whatever hourly rate you feel like, and it'll be a huge pain in the ass unless they settle and pay you quickly :)


It's also illegal to require employees to use their own devices and not compensate them for that use.


Is that actually illegal? I think it's really crappy, and no company should do it, but I'd love to see where this is codified as illegal.


California passed a law about that I believe. An excerpt from this [1]:

Section 2802 of the California Labor Code requires employers to reimburse employees for expenses “necessarily incurred” with the stated purpose of “prevent[ing] employers from passing their operating expenses on to their employees.” Lest anyone think this issue can be resolved with a waiver of the right to reimbursement, Labor Code section 2804 prohibits waivers of an employee’s rights to reimbursement.

[1] http://www.dlapiper.com/en/us/insights/publications/2014/08/...


Awesome, thanks!


it is unclear. I read an article yesterday saying California had just passed legislation to compensate for it. Obviously, it is pretty unethical, especially if you spend the majority of the day on the phone.


Yep, agree, very unethical, very hostile. Where did you read about the legislation passed?


Hacker News I beleive. I will find a link and post in a few minutes.

One link here: http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/338164/employment+litig...

Edit 2: It was actually on Reddit. This is the link to Reddit commenting on the computer world article focusing on the same ruling at the appellate level:

http://www.reddit.com/r/law/comments/2f55j2/california_cellp...


Thanks a bunch, great stuff.


It might be illegal but it could be made "legal" if she contractually agreed to it somehow. As in "you provide us with a work sample, this day is an interview day, you are not an employee, yadda, yadda... <sign here>" It seems for the millions in VC funds they probably spent some attorneys who check that out for them.


An individual's contract cannot not invalidate prevailing labor law or collective bargaining agreement. If you do actual work for the company on an interview day, you can sue for unpaid wages.


"do actual work" can be re-interpreted by sleazy lawyering in many ways.

I've had some companies ask me to implement small snippets of code (QuadTree in C++ type stuff) as part of an interview process. Do I have chance of billing them for my time?

The difference between "work" and "work sample for interview purposes" can be muddled that was the point.


Do you have any documentation or links on this?

I am in no way doubting you, but this is such a common occurrence I hear about that I'd like to have a few links in my pocket to give people who either a) think this is a good idea, or b) have to experience this.

The other angle is understanding at which point an interview turns into an illegal full-day interview with actual work.


The point where an interview becomes illegal is when you do actual work. In an interview, they should run through mock scenarios to gauge if it will be a good fit. You do actual work after they hire you. Companies pay for training employees for a reason. Here's a flowchart for if you internship is illegal. http://www.moneysideoflife.com/illegal-internship-flowchart/ It's pretty much exactly the same in this scenario. Included in there, is a link to the Labor Department's regulations on the subject.


Call the New York Department of Labor at 1-888-4NYSDOL (469-7365).


I am in the process of agreeing to a similar arrangement but it is payed and can go on while I interview with other companies. Win win and the best part is that everything is transparent between me and the startup. This is in Germany.


For visa people, you can't really get paid either when you do interviews. You usually don't know if it's 'actual work' or not before hand.


I don't know why she changed the founder's name, it's pretty easy to figure out when there are only two founders.[1] It looks like Umang Dua, HBS '13[2]. He's on Twitter as @umangdua if anyone would like to ask him about this incident.

[1] https://www.handy.com/about [2] https://www.linkedin.com/in/umangdua [3] https://twitter.com/umangdua


Honestly, I thought it took a lot of gall to even name the startup by name. There's always a fear of retribution even minor.


Naming the startup gave this article extra teeth for me.


I had assumed the name of the company was fake until I read the line at the end about them changing their name and getting a former Amazon CFO.


Less fear of being blackballed when you're an industry outsider.


I admire gall.


According to Valley Wag, she was writing under a pseudonym: http://valleywag.gawker.com/handys-nightmare-tryout-process-...


so that's the face of this wonderful humane and honest company.


They've responded on Twitter. They don't really mention what they're talking about so you won't understand unless you've read the story. I guess to purposely not connect others to the story

> This is disturbing and in no way represents working at Handy. Companies go through growing pains and these facts have no bearing on us today

> When Amanda says she applied 1.5 yrs ago, our company was newer, smaller and still figuring out best practices. Things have changed since.

> We do not stand for racism or sexism of any kind. That kind of behavior is not tolerated and never will be.

> We understand that our employees and professionals are the lifeblood of our business and we work every day to ensure their happiness.

They don't seem to deny what Amanda is saying. And I don't see how they can say they've changed if some of those same people still remain...


> This is disturbing and in no way represents working at Handy. Companies go through growing pains and these facts have no bearing on us today

I take issue with this statement the most. The author clearly identifies the CEO, whom is still there, was present when the comments and inappropriate jokes were being made. It's entirely possible the CEO did say something, but I'm guessing based on the tone of the article they did not.

While it's natural for a company to go through growing pains I've never heard it used in reference to office culture how customers are treated. If this was going on 18 months ago it means it's still there today.


I saw that as nothing but an admission of guilt. I wonder if the tweet will stay up. I bet their corporate lawyer won't be happy when they see it.


Exactly. Symptoms of "growing pains" include struggling to meet obligations, disorganized management, etc. A blatant disrespect for others is a symptom of a person lacking in morals and empathy.


I must be old...

I feel like I read stories about horrible jobs and tough times finding work from young college grads regularly and the news would seem to corroborate them [1].

Apparently, these people end up serving coffee or answering phones for clown shop start-ups.

Meanwhile, I know people trying to hire for what I'd consider traditional entry level jobs (clerks, reception, no-risk security, no-experience necessary apprenticeships) offering full benefits plus 35-45k+ salaries who would be overjoyed to see a single college-educated applicant.

What's going on here? Do people believe in this Amway-esque pitch for a "world of opportunities"? Do traditional jobs feel like giving up? Are they too restricting?

1: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/0...


Well, do you have links to the open job positions for 'traditional jobs'? Are they in nowhere, midwest? Are you sure they really exist? Are they advertising entirely on the bulletin board of nursing homes? Are they just advertising for 'secretary' without listing salaries and benefits? Lots of reasons why they might not get applicants, but I don't think any of those reasons are 'kids these days'.


The jobs you mention don't exist. Unless you count prison guards. I know someone who double majored with good grades and is now a corrections officer working with mostly non-college graduates because the only other job opportunities were things like 7-11 cashier.

Also, I know people see a lot of "openings" for "decent" positions, but most of them seem to be fake spam positions from companies that don't really want to hire people considering that every person I know who has ever applied for one has never heard anything back, except for a couple people who've had it explained to them that an opening wasn't for college graduates.


> The jobs you mention don't exist

But doesn't it sound like it would be a supremely profitable relationship if such a job did exist?


I'm not "old," but I'll give it a shot...

I agree - it seems like every day I read a story about how my peers can't find jobs, how the job market is terrible, etc. But then I see thousands of postings for those typical desk jobs. I don't fully understand it, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it has to do with the "coolness" of the job.

It seems much more superior these days to say you work for the latest startup over a traditional multi-national corporation. Also, people entering the job market today really seem to value the work environment. I read an article on HN recently about how the finance industry is losing applicants to the tech industry. Recent grads hate the stuffy 9 to 5 culture, not getting free lunches, wearing suits to a job where they sit at a desk all day, etc. etc.

Regardless, I would think they'd rather have a job somewhere like that than no job at all, but that's been my limited experience talking to 30 or so new grads.


Looking at my peers, who mostly have science and engineering backgrounds, there is a perception that we need to work in "our field". Not using our degrees makes the entire expense and time of college seem like a waste[1], even though the degree can still help get unrelated work.

On top of that, we treat searching for jobs in a very focused way: I'm looking for a job in "x". I'm sure there are lots of other jobs, but if I never think to search for them it's like they do not exist.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs#Loss_aversion_and_th...


Where are all the attorneys? This is a company with flagrantly illegal practices and a ton of money in the bank. People live for that sort of scenario. Anyone let go by these clowns should leave with a nice chunk of change.


I know a very successful attorney who would've killed for a case like this back when he was practicing (he's retired now). Labor law violations in particular make lawyers happy because where there's one victim at a particular company, there are probably many more. You'd generally get someone like the guy in the article as a client and start subpoenaing records and checking out their other employees. Then you represent them all and get a huge fscking settlement. Easy money. Remember: juries hate evil corporations that screw the little guy, and both sides know it.

So why don't we see more of these? Because -- and this is according to a lawyer who did pursue a few of these cases and would've liked to pursue more -- most of the news articles are lies or gross exaggerations. The press will write a clickbaity article and play fast-and-loose with the facts. Lawyers will look into it, hoping for a case that leads to an easy settlement, and find that, underneath all the outrage, there's very little substance.


We've spent the last 30-odd years electing people that stuff the books and court benches with laws and people that make sure that - by and large - attorneys and the victims they represent can't hold companies like this responsible or accountable - for almost anything, let alone misdeeds with needy victims. Go look up "forced arbitration"... these "service providers" probably have, at best, the right to a loser-pays "arbitrator" who is paid and picked by Handybook. The risk that any of them might opt for any quasi-legal proceeding (let alone the rigged arbitration system they are likely limited to) given that many of them most likely have some kind of liminal citizenship status is effectively nil. If I were doing the liabilities/risk business analysis for this, I would delete the row this was on just to clean up the spreadsheet a little bit.

The concept of companies being held responsible for things they do that hurt or exploit people is a humorous anachronism from a bygone era.


It doesn't look like the "candidate/employee" signed anything. And if they did, the contract isn't enforceable without consideration. "We are considering you for the job" is not consideration.


The way companies do forced arbitration now is by providing the employee with an opt out form that they have to fill out and mail to the legal department within 30 days.

Sharp-eyed employees will notice this in their new hire documentation but most will not. The company can then claim that they did not make forced arbitration a condition of employment and did give the employee an opportunity to opt out, which they declined to take. Courts have upheld this as legal:

http://www.dglaw.com/images_user/newsalerts/Litigation_Emplo...


They never hired her. There was no on-going agreement or failure to opt-out.

Again, contracts still need consideration. Employment is consideration. They never employed her.


I don't get why the fuck they didn't just pay her a day rate for work, since she was essentially working.


(IANAL) The 12 hours of free-work might constitute consideration, but I don't see why you would even take a contracts angle on this particular interaction when you just have generic labor law.


Sometimes I wonder if it would make sense for investors to send someone they trust to apply and interview for a position at a company they're considering.

If what she wrote is accurate I don't really understand how they managed to raise $30 million in funding.


> If what she wrote is accurate I don't really understand how they managed to raise $30 million in funding.

Probably covered by the part where the founder was at Harvard


It's not unusual at all to find very smart people that just lack the very basic common sense.


Nothing at all surprising about them being able to raise $30M. The lousiest people are usually also the best at kissing ass.


No surprise here. The first thing a Harvard grad will tell you is that they graduated from Harvard.


Interesting. Informally (anecdotally), I think the norm is quite the opposite: noblesse obliges to never drop the H-bomb in conversation --whence the irksome "went to school near Boston" trope [1,2].

It could well be a HBS-only thing, though. They have their own thing going on.

[1] http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/9/15/harvard-students...

[2] http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/05/30/harvard_grads...


In my anecdotal experience, I only find out people I meet went to Harvard when I see them in a school sweatshirt. Or if they write for The Simpsons, in which case I just assume it. Heh.

Wharton grads, on the other hand... Never more than 10 minutes before they drop it in.


How do you spot an MBA from Harvard? Don't worry they'll tell you...


my graduate advisor had studied CS from Harvard. She never mentioned it. I got to know one day when I was going through her Bio. I mentioned it in the next meeting and all she did was smile faintly.

People with substance don't need to flash their Ivy League emblem everywhere.


Still wishing fuckedcompany.com was still around to start collecting stories like this as the bubble starts to pop...


Soon there will be an app for that, probably called Unter (Uber for going under).


"It will be a full day of work, like an extended interview, and unpaid."

Screw that noise. It is clear from just that they don't respect people's time.


I'm pretty certain this is illegal and a violation of the Fair Labor Standard act. http://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/


When I interview, I mention that I have to give my present employer 2 weeks notice, whether it's true or not. Then I carefully watch their reaction. Anything other than supportive is a deal-breaker. Either they have integrity or they don't.


The ones that aren't supportive usually aren't supportive of you quitting without 2 weeks either.


Could you clarify? I'm confused by what difference does it make what they say.


"Of course" - no red flags.

"WHAT?! We expected you to start tomorrow! Can't you just quit? Don't you want to work here?!" - Aaaaand, we're done here.


I have interviewed a lot, and I have literally never experienced anything other than some variation of "of course".


On the flip side, when I am interviewing a candidate I always ask when they would be able to start if we were to make them an offer. A currently employed candidate who says "tomorrow" raises huge red flags.


Tell them 3 weeks. Get escorted politely off former employer when I give notice (its just policy, good luck). Vacation!


I thought this article was written about a fictitious company as a satire, but after couple of search it turns out that Handy actually exists and has raised quite a lot - as a competitor of HomeJoy?

I don't know if everything there is true, but this article has the indirect effect of making my opinion of michaelochurch going up.


Why?


I'm not surprised that a company that would treat its service providers so shitty would also treat its employees that way. Between stories like this and the things I hear about other service startups like Task Rabbit it makes me never want to use one of these services ever.


Wow! It's good to hear stories like this to balance out the usually euphoric stories around startups. Hopefully this an aberration, not the norm


Hopefully this an aberration, not the norm

Startups that hire unskilled labor are only pulling back the curtain on the actual job market. If anything you can expect to hear more about it as the tech startup world starts building things that require more staff than an engineering department.


I worked unskilled labor in NYC before and during college (and a short time after). I've seen attempts to scam jobseekers, I've been sexually harassed (I'm male) and I've worked for assholes but I have never seen a legitimate employer that was even remotely this bad.


This is pretty bad. I'm debating whether it tops the job where I got fired for speaking Spanish, but it's bad nonetheless


Woah really? Sounds interesting, care to share the story?


Once I was "demoted" for having a bad relationship with my father because someone talked about it with the store manager...


> The next step in the process is a tryout day. It will be a full day of work, like an extended interview, and unpaid. Could you come in tomorrow?

I liked this until the unpaid part. Maybe there are just too many impossible laws and logistics to get around, but I've always thought it would be cool if more companies tried something out like a 10-day contract (paid of course) to make sure the job is a good fit, and so both parties can make an initial decision without as much risk.


The reason this doesn't work is that most people aren't going to quit their current job for something that isn't a definite offer of full time employment. Would you?


I've never had a salaried job that didn't start off with a "probationary" period of 30 - 90 days. Not sure what the real difference is.


And I've never had one that had one...


No, I guess my assumption was that the candidate in this scenario didn't already have a job.


Right, and for people who don't have a job, that could definitely work. The problem is that as a general rule, the best people ARE employed.


Involuntary unemployment does happen. And it's nice, when it does happen, that there are some companies around that will provide you with a day's labor for a day's wages, when you've got to put food on your family.

I wouldn't want to see all, or even most, companies do this. But for those of us not living in the Valley who need to support families, it's nice to know there are sources of employment out there if/when the poo hits the fan.


I won't even look at contract work. Neither will any of the best people I know. So that one requirement rules out a huge swath of the best candidates.


While it would be technically considered contract work, I think its a little short sighted to forgo a trial period because of what they called it. Its hard to see if an office would be a good fit in an hour or two, so I think the extended interview would work well.


Well, typically I work under IP agreements that would require that I get approval for this with my current employers.

In general, you don't want to bias your hiring pipeline away from people that currently have good jobs.


I don't think there's a lot of legal hurdles. Companies hire short-term 1099 contractors all the time.


Yes, but you can't schedule a 1099 contractor to be in your office 8-8. That's likely why they won't give you a phone or computer, but that doesn't mean someone required to be in the office 12 hours a day to provide an essential function of your business is a contractor.


Maybe it's not a 1099 situation then. You can, for example, hire an electrician and require they work only at night, or on the weekends, or whenever. It's clearly not outside the realm of possibility to pay someone to work in your office for a day. I have a hard time believing a Harvard MBA, McKinsey consultant couldn't wrap their head around the concept of contract work, not to mention labor laws.


Don't ever doubt the willingness of a Harvard MBA / McKinsey consultant to call an employee a contractor to save on the taxes and hassles like fair employment practices.

> It's clearly not outside the realm of possibility to pay someone to work in your office for a day.

Of course not. But when you pay someone to work in your office on a set schedule every day to do the things that you tell them to do and those things are central to your business? Well, you got yourself an employee.


That's really beside the point. We're not talking about paying them to work there every day. We're talking about paying them for one day as a trial, then deciding on whether they should be an employee or not.


I had an interview that involved two tryout days. I got paid $500 in amazon prime credit. Worked for me and the company, we got to really see what it would be like working together. I got to see the codebase, they got to see my code.


Did they continue to pay your salary in Amazon Prime credits?


Why the pay in scrip?


Paperwork and accounting -- it's way easier to just allocate a general slush fund of Amazon GCs or pre-loaded VISA cards than it is to get everyone to fill 1099s, pay accountants and what not just to pay people a few hundred dollars.


Tax avoidance.

Always a red flag.


Doesnt Amazon Prime credit have to be reported as cash for tax purposes?

That is if you get over $600(the IRS rule was $600 in late 90s not sure now) in Prime credit it has to be reported.


Doesn't work that well for people already employed (ie, the most attractive candidates).


Most companies in countries without "at-will" employment do do this, except it's usually a six month trial contract. Not sure what you expect to find out in ten days.


> "I started this company while I was getting my MBA at Harvard. Before this, I worked for McKinsey & Company…" he paused to gauge my reaction, “which is one of the top business consulting firms in the world.”

I wonder how he would have reacted to my utterly uninterested facial expression. Nothing of that is of any interest when trying to asses his value as a person or if his idea/company is good or not.


I enjoy being from Australia and listening to Americans yammer on about their education or work history.

I honestly say "I've never heard of <institution>" - the reactions are great :)


yeah, I'm imagining her saying: 'aw, that's nice' with a deadpan face.


At the risk of saying something terribly unpopular, I've got about six more of these in me, then I'm done.

Seriously. Let's get real. There are what? Say thirty thousand or so startups in the U.S., with ten thousand joining and dropping out in any given year? So if 1% were fuckups, we'd be able to run several of these stories a day. Forever.

I think people like them because it feels good to see young jerks acting like, well, young jerks. Don't we know so much more than them? Wonder how they feel, now, those assholes! You can get the holier-than-thou feeling and you can riff off the righteous indignation. Lots of folks just can't get enough righteous indignation. Then you can sit around and share stories from the good old days.

The problem is, not only can you run these ad infinitum without actually doing more than sharing a ton of anecdotes -- it doesn't lead to any sort of productivity. It gives me nothing to go and accomplish, it offers no insights into what public policy changes might be required to stop it (if it did, it'd be politics, and we don't want to go there). It's just -- nothing. Like driving by a fender bender and talking to the other people in the car about what happened and who must be at fault. A waste of time.

I really wish there was something useful here. Best I've got is "People who don't understand employment law are going to make lots of mistakes"

So I got that. I got that with the first of these.

Maybe we're seeing the start of a new genre, like FuckedCompany. If so, perhaps there's a subreddit for it somewhere? After a few dozen of these, it ain't going to be stuff hackers are interested in, unless they're some pretty monotonous hackers.


I'm no lawyer, but: by law, if you are expected to work 12-hour days, isn't the company supposed to pay you overtime? My understanding was that even if you are an 'exempt' employee, if the _expectation_ is that you have to work more than 40 hours/week, you should be paid overtime?


A "Customer Experience Associate" is almost certainly not an exempt employee, so U.S. law would require them to be paid overtime for any hours in excess of 40 hours a week.

If you're an exempt employee, there's no requirement that you be paid overtime, no matter how many hours a week you're required to work.


Any employee of theirs who is reading this should just call the NY DOL and ask. Even if they don't work there any more. They might get a nice check from Handy's. It doesn't matter which employee calls in; if they do an audit, all employees who were underpaid will get payments.


The salary could be calculated based on 72 hr weeks. At current NY state law, a gross annual salary of 35k assuming 48 paid weeks of employment at 72 hours a week would come to an hourly wage of $8.67, with overtime paid.


I know that to be the case in Pennsylvania and Virginia, as those are the states I've lived in. I believe it to be the case in New York.


In the U.S., this is actually governed by a Federal law, the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The U.S. Department of Labor has lots of information about it:

http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/wages/overtimepay.htm


It sickens me how close that article/post is to my experience working for a small business in Auckland, New Zealand.


Highland Capital Partners is one of their investors. Prior investments by the firm include http://www.hcp.com/companies/


Not only is this employer acting like an asshole, they're doing it stupidly. They let candidates for employment bring in their own computer and plug it into their internal network. Someone is going to drain out all their internal records.

You can see their web site at "http://www.handy.com/". The page source is amusing. They seem to be more interested in ad networks than booking actual business.


> Someone is going to drain out all their internal records

What could they possibly have worth stealing?


That's easy--the answer to where all that $45,000,000 in venture capital funding went!


yea, I had bad experiences there too. They are very bad with hiring contract. Really treat employees like bad


Have a seemingly decent idea. Build a seemingly workable product. Know people / have a shiny thing on your resume.

Why the surprise at all this? Here in NYC I speak to funded startup founders and employees every other day who lack basic business, business management, and people management skills and experience. Investor actions (i.e. $$$$) seriously devalue these things now.

(But we have advisors!!!!!!!)

/jadedrant


This reminds me of the all-too-true joke.

Question: How do you know somebody has an MBA? Answer: They tell you.

Full disclosure... I have an MBA!


In general, startups do not follow the professional practices of established companies. When you interview for an established company, they're usually professional and they get back to you afterwards. When you interview for a startup, you can run into all sorts of issues. The founder might not be there, the employees may have no idea what to do with you, or you might just have a 15-minute interview after traveling for 90 minutes to get there. They often won't get back to you. Though this example is particularly bad since they're asking applicants to do unpaid labor.


Are you kidding me. If this story was true, this startup was way beyond just unprofessional.


> “Congratulations! Ajay thinks you’d be a great fit. The next step in the process is a tryout day. It will be a full day of work, like an extended interview, and unpaid. Could you come in tomorrow?”

This may be a violation of wage and hour laws.

> “Great! You’ll need to bring your own laptop and smart phone. Will that be a problem for you?”

Many states forbid companies from requiring that their employees bear the costs of business expenses. I wonder if employees at this company are being reimbursed.

> “Okay, our Customer Experience Associates normally begin work at 8 a.m. and wrap up the day around 8 p.m. They work five days per week, plus one rotating weekend shift. Is that okay?” She looked at me warily.

It would be interesting to know if the company is treating "Customer Experience Associates" as exempt or non-exempt employees. Customer service roles are almost always non-exempt, and non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay. Given that the author wrote she was offered a $35,000 salary and made no mention of overtime pay, it sounds like there might be a misclassification issue here. These misclassifications can be very, very costly (unpaid overtime plus interest, numerous statutory penalties, attorney's fees, etc.) so they're incredibly attractive to plaintiff's attorneys.

> “Service provider” was a pleasant euphemism for Handybook’s fleet of freelance cleaners and handymen. After signing up with Handybook, service providers received text alerts about available jobs, which they could claim for themselves by texting back, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

> A programmer giggled and called out, “Ashley, do your Chinese washer woman impression again!” “My Chinese washa wo-men?” she pulled back the skin on the sides of her face. “I do you laund-wy! Own-wy ten dollah!” She laughed hysterically, “I clean you house!” The programmers sniggered loudly. “Ching chong!” someone yelled out and collapsed into laughter.

> “Want to hear a joke I heard today?” a programmer asked, eying me and giggling. “What’s the difference between a woman and a refrigerator?” “…what,” I said. “Refrigerators don’t moan when you put meat in them!”

This behavior is toxic to businesses that want to remain in business.

> “Service provider” was a pleasant euphemism for Handybook’s fleet of freelance cleaners and handymen. After signing up with Handybook, service providers received text alerts about available jobs, which they could claim for themselves by texting back, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

A lot of these "on demand" companies are built on classifying their service providers as independent contractors. In many cases, however, independent contractor classification is questionable. In this case specifically, the description of how the company dealt with Lupe raises serious questions.

The more funding these companies receive, and the bigger they get, the more attractive they're going to be to plaintiff's counsel. One of Handy's competitors is already on the radar of a prominent Boston class action attorney[1].

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/storyline/wp/2014/09/10/a...


In this case specifically, the description of how the company dealt with Lupe raises serious questions.

Honest question: what is legally wrong with it? If people show up late, you are allowed to remove them from your network. I don't see anything at http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employ... that indicates paying attention to the time when work is done disqualifies one from being a contractor.


Right on the page you cited, it says:

"You are not an independent contractor if you perform services that can be controlled by an employer (what will be done and how it will be done)."

Enforcing specific working hours is definitely controlling how a job will be done.


Sounds like the company is growing too quickly for them to implement things like Human Resources & a new hire training program.

BYO Technology? that should be an OPTION, not a requirement...especially at 35K.


> “Okay, our Customer Experience Associates normally begin work at 8 a.m. and wrap up the day around 8 p.m. They work five days per week, plus one rotating weekend shift. Is that okay?” She looked at me warily.

12 * 5 = 60 hours per week. That's illegal in the EU.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_Time_Directive

https://www.gov.uk/maximum-weekly-working-hours



And now I'm never going to use Handybook again.


These tales are infuriating.


As much as things sometimes sucked during my recent job hunt, holy cow, this is over-the-top awful. The worst of my experiences were exceeded within three paragraphs.

I did have to deal with one company that said they had trouble "finding senior people" when the whole office was a playground. But no one told me any sexist or racist jokes.


Here's a video on Handy's hiring strategy: https://www.33voices.com/authors/umang-dua/media/handys-hiri...


Sounds terrible but I have to point out that I don't like the way she described Ajay as an "Indian guy".

I don't know why it rubbed me the wrong way


Yeah,same here. Nobody says "american guy". So she definitely wanted to get that fact through.


> Nobody says "american guy"

Yes they do. All the time. Well, probably not in America, cause that would be stupid (I doubt they say "Indian guy" in India for the same reason) but I've certainly heard it in the UK and Ireland. I've no reason to believe it's isolated to those countries.

Edit: I feel I should now say something about "Family Dad", but I'm not sure that's right...


She says the marketing team was filled with a bunch of "white guys". I don't see what the issue is.


Indeed :)


I see it as just a way to out the guy without actually spelling out his name.


This is probably hard for most engineers to relate to, unless part of your role is doing support.

edit: when I say something is not insane or unexpected, I mean it in the context of a person looking for work in customer support. These are the things you run in to. So if you are shocked that they have to provide their own hardware, then you are shocked at the way support people are often actually treated. I'm not advocating for or supporting that.

The interview process and criteria for being hired have really high variance compared to engineering interviews.

The author of this piece made the classic, and often unavoidable mistake of being between a rock and a hard place and not vetting the company she interviewed at and ultimately worked for for a day.

Even if you're not an engineer/designer/data scientist (or one of the typically highly desired people for a startup), you should be working at places you love and believe in, when you're not, you end up having bad experiences and those bad experiences are amplified by the environment.

First, I didn't find Ajay's interview to be that weird, saying why you came up with the idea for your company and your qualifications should be expected, not interpreted as a way for the founder to diminish the potential future employee. If you don't believe in your leaders, and don't trust them, you are in a lot of trouble.

edit: I think that not having interviewed with the actual support team members is a huge red flag here as well, but owing to the author's somewhat desperate situation, they moved forward anyways.

12 hour days is insane, and wrong. Having to provide your own device is not really that insane for small teams. Obviously it's great if a company provides it, and probably larger companies should always provide a workstation, but this doesn't come across as totally abnormal. The constant "want to hear a joke" and racist/sexist tone at the company is also not acceptable, but clearly was supported by the people working there at the time, if the anecdote is taken at face value.

It's super easy to pay for a trial period, and as far as I'm aware, it's not even legal to have people work for free unless you are a nonprofit or government organization, so that's shady, even if only for one day. I've done two week trials that were fully paid, and it was a great way to get a feel for the company and vice versa.

Not having any onboarding, given that the trial was for a day isn't too surprising, but that is clearly a problem with a one day trial. They should have absolutely been given some lead-in material to help them get prepped before starting.

There appear to be a lot of growing pains at Handy, which isn't a surprise, but hopefully they can move fast and get their support/service wing to be as tight and focused as the rest of their team (assuming that is true).


Telling a candidate for a 35k/yr CSR position about your struggles finding paid apartment cleaning while at Harvard is in fact tone deaf. That's not a crime, but it's germane. It speaks to mismanagement.

Requiring employees to buy their own computers is past unprofessional; it implies among other things zero IT security. For a CSR position that depends on IT connectivity, it's economically abusive. But it's also penny-wise-pound-foolish. It speaks to mismanagement.

The constant "want to hear a joke" sexist/racist stuff is unlawful. An employee that leaves because they feel forced to make a decision between a hostile environment and no job has a claim against the company. It does not matter if it was supported by the people "working there at the time". It's an example of company mismanagement.


I agree. One (among many) issue here is that this person should have been interviewing with the actual support team and not with the founder.


> "Having to provide your own device is not really that insane for small teams."

Not that unusual to garage or ramen-stage companies sure, but these are guys with an office in one of the hottest startup hubs of Manhattan with $45 million in funding.

It's also insane - trusting hardware of unknown provenance with your customer experience? Is it really that hard to buy a few iMacs (or cheapo Dell desktops if that's your speed) for your support reps to use? That way hardware that's critical to your support infrastructure isn't traveling on the subway every day, getting broken, stolen, or god-knows-what.

This is a Series B startup with $45m in funding so far, they should be way past the point of being able to buy some company machines for people to work on.


How does a company like this get $45 million in funding? Is that really cash in the bank, or "on paper, committed under certain circumstances, with only $1 million actually in the bank as of today?"

I guess I just don't understand how a business like this could ever get funded to $45 million.

Where's the competitive advantage?

India sent a satellite to orbit mars for $74 million, these guys have people answering phones to book odd jobs for $45 million?


> India sent a satellite to orbit mars for $74 million, these guys have people answering phones to book odd jobs for $45 million?

And the phones aren't even provided by the $45,000,000! Lunch is though, so maybe that's what the big bucks get you.


If you have somebody at your company who is well connected, good at making connections and is good at delivering presentations to investors, then you can get money even if your office is poorly run.


At a minimum buy some mac mini's to leave in the office with some phones. Requiring use of own hardware on top of 12 hour shifts for a company with $45m in funding is just silly.


And possibly illegal.


Yep, given the size, it's a bit insane.


> The author of this piece made the classic, and often unavoidable mistake of being between a rock and a hard place and not vetting the company she interviewed at and ultimately worked for for a day.

Vetting a place for a hostile work environment, esp. when the company is small and has had few employees, is really difficult.

> First, I didn't find Ajay's interview to be that weird, saying why you came up with the idea for your company and your qualifications should be expected, not interpreted as a way for the founder to diminish the potential future employee. If you don't believe in your leaders, and don't trust them, you are in a lot of trouble.

His attitude isn't troubling except in hindsight after we learn that sexism and sexual harassment are A-OK in the office and that service providers shoulder a ton of blame for little reward.

> 12 hour days is insane, and wrong. Having to provide your own device is not really that insane for small teams. Obviously it's great if a company provides it, and probably larger companies should always provide a workstation, but this doesn't come across as totally abnormal.

For the low pay those customer service people received, it is abhorrent that they must also pay for supplies to do their basic job. It's a safe bet to say that the programmers there didn't have to buy their own desktops for development.

> The constant "want to hear a joke" and racist/sexist tone at the company is also not acceptable, but clearly was supported by the people working there at the time, if the anecdote is taken at face value.

Uh, the author clearly related that several people seemed uncomfortable by the sexual harassment in the office. Did you even read the anecdote about 'Josh' being harassed in plain view of the office?!

> There appear to be a lot of growing pains at Handy, which isn't a surprise, but hopefully they can move fast and get their support/service wing to be as tight and focused as the rest of their team.

A hostile workplace, sexual harassment, demeaning low wage service providers, and being general assholes isn't growing pains, it's a sign that the company is horrible and no one should do business with them.


> Vetting a place for a hostile work environment, esp. when the company is small and has had few employees, is really difficult.

From the anecdote, it doesn't sound like she interviewed with anyone from the support team, that is a big problem and something she could have asked about. You're right, it's easy to hide, but since she only worked there one day and ran into this, it seems likely it would have been a red flag in the interview process.

> His attitude isn't troubling except in hindsight after we learn that sexism and sexual harassment are A-OK

I agree, which is why I said "but clearly was supported by the people working there at the time" so I'm not sure why you said:

> Uh, the author clearly related that several people seemed uncomfortable by the sexual harassment in the office.

Being uncomfortable with it doesn't mean that it isn't pervasive and effectively sanctioned by the company. So I think we actually agree here, maybe I've phrased something poorly, sorry about that.

> For the low pay those customer service people received, it is abhorrent that they must also pay for supplies

I agree, they should provide equipment at this company, given the context, and the salary of the service employees. My reaction is that I've done this kind of work and this seems to be a common situation at many companies, again this is why I said engineers may not relate well to the story.

You should check with your less prestigious teams and make sure they are getting the same care and attention that your engineers are, you may be surprised at how poorly non technical people are treated even at your own companies.


> From the anecdote, it doesn't sound like she interviewed with anyone from the support team, that is a big problem and something she could have asked about. You're right, it's easy to hide, but since she only worked there one day and ran into this, it seems likely it would have been a red flag in the interview process.

Nobody should ever have to vet a workplace to see if it has a hostile work environment!

And how would you vet for that anyways? If the candidate were to ask "do you tolerate/encourage racist/sexist/homophobic jokes?", would the interviewer ever respond in the affirmative?


I agree, nobody should have to, and I don't think I ever suggested that people should! Hostile work environments exist, and there are things an interviewee can do to try to pick up on them.

First step is to actually interview with people from the team that will be your peers, not just your superior. It sounds like the author didn't do that, which is a huge red flag, again, this all seems to boil down to the author being desperately in need of work and not responding to the red flags that were already present.


saying why you came up with the idea for your company

No, that's puffery. No-one cares except him. The interviewee wants to know what kind of work she will be doing, what the pay is, what the benefits are, and the expected working hours. Anything else is way down the list, especially for a low level employee.

Having to provide your own device is not really that insane for small teams

Yes, it is. Do they bring their own chairs and tables, too? It's a business with employees FFS. I might let this go if they were contractors, but you do business on company-owned equipment with specific exceptions as needed.

It's super easy to pay for a trial period

If they work for you, you pay them. End of story. My kid was supposed to work on a neighbor's farm, but got let go after 1/2 hour due to illness. He was still paid for that 1/2 hour. Again, it's a business

Not having any onboarding, given that the trial was for a day isn't too surprising

The only reason it's not surprising is because they have already shown how disorganized they are. Seriously, I've had temp jobs where I was supposed to work one day and the owner still took 10 minutes to explain what I was supposed to do for that day!

These aren't "growing pains." This is a purported business operating like a frat house. Yes, I seriously hope they improved over what it shown here but as it is, I'm still amazed somebody actually gave them money. I am really in the wrong business!


I should have clarified, by not insane, I mean, this is standard for people who are looking for jobs in support/service, so it doesn't come as a surprise. It is insane by objective standards, and given the context of the company the author interviewed at.


If anyone is looking to build a support/service team, here's a few simple steps to make part of your interview process:

1. Before a phone screen, send several real problems you've encountered and have the candidate write what they would respond, these can be happy and unhappy customers, and they should be answerable without any special knowledge of the company, or with resources available to them (a FAQ page etc...)

Answers should be empathetic, recognize the emotion/state of the person on the other end and attempt to be responsive and human, and apologetic if necessary. Ideally, provide at least one actual response so the candidate can get an idea of what your company's tone is. Some favor long, descriptive answers, others go for short, direct answers. It highly depends on your customers.

2. On the phone, do a live writing exercise (like live coding) see how they respond to a question and how they write while being observed. If your service/support is primarily over the phone, replace writing with a simulated phone call from a customer.

This is mainly to see if they can write ad-hoc, this doesn't even need to be a specific support/service question, it could be something like, write in as much detail as possible about the last amazing meal you had. A lot of support/service is being able to respond quickly and descriptively, and having good communication skills.

3. Onsite, you guessed it, more writing. If you have a technical product, you can add some more technical things here that may involve interacting with your product/internal tools. Have them debug something that actually has happened in the past, or a common issue that your customers run into.

This can be guided, you should help them along if they need it, similar to a complex programming problem, course correct and see how they respond to guidance.


0. Put your salary range and benefits package in the want ad so as not to waste people's time.


But how will you lowball candidates if you do that?


Working at places you love and believe in is for trustafarians. If you manage to do that, congrats -- seriously. You're lucky. Many people have to be practical about paying rent and bills, and that often requires compromises.

Also, bring your own laptop is cool now? Shall I start bringing office furniture to work too?


> Working at places you love and believe in is for trustafarians

Even worse, it bids down the price of labor for people who actually work for a living.


> The author of this piece made the classic, and often unavoidable mistake of being between a rock and a hard place and not vetting the company she interviewed at

> Even if you're not an engineer/designer/data scientist (or one of the typically highly desired people for a startup), you should be working at places you love and believe in

Look.

The job market most people participate in is very, very different than the job market for Silicon Valley engineers. In the job market most people participate in, there aren't a whole lot of jobs to go around, at the moment. This means that participants don't have the luxury of having so many opportunities thrown at them that they can afford to pick and choose between them, or to walk away from one just because a place they "love and believe in" more might come along tomorrow. Walking away from a paying job could mean weeks or months or even years of unemployment. Not "funemployment," but the real kind, where you lose sleep at night wondering how you're going to make next month's rent.

In that kind of environment, you can't blame people for taking a paying job when one is offered to them. If you were in their position, I guaran-dang-tee that you would do the exact same thing. When you have few options, you take the least bad one that's on offer, not the perfect golden unicorn of your dreams.

> If you don't believe in your leaders, and don't trust them, you are in a lot of trouble.

You know what real leaders do? Real leaders lead. They don't let an office full of people they are paying run around saying and doing potentially legally actionable things on the company's dime instead of getting work done, for instance. They organize those people into functional teams, and keep those teams so busy working on things that create value for the business that they don't have time to pretend they're back playing Ultimate Frisbee on the quad.

> 12 hour days is insane, and wrong

And also potentially, um, illegal. You know?

> The constant 'want to hear a joke' and racist/sexist tone at the company is also not acceptable, but clearly was supported by the people working there at the time

Again, real leaders lead. If there's an environment in a workplace where behavior like this flourishes, it's because the managers are OK with it flourishing. If they weren't, they would put a stop to it. They don't, so they are.

One of the subjects HN is obsessed with is "culture," but many HNers seem to not understand that culture is not just a synonym for "dumb rules we force underlings to follow." If you're in management, culture is the tone you set through the decisions you make. And if the story is anything close to accurate, at Handy those decisions resulted in a culture where playing with toy helicopters and telling "ching-chong-Chinaman" jokes are a higher priority than making sure their products and services are excellent, obeying the law, or even just being a decent human being.

If I were an investor in that company, I'd be pretty furious about that.


> Look. The job market most people participate in is very, very different than the job market for Silicon Valley engineers.

I know, I'm not an engineer, I work in support, this is the point I was trying to get across, I seem to have gone wrong by nit picking a few things about the story, which I otherwise see as a reasonably accurate representation of the hell people who aren't engineers go through when looking for work. Agreeing that these things happen isn't an endorsement of those things, if anything, they are a call to action to recognize they exist and make sure they don't exist in your own organization, which is what I do :)


> There appear to be a lot of growing pains at Handy, which isn't a surprise, but hopefully they can move fast and get their support/service wing to be as tight and focused as the rest of their team.

Which part of their team is tight and focused?


I don't know the details of how their team runs, I am generalizing the engineering culture at many well funded startups.


I think you could just as easily generalize the engineering culture at many well funded startups as "amateurish to a near criminal degree"

That is, I don't think you can generalize about startups, funded or otherwise.


The unpaid day of work sounds illegal but is at least pathetically unprofessional for that type of position.


FYI in cased you missed it - This is a story about the world of telemarketing, not startups.


Eh. It's very much about the differential treatment that different types of employees get in startup. I don't think it's uncommon for programmers to be far more spoiled within companies than say, sales


Handy.com seems like a really honest and humane company to work for. Just look at the co-founder's face, it exudes an all caring expression, the type you can only acquire by going to Harvard and working for McSomething consulting firm.


Hahaha :)


[deleted]


The article talks about being a "Customer Experience Associate". It also talks about her job being to handle sales, customer support, and act as liaison when necessary between customers and "service providers".


It was a customer-service job. Dealing with customers on the phone and so forth.


[dead]


She's not software developer, but "Customer Experience Associate", which apparently consists in taking calls from customers. 30k seems very low for NYC though.


If I was the guy being interviewed, I would have punched that "Ajay" in the fucking neck halfway through the interview...but looks like the company is punching itself in the neck anyway. Good riddance.


This will never make the front page, no matter how many upvotes it receives.


It's at the top of the front page.


It's a conspiracy then!


This doesn't seem like it could have happened in real life. I can't believe someone, especially in tech, could justify working in such an atmosphere with those "benefits".

Yes, big companies may stifle creativity a little, but from what little I read, this startup doesn't seem to be so great..


It seems to be real. The company's response is at http://valleywag.gawker.com/handys-nightmare-tryout-process-... and reads basically "yeah but that was a while ago, we're different now".


>I can't believe someone, especially in tech...

Remember, the author of this article (who of course didn't continue working there) isn't in tech. She previously wrote about working at a non-profit theater company and about wanting to teach English.

If you mean the programmers at this startup, yes, that seems odd. But this may be the least worst of the options they have available, or the author may have taken some liberties with her description of the office environment...


The biz: Going rate where I deliver in Joisey for cleaners is $60 (min) for 2 hours. Homeowner/patrons I deliver to are too smart and would never call Handy back for next time.. just arrange it when they leave and the tip is given.

Her story: : It's about revenge (or opportunity to gain satisfaction). Does not matter if 0 or 100% is true - impersonal bashing is just now so easy and like this post, can lead to tons of reaction and attention. At my other job a man gets coffee each morning (at a C-store on Rt 15) and text's the district manager with his version of how bad the store is that morning. Each day, every day. No Joke. "Out of lids" - "Didn't say Good Morning" "bla bla bla" He does it because he can.. it's not revenge.. (we need a new word)

Her story v2.0 - It's about eyeballs. Making a post "pop" - The billfold (says) is a site about money, earning, spending, etc.. Her post is like having watermelon for Thanksgiving dessert. Satisfaction from eyeballs and keystrokes for certain to a site that is a stretch for relevance.

Her story v3.0 - Just another (engaging) article about a not so good place to work, of which we should never be surprised when we hear stories like this again and again.

I re read her words more than three times and something does not smell quite right. Just my gut. Perfect quotes, predictable responses, outrageous behavior of 'strangers' (the brandy new co-workers)- even the AHs in my Gov't job know when to not talk, especially around new faces. New faces are always thought of as spies until proven otherwise. [like the old phrase "a first impression has to be disproven"]




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: