HR · Contractors

Dealing with a Contractor Bully

Alison Lewis CEO/Creative Director

September 13th, 2013

How does one best deal with a contractor refuses to give source files as a start-up?  Obviously, we've asked for them and they are ignoring requests. 

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

September 13th, 2013

Allison, again, I think you could make much better use of everyone's time if you didn't make us guess at the context. More info fro you means fewer guesses and more useful advice from everyone else.

Will Froelich

September 13th, 2013

While this doesn't help you now, in the future, just have your developer use source control. Github is a popular tool for this. Let's you pay and own the account, they just check in code as they go. Lets you have control and see the progress they are making.

Keep in mind that contractors get screwed by clients; often. The only leverage you have sometimes is the source code. If you really are the good guy here (you paid in full) then hopefully you can work it out.

If the contractor really is shady; is it possible you tried to save a buck and went with the cheapest and least reputable person?

Duane Nickull Chief Marketing Officer, Co-Founder at Cheddar Labs

September 13th, 2013

If it is in the contract, you do not pay until the source code is provided.  If you have paid, then you need to ask a lawyer.   Have you paid them?

Duane Nickull
PS: And only deal with nice contractors like me in the future ;-)


Brian McConnell

September 13th, 2013

Trust is a two way street. I've certainly been in situations where the client kept moving the goal posts or flat out stiffed us. Source code = intellectual property. I only deliver code when a project is complete and paid. Until then the client has a license to use and evaluate the system.

Brian McConnell

September 13th, 2013

I once had a client who hired me to write software for a custom phone system. Their idea was drain bamaged but I needed the work (it was a 900 number you could call to listen to snippets of their New Age music catalog, which was awful). Yet they were convinced they were the next Microsoft. One of them pulled me aside once and said, in a fatherly voice, "Brian. We smell gold here and we have the right mining equipment." Needless to say I built a timeout feature into the system where if I did not dial in within 90 days with an unlock code it would stop working and display a cryptic database error. Right on cue one of them called me to say this POS isn't working. I asked him to read the console messages out to me. Then said "actually its working perfectly but you never paid your bills". He threatened to have me arrested for "piracy" so I had to explain the fine points of the software license he signed. I never got paid and later found out they burned through several more people. That said it was entertaining to work with such clueless people. There was one even worse phone system idea that a client had which was a voice mail system to dispense patient status info (as in "your -mother- .... -died- .... at two hundred forty six PM. To hear this again press 1"). I was able to convince them to drown that baby in the proverbial bathtub. B

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

September 13th, 2013

more info: person or company; did you hire them directly or through a site; does your agreement define ownership of source code; where are they located; is there a dispute; etc.

Merci Grace Growth at Slack

September 13th, 2013

Did you pay them already? Was it specified in your contract that they give source files? Either of those criteria give you leverage. Many contractors won't give source files if they don't have to.

Blake Garrett Founder and CEO at Aceable

September 13th, 2013

Do you have any mutual connections that you could use as leverage? I had a somewhat similar situation when I first started and the only way I could resolve it (without getting lawyers involved) was to find a mutual connection that the other party respected. The three of us had a meeting and it was resolved... there was too much social pressure for the contractor to ignore the request once it came from the respected party. I learned that when I don't have leverage, get creative in manufacturing it... If you don't have a mutual connect, maybe there's another way to create leverage to end the relationship amicably and with your code in your hands. Good luck!

David Berry Lead Android Engineer at Moxie

September 13th, 2013

The best way to deal with it to make sure the terms are agreed upon in advance and in writing. Make sure you have a contract that specifies that the work done is a work for hire or has clear transfer clauses built in. Once you've got the legal foundation for the work then make sure that the work practices are inline with the contract terms. If it's work for hire, insist that code be regularly placed in a repository that you control. If it's not, then make sure that the delivery dates line up with the payment dates so you're not putting out cash until you have the work in hand. If it wasn't spelled out in advance and/or you've already paid them, then it's a lot more complicated since your realistic leverage is gone so you're left with just having to work with them and hope they're reasonable. You may have legal options even if your contract wasn't clear, but those are notoriously hard to enforce and vary widely between jurisdictions. David W. Berry

Anonymous

September 13th, 2013

It really depends on the reason why the contractor isn't giving the source files.

In any case, please try to put yourself on both sides of the equation first. I have a similar problem right now, but I'm on the other side. I'm the contractor, I've provided all of the source files, submitted my invoice, and almost 3 weeks now, but no payment has been received from the MassChallenge startup. The founder is refusing to pay me. Had I known, I wouldn't have provided the source files too.

I'm in no way saying that you're in the wrong or anything like that. As a contractor myself, I can tell you that contractors generally just like people who are reasonable and understanding, and people who actually understand how contracting works. So if I were you, I'd first try to figure out the reason behind all of this, examine it carefully, equally considering both sides, be reasonable with each other and work out a solution. There are two things that, as an early-stage startup, you really don't want to come out of this: (1) having to take the matter to court and (2) getting your reputation destroyed by one angry or unsatisfied contractor.

That's just my 2¢. I hope you're able to work this out and find a good solution.

- Jonathan