I got $1000 to do a job interview to be exact.
I have a really really bad history with job interviews. I managed to get an offer from every interview when I was an undergraduate. Although those were just internships. But as soon as I graduated, it became impossible to find a full time gig.
I interviewed everywhere over three different 6 month periods. Every single time, I was rejected. Okay, I got ~2 offers but they sucked hard. I always just ended up starting a startup in these periods. I applied to at least 400 companies all over the world. Name any startup or company you have heard of with anything remotely related to tech and they have most likely rejected me. On the rare occasion I did get an interview, I managed to get rejected somewhere in the process before getting the offer. Not to mention all the wasted time on projects and puzzles.
One time, I actually got paid for an interview.
It all started with me trying to make this app for gym day passes. My previous startup Shotput forced me to travel all over the country and I wanted to work out. Every city I went to, I went into several local gyms and bought day or week passes. I learned most gyms were not doing well financial and so were pretty open to this. They usually didn’t even have a price for non-members, so it was a negotiation I could almost set the price for. Anytime coworkers or friends were with me, I could get even better rates for both of us.
Interesting…sounded like a startup idea…
I wanted to be able to walk into any gym and just buy passes through my app wherever I was instead of having multiple gym memberships everywhere. I, as the app owner, could list the negotiated pricing and location of gyms. It could be like Hotel tonight for gyms I guess.
Market size and business model be damned, it seemed easy enough to pursue. A previous startup I used called Gymsurfing had recently been acquired and shutdown. It ran for a couple years with three guys, I figured it could run even longer as one guy. In fact, there were several popular apps with the same model and they all shut down for some reason.
I wanted to know what went wrong. Maybe I could avoid it. Maybe I could get all of them to band together and make an amazing network. Maybe I could find a cofounder, who knows.
So I reached out to every other app founder and asked them to get coffee or speak on the phone. Almost every single one agreed. Sometimes it is as simple as reaching out.
The story of what became Pedal.com will be told another time. Long-story short I manage to sell Pedal and am now in NYC. One of the founders I met with at that time was a fellow who ran a ramen-profitable gym app for New York City. He remains one of the best salesmen I have ever met. He was a British gentlemen in his late 30s who had a previous life doing investment banking in Hong Kong.
He told me his gym app site was sorta just floating along and not really growing, but it led to this more interesting idea he was working on. When you want to make an app integrate with gyms, you quickly find out all gyms pretty much use the same software. This monopoly called Mindbody dominated the gym software scene.
While pitching his gym app idea, Mr. British man came to same realization as me. Gyms were bleeding money. His current idea was to make it easy for them to offer a sort of loyalty program. Mindbody apparently sucked hard at this.
I watched him make several cold calls and close a sale in front of me. My mouth was hanging open. I had done cold calls for Shotput and it took hundreds of calls just to get the 10 businesses to agree to try us. He said he was currently using a super expensive contracting team to build and run his tech so he would like to interview me.
The first red flag was him asking me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I’ve never had a good experience from a startup who asks this. In fact, none of those startups ever became anything remotely successful.
After signing, he showed exactly how it works and how much revenue he was making. To be honest, the whole thing was quite simple but he was making WAY more money than I thought. Ok I said, let’s interview.
Next, he asked how I would be asking for. I asked him for a number repeatedly and he said he had no idea, I would have to name one. This was red flag #2. I gave him a high ball number he said that was too much. I once heard people are less likely to outright say no to you if you give them a couple options. So I gave him a range of salaries and equity and just let him pick from that list. We come to an agreement.
Now we have a new issue. He’s not really a tech guy so he has no idea how to hire a tech guy. His plan was to ask his contractors to interview me. If you think about this for even a second, you realize he is asking his contractor to interview themselves out of a job. Too bad neither him or I were thinking at all.
So I get introduced to the contractors. They send me a Github issue in their repo with the estimated number of hours it will take. It says about 16, yet another red flag. Never do 16 hours for an interview.
I start doing it and asking them questions. They are very slow to respond. I end up finishing it and sending it in and get no feedback. Nothing. Then Mr. British guy meets up with me again in person. He says the contractors say not to hire me. The code does exactly what it is supposed to. I ask him for feedback. He says they did not really say why they are rejecting me.
I am now thinking back to all the wasted time negotiating salary and 16 hours spent for nothing. I am getting mad, but cannot fully process what happened yet. I am not sure about the interview procedure they just put me through. I say tey should really make sure their interview process was fair. We wish each other the best and part ways.
The next day I look at the Github repo they added me to and realize they just added my issue to their code. Look at that, what a deal for the contractors. They not only can keep their jobs and reject everyone from the company, they can collect money on free labor from interviewees.
I send Mr. British man an email telling him it appears they have used my code in production and would like to know how to remedy this. After several weeks of no response. I put on my asshole hat and wrote an email. I told them I would like to be compensated an amount roughly to what he would have paid them to finish the feature. It was quite easy to calculate since they had the estimated number of hours right there in the issue. Hours x their hourly rate.
He sent me back this email immediately.
I paused and thought “Okay, maybe it will be fun learning how to take someone to small claims court.” Before I could start googling how small claims works, I got another email as well as a call from him.
I think he took the time to actually ask two friends.
He said forget what he just sent in the email. He may have read it just a tad hastily and would now be promptly venmo-ing me $1000. I just stuttered at this whole series of events.
That’s about what I would have calculated.
I never talked to the guy again even now, year later. His company is still doing well from what I can. Oh and he just stuck with the original contractors.