My first experience in firing a jerk

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A few months ago I dog-eared writing up a post about the fond, memorable experience of firing my original web vendor. It’s time.

Better judgment combined with actually having a soul will keep the name of this web shop concealed.. for now. In actuality, I’m just finally wrapping up my divorce from them. If they so much as sneeze in the wrong direction before we are ultimately out of each others lives, I will cast out all sensibility and hang their company name out to dry like a pair of wet, dirty tighty whities. (Really not sure what that means.) In the meantime, let’s just call them Webtards Inc.

Quick background: Since August of ’09 I’ve been preparing to put an online business together. This is the story of my encounter with Webtards. While I’m only writing it to share and laugh about (now), I’m sure there are valuable lessons to be gleaned for any business owner looking to hire someone to build their website or application.

During August and September I spent the better part of my nights writing up a website spec, more formally known as a Product Requirement Document. Keep in mind, I spent 6 years doing software development for Accenture’s clients, and the last 5 as a technical business analyst and project manager. In short, I make my living helping companies turn business ideas and/or problems into technical solutions. So this spec, as you can now imagine, was pretty beefy. 45 pages of beef, actually. It had process flows, screen mock-ups, detailed explanations of features and functionality, data analysis. You name it, I covered it. 6 weeks of effort dumped into this document. And now I was ready to start vetting out web vendors; i.e. someone that could take my vision and bring it to life.

Now, let’s be honest here.. most entrepreneurs come to the table with one thing and one thing only — a business plan. Maybe they wrote up a paragraph or two summarizing what they want their website to do. Something like, “Web 2.0, fast, and user-friendly! Oh, and green ‘Go’ buttons, please.” And from this outpouring of input, they expect the developer to make a masterpiece. In truth, this is generally where the analysis process begins for most website/application build-outs. So you get my point — I had done my homework, saved this webshop from countless hours of Q&A and removed any and all ambiguity.

I spend the next 60 days scouring the internet looking for talent. LinkedIn, eLance, Guru, Craigslist. I received at least 75 proposals and interviewed somewhere around 15 shops. It was exhausting. It sucked, and eventually, I broke.

On the back burner of ‘yeah..maybe..I-guess-you-should-talk-to-them-potential-vendors, was Webtards, Inc. When I received their proposal, my overall assessment was ‘eh’. Something was off, but out of all the responses (those that were willing to do the work), they were the most complete package. Against my gut’s better advice, I decided to pursue  them. I had a couple discussions with one partner, Tom, who held the title of Account Manager. I immediately pictured a snarling, overfed rat the first time I heard him speak. Alarm bells?! I must have hit the mute button a dozen times. We briefly negotiated the terms, I glossed over their contract and signed. My humdrum contract review would be my undoing.

On October 30, 2009, our project kicked off. From the outset, every question I asked, every comment I made, every suggestion I offered (as polite and professional as humanly possible) was met with one of three responses: diversion, mild hostility, or complete avoidance. Nice vendor-client relationship, eh? This continued for about a month; 5 weeks to be exact. On week 6, after having had enough of their attitude and, further, upset that their overall talent was SEVERELY lacking, I dialed up their technical director, Alex, and fired them. Oddly enough, he also sounded like he dwelled in sewers and fed off garbage.

Not so fast… Alex quickly highlighted a clause in the contract that purported my actions as being in breach. It resolved to the theory that I was ‘unprepared to engage their services.’ Remember the part about 6 weeks and 45 pages of blood, sweat and tears? My website spec that is taboo for any web vendor to be provided with? Not to mention, the myriad of hours I spent reviewing their shoddy work, providing elaborate feedback. The truth is, they weren’t prepared for me. They were a cut-and-paste/cookie-cutter/build-a-bear web dev shop and they quickly realized they wouldn’t be able to support my vision, so they bowed out, courtesy of their criminal-esque contract. Regardless, I was seemingly in breach and now the entire, remaining balance had become due and payable. It didn’t matter that they had only completed 10% of the work, I was to pay for everything. I was stuck. It was right there in black and white along with my signature.

Alex went on to coddle me with the fact “many of their past clients had tried to back out and lost.” What a prick. I’ m guessing they have notches in their belts for each company they worked over with this shady, little clause.

My initial instinct was to get in my car, drive to Long Island and re-enact torture scenes from the movie Hostel on the staff of Webtard Inc. Several beers, consecutive nights of Ambien-induced sleep, good talks with my lawyer, better talks with my Dad, a few certified letters and three months later, and I resolved to offer them a settlement for half of the balance.

The silver lining is that I had the balls to cut my losses. I could have just as likely continued on with them, struggling for months, arguing, wasting precious time and ultimately not getting what I asked for or something my customers would benefit from. Silver lining number two was that during this nightmare, I found a new shop through Haystack (now, Sortfolio) that is the absolute antithesis to Webtards. Their design is inspiring and crisp, they treat me like a well-paying customer and we have open, honest and constructive dialog. Ironically, their very first feedback to me was that they’d never worked with a client that was so well-prepared, involved and knowledgeable. Even stranger, the relationship has developed so well, that the owner of the shop has asked me to partner with them. When it rains, it pours. But that, my friends, is a story for another day… another dog-ear, I suppose.

What have I learned from Webtards? First off, trust your instincts. From day one, the rat twins seemed like douche bags, and guess what they turned out to be.. douche bags. Second, READ ANYTHING YOU SIGN! My Dad has been reminding me of this since I knew how to hold a fucking pen. I chalk that mistake up to physical and mental exhaustion during the interview/signing process, as well as to being a jerk. Last, as much as your amygdala (your lizard brain) encourages you to buy a gun and use it, listen to that other part of your brain… the one that evolved more recently and controls actions beyond “breathe, pee, run, punch.” Chances are, your Webtard experience will never be reason enough to waste time and energy on and divert you off your path, or worst case, landing you in jail for double homicide.

Have any Webtard stories to share?

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