It might sound ridiculous, but this has happened to me.

I recently met a non-technical GP doctor, who is interested in finding a programmer for his ideas. He is an offical General Practitioner doctor, and is a rich man.

He wants to sell GP doctor examination materials, required for anyone who wants to become a doctor. He also wants to establish a community for GP doctors and sell advertisements for GP doctors. It'll be a website and mobile apps, potentially a web app.

Detailed information:

  • No funding, no business plan, no marketing plan
  • He won't prove to me why his idea would work.
  • He "thinks" it'll work but there's no statistics and data.
  • He claims it would work, but he doesn't want to prove it because he thinks I'm an outsider and thus won't understand the industry.
  • No business formed. It's just a verbal agreement.
  • No contract, no payment
  • I am expected to work for myself until it's timing for starting a new business
  • I am expected be responsible for all technical works
  • I am expected to come up with my own way to add value for the business
  • No timing and expectation of the next stage
  • He promises if everything goes well, he will have many more new ideas and project with equity only
  • He wants me to prove what I can do for him
  • He thinks I will be a millionaire by working with him for equity

He will consider to establish a business with me later if our relationship is stable and reliable. No timing and no criteria of what defines a "working" relationship.

I feel his tone is bossy and uncomfortable. I have a feeling that:

  • He thinks his idea is the next "big" thing
  • He is very proud of his ideas and often repeat how many ideas he has.
  • He likes giving me lessons, he doesn't believe 1-1 status between a doctor and a programmer
  • He said he is very worried I would steal his idea
  • He doesn't respect a programmer, and like to compare myself (an Australian) with a cheap Indian contractor.

Question

He wants me to think what I want to do and how I should contribute to his ideas. I think I will give him a response. What questions should I ask him? How should I evaluate this proposal given that I'm not a doctor? What are the nicest words to say if I want to reject him?

EDIT

When I asked him for a written agreement, he instantly refused. He questioned me if the deal went well, there wouldn't be any reason for him to look a new developer. I responded that he could simply kick me away, pay someone else in cash and take 100% equity. He replied he wouldn't do that. How should I respond?

  • 1
    no contract, very bad idea. Strongly suggest a contract, then, you can sign a non disclosure agreement which will relieve the client of their worry that you would steal his ideas. – user3629249 Mar 9 '17 at 18:03
  • 1
    Sounds like an 'idea man', stay away from them. They'll ask for other people's help to make their ideas happen but don't want to pay for it. And when the idea doesn't work out, as it never does, you will not receive compensation for your effort. Don't do it. – user3244085 Mar 9 '17 at 20:43

I met some guys like this one in my work career til now.

What I usually do (and would do in your case) is:

  • Enstablish the right mutual work positions: I am the professional in my area, you are the professional in your area, mutual respect is the base.
  • Raise my doubts on the project whenever I have any, warn the client about possible failures and missing parts and necessary steps or moves to do.
  • Present my quote for the project with every detail along with the contract with 30% prepayment for setting up things to work to on the project.
  • When the contract is signed and the prepayment is done, I work on that as stated in the contract.

If the client is not happy with that there are many other freelancers that maybe would be happy to invest time on that millionare project with zero guarantee to get any payment at all...

You don't have to be too nice or be afraid to offend him, just be normally gentle and professional.

If he is too bossy with you and you don't feel comfortable with him, don't work with him, say that you have other projects in your schedule and you won't have time for other big projects.

About your edit: this is not a new matter about people's good relationships, in fact the ancient Romans were no stupid, they used to say "Verba volant, scripta manent", that literally means "Spoken words fly away, written words remain".

The Romans understood that about 2000 years ago, and I guess that your client knows that very well too, to the point that he doesen't want to engage a serious, professional and correct work relationship with you. He just wants to take advantage of you and this is not correct at all.

In your place I would just say: "I'm sorry but I got engaged in another long term contract and right now I am not able to work on your project, also I can't afford the risk to work for weeks or months without any real perspective to get a proper income".

Personally I would never work for a client like that. At this point I would not trust him even with a written agreement because if he is a rich person and he behaves like that with you, he could even use a lawyer to find some small pointless clause or reason to criticize your work or your contract to try to avoid to pay you.

I often explain to my clients that they are the expert in their area, not me. I can do what I do well, but I have little to no knowledge of their area of expertise. It is up to them to make decisions and inform me when something needs to conform to matters they are knowledgable about.

A general example: I don't write copy for for clients (beyond button text or something). Although I'm often asked to by new clients. There are copywriters for such tasks. Or worst case, the client is in a more knowledgable position to write copy about what they do than I ever will be. I do what I do, because I know how to do that well. When asked to step outside of that area and actually do something in an entirely different profession, I push back. If you hire someone to tune up your car, you don't also ask them to remodel your bathroom do you?

My general response is something along the lines of:

I'm very happy to do whatever I can do. Please realize I am a [whatever you do], not a [client profession]. I know a great deal about my job and what it entails. I know almost nothing about the [client profession] profession. I'm not in a knowledgable position to make suggestions or alterations which would be inline with standard practices in your area.

I rely on you to make those types of suggestions. I just can't create content or features which you and your colleagues may find useful. I need your help to tell me what would be useful.

If there's some technical reason, based on my experience, your suggestions may be ill advised, I'll let you know. But you are the expert at [client profession]. I am in no position to contradict what you tell me is needed or correct. I can only tell you when something is technically incorrect concerning [web design/development, layout, color, etc.].

Most clients really appreciate this. It allows them to feel both respected and invested in the work. It provides a more "collaborative' atmosphere and gives them a sense of ownership in the final product.

Clients that want me to step outside my area of expertise and just "do it for them", when I know nothing about the profession, aren't the clients I general seek or have. I'm not grunt labor and any client that treats me as such, is just not who I want to work with. If a client isn't vested in the work... why should I be?

After the question edit:

Anyone who immediately refuses a written agreement.. you should then immediately thank them for their time and walk away, if not run.

A written agreement protects both you and the client. Any client that doesn't want that protection, generally has ulterior motives which will not be in your favor. Be aware there are millions of bad clients out there who will promise you the world, but refuse a contract... and then you have a hard time even getting table scraps from them, let alone get them to actually fulfill their promises.

You should respond by declining his offer.

He doesn't know what he's doing. And, frankly, you don't know what you're doing. There is a LOT involved in spinning up a new startup. And much of that is legal and contractual. The reality is, a lot of people have ideas. Not a lot of people have successful businesses based on new ideas.

If he has "an idea" and needs you to work on it for no money, how are you going to eat?

Just say, "No."

Never work on a project for equity. Anyone who asks you to work for equity is extremely inexperienced and/or trying to take advantage of you. Politely explain that you are a professional and you expect to be paid for your time.

If the client keeps asking you to work for equity, say that you need the money now to pay bills and such, and suggest that the client take a business loan to fund the development; then, when the project is a smashing success, they can keep all of the revenue for themselves.

You can accept equity as a bonus, but never as your primary form of payment.

These types of people are not uncommon and if you work as a web or app developer you will come across them regularly in your career. For many, their idea is a precious dream that, as long as it hasn't tried and failed, presents optimism for their future. In this way, it retains value forever in this form.

"I hate my job, but [dreamy look] imagine if that idea pays off and I get rich!"

Unless your confidence in the idea matches theirs, you should not consider equity as a majority portion of payment at all. This individual sounds like trouble, so I'd walk away and not waste any more time.

However, if you wanted to test them out, give them a few preliminary jobs to test their interest. Will they create a solid sitemap (not just a scrawl), write content for 10+ pages and so on? They'll put it off or put in a poor effort, at which point you can assess their resolve.

Ultimately though, in this case, if they believe this is a winning idea, but won't put some money on the line, that's all you need to know in. They're not a starving student. They have the means and they're willing to sacrifice your time but not anything of their own. And no, sharing their precious idea is no sacrifice.

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