There are a lot of articles about “How to find a tech co-founder”, or “How to make your first startup hire”, but there is a few articles which are showing this experience from the perspective of the tech founder itself.
Hey everyone, I am Yev, I am a co-founder and a CTO of Scrimmage. But I wasn’t the original founder, I joined the company after 6 months of its existence. In this article, I gonna tell how that happened and why it was my best career decision.
Why did I choose to do startups?
When I got 18, exactly on my birthday date, I started my internship as a full-stack software developer in Ukraine. I successfully passed the internship and joined the company on my way to becoming a software developer. I had no family, I have been living in a small city and after starting to earn a salary, money was not a problem for me at all. That is where I realized that by landing a job in software engineering I just secured my life on a pretty luxury being. At the age of 19 I realized that if I just stick with what I am doing right now, I will be great in old age. I didn’t want to have a feeling that my life is over at the age of 19, so I started setting bigger goals. Goals of societal change, making impacts on millions of lives. That is how I started reading Western literature, watching startup youtube channels, and slowly growing a seed of my own startup.
At that time I was inspired by people like Elon Musk and I have seen no reason why I can’t become like them. In the worst case, I will just come back to being a software developer and still will be living a luxurious life, in the positive case, I will change the world, so I literally had nothing to lose.
How did I end up searching for a new project?
While trying to build a startup part-time I realized that my main job is not bringing me closer to it. I felt tons of progress reading books about startups and no progress coding one more feature on my main job. That is where I decided to shape my career to support my goals and become a technical product manager. Firstly I wanted to become a project manager, but my mentor, great thanks to her, said that actually, I wanna become a product manager. Luckily my company was in lack of product managers so I had an opportunity to wear a new hat before I realized that hat was too small. The product I was managing was mostly for internal usage and higher management wasn’t very open to the strategic pivots I was proposing.
That is how I decided to leave the company and get another job as an actual product manager. Unfortunately, I ended up finding a company that valued my coding skills more than my thirst to become a manager. Under the promise to be a manager I joined the company and ended up coding 95% of my time, so I left in 4 months and thanks to savings, I finally started working full-time on my startup.
It was an awkward first shot to start something and it failed greatly. In retrospect, I was trying to wear too much heat with too less knowledge. I was also trying to refuse market trends and follow my own vision of how things have to work which lead me to be forced to close the company due to lack of funding. That is how I realized that money is very important in business and I can’t handle it all on my own. I realized that I better work as a software developer, earn a lot of money and invest it in my startup, rather than work as a manager. Managers earn much less than developers, there is lesser demand, and me, a beginner, would earn barely a living minimum.
I remembered that my previous company was searching for clients on Upwork and selling us for something like $50 per hour while paying us $10 per hour. So I thought I would make a great value coming on Upwork and working for $25 per hour. People will get the same value as they would get from my company, for a lower price. That is how I end up searching for new projects.
Why did I choose to join Scrimmage?
While searching for projects I wanted to combine the need for money together with experience working in startups so I was constantly searching for projects with the word “startup” in it. I was contacting dozen of people per day and writing very personalized messages to every one of them. After 3 days of active searching, I found a project post with the title “Flask developer needed for sports betting startup”. At that moment in my life, I had high social values. I was into ecology, equality, and stuff like that. So sports betting was like a straight NO, for me. But, my primary requirement was money, so I decided to submit my interest while increasing my hourly rate to $30 per hour. For that money, I was ready to do whatever honestly.
I can’t find a recording of our first meeting but I remember it pretty well. I remember the FOMO that Matt and Dan were able to create from the short 30-minute meeting. Their past of working on Wallstreet was pretty exciting. The fact of them raising money was exciting and the way their business work was sounded very smart. I failed my business because I wasn’t being able to quickly enough earn revenue, they seemed to have a plan on how to earn money and earn a lot.
After the meeting, they game a task to implement a socket-based data updating system for the front end. I never really did sockets before that date, but FOMO made me do it in the next 3 hours after our interview was finished. Later on, he said it was the most impressive part about me, how quickly and how well I did the assignment.
Soon after my offer was accepted. Here are some artifacts I was able to recollect.
“Scrimmage is a pre-launch startup in the sports betting industry. The company was founded by former professional sports bettors and Scrimmage was created to share the tools that they use to make betting decisions with the rest of the world. Development for the mobile app and website is about 80% completed and an experienced backend flask developer is needed to get the project to a release point. After launch, development of version 2 will commence, adding a new element to the app and website, expanding the base of potential users.”
“Hi, my name is Yev, I was working as a full-stack web developer last 3 years. My focus is backend and DevOps, I attach my resume with a detailed profile”
What frameworks have you worked with?
It’s hard to count all of them, if we are talking about backend and Python I am most fluent with Django and Flask“
My feedback to Matt after 3 months of working together
“Matt is a great client, he is very respectful and sets detailed requirements. It was a pleasure working with him”
Matts’s feedback to me after 3 months
“Yev is an excellent addition to our team. He accelerated the pace of our backend development from a matter of months to a matter of weeks and afterward did the same thing for our front end. He is highly organized even amongst the flexibility required for a startup, and is the primary driver of team communication. He is extremely internally motivated, forward-thinking, and creative, which has proven highly beneficial for coming up with unique solutions to otherwise not-so-standard problems. Looking forward to the continued work with Yev.”
At that time I have been reading a lot of business literature and everyone was saying that only shares can get you really rich. Especially, if you are the founder. After trying to launch Anthill Academy I knew that world of startups is not as easy as everyone likes to imagine it. Raising money is hardly possible for a person without a reputation and personal connections. I was confident in my skills to build software for startups, but I was also confident in my incompetence to raise money and attract clients for the startup.
Scrimmage seemed an obvious answer for me. A startup that already trusts me as a developer that can give me some credibility and become my entry point into the world of venture capital. Both founders were from the US, had a background in banking, and seemed pretty competent. A couple of times they mentioned that would be happy to have me as a CTO so I knew they also were interested in that. After 3 months of working, I started to feel that company goes through not the best time and there is not much money left in the bank. It was a perfect time to make a first move and propose to become a co-founder.
It all started with Matt promising me some shares in addition to payments for working hard on launching a product. At that time I already was responsible for product development and felt like a CTO, so I asked if I can put the title of CTO on my LinkedIn. For that, he said that investors are looking for a lifetime commitment to a company and if I want it we can discuss it further. To which I proactively replied with a proposal with initial numbers which made the conversation go.
Then Matt brought a point that he and Dan have made all in into this company and if I wanna have a decent share in a company I have to share this mindset. Which basically means, I have to drastically cut my salary till the moment business can pay it. This is a moment where most deals go through. But I didn’t care about money, my goal was to get experience and reputation. Having ownership in the company was even better for me, so I agreed. The whole negotiation took about a week of back and forth with 15 emails in the thread. At the end of the negotiation, I was able to achieve my ownership goal but for the price of having a minimal livable salary till the moment, the company can afford it.
I expected to get my decent salary back in 2-4 months, but actually, it took us 9 months to start paying us decent salary. In the 8th month, I honestly was close to giving up, but thanks to the support of my founder I survived. After that, I realized what an entrepreneurial roller coaster means and why everyone talks about it.
2 years later
These 2 years were just crazy. The only thing I know for sure is that Scrimmage wouldn’t be in that good spot without me and I wouldn’t be in a so good spot without Scrimmage. Selfishly I would say, for Scrimmage the decision of bringing me as a co-founder was probably the best hiring decision ever. I added enormous value to the development and ideation around the product. I bring my best engineer friends to work with me. Recently I developed my own health check program for evaluating a product’s health. On the last health check, we scored 8.9 out of 10, which is an enormous number.
From a personal perspective, in winter 2022 we were accepted to Techstars in-person program in Indianapolis. I needed to travel to the US, but before that, I wanted to visit the EU. After 2 weeks of my leaving Ukraine, the war started. If not for Scrimmage I would have never left Ukraine at that time and probably ended up in a much worst condition than I am right now.
The ability to live 1 year in the US made me almost a native speaker and forever closed my need to study English again. Participation in Techstars gave me a powerful network I was so lacking. The experience of being a co-founder of Scrimmage gave me practical knowledge about how to build startups.
Joining Scrimmage as a co-founder was probably the most impactful decision in my life. It gave me ridiculous short-term disadvantages with a reduced salary, but amazing long-term career benefits.
This is not a story everyone is ready to share that openly. But I do because I have chosen an uncommon path that gave me uncommon benefits. I want this path to be more common across Ukrainian IT specialists. Startups do have not the best reputation. There are founders who make you work 7 days per week, 12 hours per day. There are founders who cheat on you with shares deals. All those people made a bad reputation for startups, but it shouldn’t be like that.
When I was 19 I read a similar article about how Dropbox started. That and many other founder stories inspired me to choose this adventurous path. However, all those stories were far from me. All those people were foreigners, they were born at different times, visited different schools, and had different parents. I believed that non if it matters unless you focused and your goal and you work hard. I wanna share my story so that you can see that it is true. I am nothing unique. I was born in Ukraine, in 2001, visited a common village school, was grown by a single mom, and had no wealth or reputation. If I could do that, you definitely can do that too.
I didn’t achieve world greatness as the founder of Dropbox or Facebook did, but I am in a great spot to achieve it in the next 10 years. All of it is because of a single decision, of sacrificing short-term pleasure for long-term benefits and becoming a co-founder.
I have been coding for the last 5 years, which might be described as "a proven track record" or "delivering consistent results" on LinkedIn. I am currently on a mission to enslave humanity with the power of gambling.
My skills include writing, re-writing, tweeting, startup founding, mixing cocktails, full-stack engineering, and watching the same isekai over and over again. Proficiency ranges from excellent to absolutely awful.