Friday, December 13, 2013

How to screw up a startup community


Organize meetings, social events and hackathons, pretend you want to help the community, then use the ideas you saw there to serve your personal purpose. In order for this to work, you have to keep for yourself everything that you work on until the launch day, while you encourage the participants to tell you as much as possible about their businesses. If they ask you something about what you're working on, lie to them, otherwise they might not come to your future events.

This happened to me (I was at the receiving end of this "business model")

I started to work on EatFab sometimes in November 2011 in order to solve the problems we faced with food ordering management (the major problem is that a lot of time is spent to centralize the orders). We started to use it at my current employer in September 2012. 

In December 2012 I found out about Open Coffee Cluj - a group formed for the like minded people, entrepreneurs and people with initiative. At least that's what the organizer of the meetups, Marius Mocian, told us. Everything seemed to work well, we exchanged ideas, we talked about what we're working on, the problems we faced and we had brainstorming sessions whenever someone raised an issue. Except that when Marius was asked what he was working on he was always vague, saying only that he mostly mentors other startups. 

Six months later, around May 2013, a mobile application is launched for the food delivery market in Cluj-Napoca. Shockingly (in an unpleasant way) for me, I find out that Marius Mocian is the one responsible with the marketing of the app, with some responsibilities in product development and he was occupying that role for several months. While keeping his main occupation secret until the last time is legal, I find this to be immoral, to say the least, because he kept organizing the startup related meetups and encouraged us to keep giving statuses related to our workings.

Although all of my gut feeling alarms went crazy, I deceived myself by telling me that it just looks like we're competing in the same market: his application is for individual deliveries, while EatFab is for office food ordering, so we're kind of complementary and he didn't had any kind of moral duties to disclose he is deeply involved in development of a competing application. 

So, I continued going to the events he organized and continued to be very open related to EatFab - that's what you read on hackernews, /r/technology and /r/startups afterall: be as open as possible and let as many people as possible know about your ideas. I brought several people to the meetings, in the hope that we'll grow the whole startup community together. I also went to the Startup Live event that he organized in Cluj just because he didn't had enough participants - I convinced one of the Evozon's owners to pay the tickets for a whole team there and also persuaded several other developer friends to come. All of this, just to help the local startup community to grow and to have meaningful events here.

The cunning gets real

In September 2013, I saw an ad on the biggest social network, aimed exactly to EatFab's market: office food ordering. After thorough investigation (because the domain owner enabled private registration), I found out that the man behind it is Andrei Barabas, the owner of Barandi Solutions - a company from Cluj, with its owner deeply involved in the startup "community" created by Marius Mocian. Andrei also participated to the Startup Live event I mentioned earlier, as a mentor and member of the jury. 

Let me remind you that this was happening almost a year after I told them about my approach on the food ordering market: office delivery for groups of people. And 4 months after Marius's application launch (not quite his app - he's just an employee there) - an application that didn't had the expected impact on the market, although it's a very sexy application and they had a decent budget for marketing.

I found the idea of a competing web application, exactly in Cluj, exactly on the main workings of EatFab, after a very short period of an unsatisfactory launch of a competing app, done by a guy who knew about EatFab as a huge coincidence.

Being in the same market, I thought about letting Marius Mocian know about my findings. 
I also asked him if he knows anything about it - his answer was a very strong "I have no clue", but said that he'll ask Andrei about it. A few days later I asked Marius if he talked with Andrei and he said that yes, but that he can't tell what the site is about and that I'll have to ask Andrei.
Today I met with Andrei (the guy who works on EatFab's copycat) and asked him about what he's working on. 
His answer "The web part of Marius's application"

Business rules, and types of people

While what Marius Mocian did is not illegal (not from what I know at least), it is highly immoral: lying, deceiving, cunning and betraying are not healthy ways to build communities and businesses. While my unfair advantage is the usage of +Perl and +Mojolicious, having a high productivity and short time to market, it looks like Marius takes the idea of unfair advantage literally. 
Marius's kind of people when employed, are able to develop a parallel business based on your business model while you pay them a monthly income in good faith. They're able to steal the source code of your application, put a different skin on it and try to build a company based on it (Marius said once that copycats of his app started to appear on the market soon after their launch - an affirmation which in hindsight might mean more than I thought). 

I hate rants and public complaints, and this post is exactly that, but, while I learned about Marius Mocian the hard way, I want to ask you to help other people find out about this typology. 
So, please share this article on reddit, hackernews and wherever other people involved in technology and startups are present so that when someone will be interested to collaborate with Marius, they'll do it knowingly.

Also, by making this type of articles popular, people will become aware on the importance of honesty and will realize that the greatest asset we have as individuals is our reputation.


Post a Comment