The Perils of Hiring: A Cautionary Tale from A WordPress Business Owner

After being in the WordPress world for 15 years, I’ve made some incredible friendships and I’ve heard some crazy stories in regards to their WordPress business. Recently one of those friends reached out to share his latest experience, and I’m here to say it is one of the crazier ones. For privacy reasons, I’ve changed the names of both parties as well as the name of the agency.

Introduction:

As we all know, starting a business is not for the faint of heart. The statistics can be depressing as 20% of businesses fail within the first 2 years. Beating those stats and growing has become even more rare. After 10 years of being in business,finding and retaining skilled employees and developers has been the bane of Mike’s business growth, which is a crucial aspect of success for any agency. Mike as the lead developer and owner of WebEase, a US-based WordPress service agency, has recently had a lesson for others navigating the hiring landscape.

Background:

WebEase currently has a standard slate of full-time employees in various roles including, sales, marketing, customer support, operations, and design. What’s missing is another developer, as Mike is both owner and lead developer, building the business from the ground up. With the current situation as it is, Mike has struggled to keep up with adding needed features to the service, as well as customer requests, leading him to explore the option of hiring a senior developer to ease the workload.

The LinkedIn Connection:

Enter Dave, a senior developer Mike discovered through LinkedIn who was “open to work”. After a few LinkedIn messages, emails, and finally an official interview via Zoom, Mike offered Dave the job. The onboarding process went smoothly, and Dave appeared to be a perfect fit for the team, wasting no time in getting the required software stack set up and installed per Mike’s instructions. However, within just two weeks, red flags began to surface, with communication becoming a significant issue. Dave remained unresponsive on all channels, causing concern from Mike. 

The Shocking Revelation:

The situation took a dramatic turn when a third party from Ukraine contacted Mike via the website’s Contact Us form. They were claiming that they had not received payment for work performed for WebEase. At this point, Mike was a bit confused. Who were these people in the Ukraine? They did reference Dave in the contact form, but Mike was honestly baffled at that moment. To Mike’s surprise, it was revealed that Dave had subcontracted the work to an overseas company without informing anyone at WebEase.

Digging Deeper:

To understand the extent of the situation, Mike logged into the company’s GitHub repo with VS Code and utilized the Git Blame tool. This revealed the true scope of the situation, leaving Mike not only concerned about missed deadlines but also alarmed by the unknown developers who had gained access to WebEase’s codebase. Had they added code that could leave his customers exposed in any capacity? Realizing the severity of the situation, Mike took swift action, halting the outstanding payments to Dave(Mike pays his contracts using a credit card), informing Dave of what he had found, and emphasizing the potential irreparable damage to the sale of his company, which is currently in negotiations with a valuation starting at 6 million USD. In response, Dave denied any wrongdoing but faced with undeniable evidence, threatened legal action against WebEase. Mike stood his ground, asserting that Dave’s actions constituted fraud and posed a significant threat to the integrity of WebEase’s source code.

The Aftermath:

After documenting the entire situation with numerous screenshots of the emails between them, Mike’s credit card company sided with him, halting all payments to Dave as well as performing a chargeback for a few charges that had already been processed. Despite Dave’s initial defiance, he eventually went silent once again, not only leaving Mike to reflect on the red flags he had missed during the hiring process but also having to schedule time to review any code that was touched by Dave and the subcontracted developers. 

Conclusion:

So, where is Mike now? He is still searching for that honest senior developer though sadly, he has fallen further behind on adding features that would benefit his customers as code review takes time.  

Additionally, it turns out that Mike is not alone with this experience as there are just too many bad actors out there trying to make a quick buck and take advantage of over worked business owners. 

My hope is that other business owners/WordPress agencies can learn from Mike’s story, emphasizing the importance of due diligence, effective communication, and a vigilant approach to safeguarding the integrity of their codebase and business operations.

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