Update: This was my first medium post on my way to joining Hackernoon and becoming a top Medium writer in Artificial Intelligence. It is about an issue that affects many today. At the time, I chose to write and share my story , because I did believe in the good in the tech industry but nowadays that good seems more like an ancient myth. Predators take advantage of others when they believe their actions will never be publicly known. Being on Non-disclosure agreement(NDA) at the time made it difficult, so I took down my posts and focused on continuing the work of my own company. Since then my NDA expired and now all documentation can be released. If we continue letting immoral people onto our highest stages then injustices will continue to happen in our industries. I’m fortunate to have a voice & lots of options, but many that find themselves in a similar position don’t. There are many reasons why I hoped Emogi would decide to do the right thing as well as to do better after terminated our contract, but this July 24, 2018 Glassdoor review shows otherwise:
Luckily, NDAs expire.
Thursday, September 28, 2017 was supposed to mark a major milestone. It was the cross of the 5,000 registered users mark for my startup’s platform, Market Sensei. Instead, I spent the moments that were culminating over a year of work in bootstrapping(without taking outside capital) the platform being victimized by a venture capital backed tech company “making the world a better place” with “emoji analysis”.
The company, Emogi, had over ten thousand dollars($10,000+) in outstanding invoices and debt to me/my startup. Because of their tardiness in processing previous payments and many other issues which made working with them unbearable, I had already terminated the contract with them. For over a month, all polite attempts to receive payment from their account payables and VP of Product, Peter Elbaor, were unsuccessful. Certain that this must be an oversight of the employees and not the mode of operation of the company, I sent another request cc’ing the company’s CEO , Mr. Travis Montaque. I assumed their CEO would quickly straighten the issue and ensure his company was operating appropriately according to the law. To my surprise, he responded stating that my attempts to receive payments was “pathetic”.
He said my patient attempts in following up on the debt of over $10,000+, which always included kind words like “please” & “kindly”, where “disrespectful” and “harassment”. Not only that, he also cc’d multiple of their legal representatives and threatened that they would come after me if I persisted. I was so shocked, as this was coming from a CEO that just days before I terminated the contract was asking me to spend even more time providing them services. I caught off guard by the complete lack of empathy across all these individuals. And, like many who are victimized, I began to blame myself and was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I may have let this happen to me, I did not know if I could even do anything about it. I couldn’t believe how sure they were that it is OK for them to treat people in such a way and not honoring financial responsibilities from a contract they drew. They had no doubt that they could continue to do business in the tech industry and continue to raise money from investors with the industry turning a blind eye. I thought it was absurd. But, as I searched online and saw news outlets currently praising them for a new partnership with Google’s keyboard, I realized that I may be the outsider. I may have been a fool in thinking there were consequences such a company’s actions can have on a person. I am fortunate enough to be in a financially secure position, but I know that there are many hard working people who could even be left homeless on the streets if a company they spent time on chose to withhold such an amount of money from them for months.
I replied to his email early in the morning. I thanked him for cc’ing their lawyers and legal team. I also went on to share the contract with their legal team along with my background in the tech industry. Along with my startup, my background includes:
— Successfully raising capital from a very respectable investor who oversees a company with close to $100 million dollars in annual revenue.
— Early development for a product that got acquired by Salesforce.
— I am a resident author with a top development tutorial site. For which, I’m scheduled to speak at their top developer conference on the non-trivial topic of machine learning .
I also gave details of the incident, gave the lawyers the day to advice Emogi’s CEO and then get back to me with whether they decided to process payment or just withhold it. I also asked the legal team what THEY would do if over $10,000+ of payments for services they rendered was withheld from them. Still in shock, I was unable to do any of my work throughout the day. I tried to spend the day doing some other good by volunteering in the afternoon at Resilient Coders. By the end of the day, I had no answer from Emogi and attempts to reach them by phone went unanswered. I assumed they decided to turn it into a legal matter so I called their lawyer instead. However, their lawyer refused to speak with me and hung up. I then saw a gmail notification which seemed to indicate that they had deleted or revoked access to my “@emogi” email which I used throughout the contract, preventing me accessing additional evidence about the value of the services I provided to them. Luckily I made my payment requests through my private email and still have the email chain available.
The worst part was knowing that if they could get away with doing this to me, another startup founder with thousands of users and ongoing media coverage, then they could get away with doing this to anyone. So, I began thinking of different ways A.I. could be used to help anyone in such a position. I will make that A.I. available for free and will never charge for its use. If people cannot get justice or protect themselves, then what’s use of having laws anyway? I reflected on how I was operating my startup to see if I needed to change anything that seemed predatory to either my users, contractors or investors. I then revisited the contract with Emogi as well as the New York state law to know what I can do now.
In what I can only describe as a miracle, I found that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recently enacted the “Freelance isn’t Free Act” which not only entitles me to double or triple the withheld payment amount. It also protects me from any retaliation from Emogi. Luckily, this law went into effect roughly two weeks before the effective date of my contract! I still hope the Emogi team can see some light, but I know that it is only wishful thinking, so I’ll promptly let the legal system do its work for my case and verify whether this has been a pattern of conduct from Emogi.
If the governing law of my contract was not that of New York state, a state with this clear new act, it would have been impossible for me to get any justice & I would not have even been able to share my story. There are many people that have been and will be victimized because the tech industry, from investors, entrepreneurs, companies & the media keep letting such things slide until it’s too late. How many people need to endure inexcusable behaviorfrom startups and the industry before it can be made clear that no amount of funds makes executives above the law? My A.I. startup is focused on augmenting people’s abilities and opportunities, not replacing them. Because, at least I believe, there is nothing cool about destroying people’s jobs. But the question is: If companies like Emogi are comfortable viciously mistreating people now(when there is no alternative) then what will they do to people once A.I. is a sufficient replacement?