A Dev’s Take on Steadfast Coffee

Recently a coffee shop in Tennessee made Reddit and social media headlines when its homepage was effectively taken down and replaced with a scathing callout by those that created and developed it.  If you’re not familiar with this situation, here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot of the Steadfast Coffee homepage, taken over by the "professionals" that created it.

Screenshot of the Steadfast Coffee homepage, taken over by the “professionals” that created it. Screenshot courtesy of Tommy Huynh (http://tommyhuynh.com/).

Obviously, the implications of such an action are huge.  And, it seems to have paid off.  Or the freelance professionals changed their mind and backed off this approach.  Either way, if you’re interested in one developer’s perspective and take on this situation, read on…

To say any freelancer or professional developer doing client work hasn’t had the thought of doing this would be a lie.  But obviously, this isn’t a terrifically common occurrence.  It’s not every day you come across this situation when browsing the web.  So let’s get right down to my general opinion: this isn’t incredibly common because it’s incredibly unprofessional.

“But Bobby, you’re a developer; you wouldn’t do this if you were stiffed?”  I’d love to!  But no, I wouldn’t.  And I wouldn’t because there’s one simple truth here: as the developer, it is fully in my power to prevent this situation from ever happening.  And if it happened out of my lack of due diligence, then ultimately that’s on me.  Of course, I’d take every recourse possible to get my money.  But a blatant takeover of a website?  Never.

No Payment?  No Product.

Look, if you’re a developer or a designer taking on client work, you have to follow the golden rule: nothing is turned over until payment in full is made.  It’s as simple as that.  For developers this is insanely easy… don’t turn over the code base!  Clients do not assume ownership of the work until payment is made, thus completing the contract.  Thus they have no reason to have the code beforehand.  Nor do they have any rights to it either.

Maybe, and even here this depends on familiarity with the client, I will bend this rule if I’m providing the hosting.  In that case, I still have complete control of the code base.  But it would always be made perfectly clear that the hosting shuts off if payment isn’t made appropriately.

It’s the Freelancer’s Fault

In this case, I’m sorry, but the entire situation is the fault of the freelancers who did work for the coffee shop.  Should the client have paid?  Assuming work was performed to terms, within reasonable and agreed upon rates, yes of course.  No denying that.  And as a developer who does both agency and freelance work, I’d never want to find myself on the side of not being paid.  I feel for these people in that sense; I absolutely do.

But, they created this situation.  By allowing their products to go into live production, they allowed for this to happen.  Their lack of precaution led to a path where neither company won.  And for that, I blame them.  The true tragedy here is nobody won…

Two Companies Look Bad

That’s right- it’s not just the coffee shop that looks bad.  If I put a client on blast like this, then I, as the professional, look awful.  What does a prospect think when they hear about how you’ve done this to a former client?  I guarantee you one of those thoughts is “will they do this to me?”  That’s a danger few companies are going to want to take on.  Why would they?  There are much safer, clearly more professional, agencies or freelancers to work with out there.

My advice for any freelancer or agency reading this: learn from this mistake.  Not the client’s, but the freelancers.  Don’t find yourself in a situation where your client relationship has to be aired to the public.  Don’t allow yourself to be in a position of such desperation that you’d feel you have no other recourse than this.  Because ultimately this action put the freelancer’s on blast just as much as the coffee shop.  Perhaps even more… at the end of the day, they are the aggressor’s after all.