Entrepreneurship – the unpaid gig

We often get asked “what’s it really like being an entrepreneur” and “when did you decide to become an entrepreneur”? The truth is that when we started out, over 15 years ago, becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t an option. There certainly wasn’t university papers on it or a focus on becoming one. It almost happened by accident rather than by design.

Now, so many people are aspiring to become an entrepreneur. There are plenty of courses and opportunities for people to start something of their own but there are a few hard lessons you’ve got to learn when you start out. 

The first being that you are the last to get paid. And often, for many years you’re driven by your idea and passion rather than any financial return. 

We often joke and say that we’ve spent longer, as adults, in unpaid employment than what we have in paid employment. And that’s certainly true for me as when we started our first business I was 20 and we spent the majority of that business as unpaid labour. 

In My Food Bag, we spent our first year as CEOs unpaid, leveraging sweat equity as well as real equity to build the business and when we were finally paid it was a nominal amount until the business grew and became sustainable in itself. 

Likewise in Tend, we’ve worked on the business for close to 2.5 years and have yet to draw a salary. 

For both My Food Bag and even more so for Tend we’ve leveraged both sweat equity and cash to build the business. We took out a loan to be able to help fund our share of My Food Bag (when we started the business) and in Tend we have literally poured in millions of dollars to create the best possible healthcare experiences while at the same time labouring for free. 

What’s the reward you might ask? Well the truth is that the reward is hopefully greater than anything we could have ever imagined. 

In My Food Bag the reward was ultimately financial freedom – enabling us to take on a passion project that would become the most important business we’ve ever worked on. 

For Tend, it’s the opportunity to be able to ultimately completely change our healthcare system and create the best healthcare experiences. A hugely motivating personal mission. 

So how do you survive being unpaid in your passion project for years? See our top tips here and we’d love to hear yours too! 

Top tips for being unpaid: 

  1. Your side hustle doesn’t need to be your only hustleit’s sensible to stay in paid employment while you explore your passion project. For us, this meant James working in a corporate which helped fund Au Pair Link and enabled us to keep taking risks and investing into the business.  
  1. Put your money where your mouth isas investors, we are uninterested in entrepreneurs who aren’t prepared to take financial risk and make sacrifices. When we invest we look for people who have put skin in the game and share a similar level of risk with us. 
  1. Don’t live ahead of the curveThose Gucci slippers and LV bags that seem to mark success for so many often come at some high visa card debt. “Faking it until you make it” does not mean putting yourself in debt to pretend that you’re successful.