“I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday, for a Hamburger Today”
–J. Wellington Whimpy, free-loading friend of Popeye
He didn’t steal the card. It was handed to him. Here you go, Homeless Guy. Go get what you need.
In the act, Homeless Guy demonstrated two classic entrepreneurial characteristics: charisma and the ability to get something for nothing.
Both traits are essential to an entrepreneur’s success, but the second (something for nothing) cannot exist without the first.
A Leg Up
The dictionary defines bootstrapping as “helping oneself without the aid of others.” But Jim Beach, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Georgia State University, teaches that for an entrepreneur, bootstrapping can also mean asking for handouts.
Like Homeless Guy, Beach suggests it’s as simple as asking people to do something for free. And, he says, people are happy to comply.
“You think that it’s impossible to have people not get paid,” Beach asks in his lecture. “I don’t think I ever paid an employee for the first two or three months.”
He goes on to say “if you want to work for me, you show up. Earn your job.”
An entrepreneur, Beach explains, can do these kinds of things. He’s not alone in this belief.
Sing for Your Supper
Wild Women Entrepreneurs (a business run by an ex-opera singer) put this enticing post on Craigslist:
“Are you looking for a unique opportunity? Learn from experts and leaders of their industries. Wild Women Entrepreneurs is currently looking for creative, hard-working individuals to join the Wild WE team.”
The posting goes on to explain that for the first three months of (full-time!) work, new hires are paid in a currency exchanged only within the walls of entrepreneurial America. The salary is listed as “experiential.” But don’t worry, the salary is negotiable….after you’ve put in three months.
Why would someone (other than recent college grads or interns) offer their services for free? Blame it on charisma.
Successful entrepreneurs are often Pied Pipers able to develop legions of loyal followers. The entrepreneurs can be fun to be around, and their dreams are infectious. The perfect employee is one who follows the dream believing there’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
And sometimes there is.
Professor Beach says that after one employee worked for six month without pay, he bought the employee a house. (Will forward Homeless Guy’s resume to Beach later today!) But should you expect this kind of recompense for your services? No. The fact is, 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first few years. If you’re on the unfortunate side of that statistics, and you put in your time for free, you just might find yourself on the street begging for change.
Working for Wonka? Know this: Sidewalk credit card exchange between strangers aside, in life there really are no free lunches. So don’t work for one.