Brother, Can You Spare a … Platinum Card?

Brother, Can You Spare a ... Platinum Card?

I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday, for a Hamburger Today”
–J. Wellington Whimpy, free-loading friend of Popeye

An NYC hoBrother, Can You Spare a ... Platinum Card?meless man exhibited true entrepreneurial chutzpa when he garnered an AmEx Platinum card from a passerby low on spare change.

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.

Platinum Lining
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.


  • Zeke

    Reply Reply August 13, 2010

    Aaarrgghhh! This attitude of imposing on others makes me crazy! You’re right, with their charisma, you’re blinded in the moment and an fail to see just how unfair the deal you’re being offered is, until in the cold light of dawn, you’re left alone feeling screwed, doing the walk of shame, having been duped.(or sub word for horrific sexual crime here).

  • Amy

    Reply Reply August 14, 2010

    I think I know this guy. He constantly fails at his business attempts but always finds a way for others to pay for his next endeavour. When do people learn??? I think the enticement of a fast buck is just too much to refuse.

  • Ed

    Reply Reply August 16, 2010

    The entrepreneur thinks he really dosen’t need to pay you much because when the IPO comes you’ll be “swimming in money”

    Unfortunately, the Initial Public Offering turns into Insufficient Profit Option and the only thing your swimming in is debt.

  • Corinne Edwards

    Reply Reply August 19, 2010

    I disagree. If you don’t have a job and are collecting unemployment, why not take a flyer at it?

    Especially, if you look at the project and think it just might work.

    I doubt you will get a platinum card but you might learn something from someone who can convince you to work for free.

    Wasn’t it Bill Gates who started in a garage?

  • Bruce

    Reply Reply August 19, 2010

    You are right, there is no free lunch. Money isn’t the only thing you gain from an experience. I became a Physician Assistant over 30 years ago. No one knew what we were then. I worked almost for free for those early years and lots of hours. The thing is, I got lots of very valuable experience. That base of experience has been invaluable over my career.
    I don’t recommend working for free unless it is a decision you make to gain experience in this area. Running a business with less income than expenses is risky. Without a good plan the business goes under. I know because I have had a couple that barely made it to profitability. I think my manager learned some things she never would have learned. That is probably why she is now courted by big businesses for large 6 figure salaries. Experience is very valuable and sometimes the cost is working for little or no renumeration.

  • Lesley

    Reply Reply August 19, 2010

    Ever heard of ‘nothing ventured nothing gained?’ I wouldn’t give up a paid job to work for this kind of guy, but if I didn’t have one, that’s a different story. I like to try different things and I’ve often had to offer my services for nothing to prove I could do what I thought I could. For me, betting on myself is no big deal.

    However, I have learned to be careful who I work with. It’s strange but when coaching some people don’t value your advice unless they pay for it, other people only value advice because they’ve paid. Neither are at the top of my list.

    Sometimes it is worth it to work for free in return for experience and recommendations. Unfortunately you can never be certain of either at the outset.

    Interesting post, thanks.

  • admin

    Reply Reply August 19, 2010

    Leslie/Bruce & Corrine: Thanks for bringing the flip side. And you are all correct; there can be enormous upside to working in these environments. Just be sure the upside you’re working towards doesn’t turn out to be a house of cards.
    —and kudos to Corrine, the first person to figure out how to include their avatar. I can’t even get it to work. Lesson please!

  • Ed

    Reply Reply August 19, 2010

    Hey, all you Pro Bono posters I’m hiring send in your resumes.

    Actually, just let me know when you can start.

    Seriously, good points in garnering experience and yes I did know Bill Gates started in a garage, I just don’t want to end up having to live in one.

  • Brendan Will

    Reply Reply August 19, 2010

    Hey Monkey make sure that you sign up for a gravitar that matches your admin email address or better create new account that matches the email for posting.

  • I agree with Corinne. If you have the time and have another source of income, taking a “job” for free for awhile is a great way to get experience. You have to make sure you want the experience offered, but experience is worth a lot. I wouldn’t quit a paying job for it though.

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