Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Guidelines for Requests for Free Work

At various times in my so-called career, I have made it clear that when I was not otherwise occupied, that I would be happy to help my friends do something entrepreneurial in an effort to jumpstart some interesting or worthwhile venture to the place where it could be self financing. Or alternatively, we could do a project that is not ever going to be financially positive, but has some artistic or societal merit.

Although I sincerely meant this offer, the reality has shown that (a) doing projects that do not have funding behind them never seems to work out and (b) people have grossly misunderstood what I was offering, which has changed anyway based on previous experience.

So in the interests of clarity and good will, and not to waste anyone's time, here are a variety of guidelines, explanations, and also a discussion of things that have been learned.

1. Underfinanced and improperly managed projects almost always fail.

I have done about a half dozen projects for friends way below market rates (or free) which have not achieved their goals and have not been at all satisfying. Here are some of the things that happen: The project runs into a barrier that very modest money would solve, but no money is available. Or, the other people on the project can not be bothered to keep me informed about what is going on, and/or bother to review the work that I did on their behalf. Or, the other people on the project lose interest and I just wasted my time.

2. With few exceptions, projects that have been proposed have been insufficiently interesting or possibly just badly described

Just what it says. In most cases, the projects are just a way to get some free labor and do not really capture my imagination and lead nowhere. My creative input is not required or desired. In one case my creative input probably was desired, but my friend did not actually tell me that, I had to figure it out later which, yes, is a little weird but there you are.

One notable exception was an excellent entrepreneurial project by someone who will go by the initials of ES. His project is/was actually a very good and challenging idea that under the circumstances I was not able to achieve. This is a big disappointment to me, but is not a reflection on him. He totally got it.

3. Projects that claim that they will pay me after they get financed never get financed.

Therefore, if we are going to do a project and I am not going to get paid, the project has to be worth it to me on some other level. See below.

4. A project that claims to be entrepreneurial and wants my input but does not offer concrete terms is not going to work for me.

If you think that something is going to get financed (and 98% of the time these projects do not get financed), and you want my input without paying me, then you need to be specific about what it is I get. I can not guess, and a verbal agreement (or non-agreement) isnt worth the paper its written on. Sure youre a friend. Sure things are at an early stage. It is still important to be specific and be clear.

5. Any project that does not pay me, has to have one or more of the following.

It could be a genuine pro bono project that actually tries to help the world in some minor way that I am in favor of. It could be a for profit venture in which case we must be clear about my role, my equity or other compensation, and we need to be clear about the resources necessary to achieve success and what the role of other people on the project are. And I have to believe that the people on the project are serious. But even then, note 6 below.

6. At this point in my life, and given the track record here, any such project has to have significant creative input from me and credit for me, or it is not worth my time. Been there, done that, its time to show new work.

But why mince words, the free project is basically dead, unless it is my work.

Alternatively, of course, you could pay me, and then I am happy to do whatever you want. Its the way the free market system works, it makes whores of us all.

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