I recently concluded a consulting gig with a fast-growing global start-up. The kind that holds big conventions and press conferences and the like and claims to be doing big disruptive things to change the world. It was the kind of gig that I felt justified a 75% reduction in my usual rates. Suddenly my LinkedIn was lit and in a city as small but as bustling as Accra, people started noticing me as someone to watch. So I smiled and took the 75% reduction in my rates, filling the financial and emotional voids with accolatory viles of likes and connection requests and ‘OMG so cool you’re working with X’. I allowed myself to be taken in by the association with a job, a position – the manifestation of which was in direct conflict with why I have been slowly driven to consult on an independent basis to begin with.
You know that dirty feeling. That feeling you get when someone asks you to take notes for them in a meeting, when someone signals you to walk five steps to them so they can instruct you to do something they could have simply said in the same volume from across your one room office; that feeling when you sit across from a potential business partner you know is being blatantly lied to but you’re somewhat in awe of the liar’s ability to lie; that feeling you get after doing nothing, but knowing there’s also nothing you can do because this is a job and you are not here to judge, you are here to do a job well and get paid. Or you should have been, anyway. That feeling you get when after slashing your value by over 75%, you find out you actually haven’t been paid. That feeling you get when, when you find out you haven’t been paid even though an apparently world class global disruptive startup that is really no longer a start up based on valuation alone, keeps giving you excuses as to why you haven’t been paid your less than 25% of usual rate even though they initially claimed to have paid you weeks ago. You feel cheap and devalued. You feel stupid and violated. You feel vengeful but powerless to rectify the situation. You feel like a whore that’s been slighted without a bottle to break and threaten the loser who’s cheated you. They also happen to be your pimp.
Everyday prostitution comes in many forms, but most notably in today’s start-up culture that imposes the expectation of taking less now to reap more later. Working more now, so you can retire 20 years before anyone else your age does. Cutting your value by 75% so that you can light up your perceived value by Beyonce concert grade megawatts by attending events, launches, conferences and associations to a cluster of fast-moving young professionals. I know far too many startups that are happy with having more Facebook followers than money in the bank and would gladly trade the chance of ever being cash flow positive for a fluffy 5 minute feature on CNN. I’m going to take time on another note to talk about the self-destructive allure of Start-up culture. The inexplicable urge to live life in the new-age fast-lane, where the highs of achievement are mellowed by physical and emotional exhaustion and the fact that you can barely do anything with the peanuts with which you are paid. It is also a destructive force for the passion you may feel for a certain industry (I know what I’m taking about; I used to work in Fashion) or a certain cause (my condolences to those slaving away for international dev and social sector orgs right now, who’ve been told their reduced pay is made up for by the fact that they are making the world a better place). Pure bullshit propagated to prop up inefficient business models and pile up money for individuals in exchange for the potency of your passion.
Never ever ever ever ever ever let someone take advantage of the value you have worked long and hard for. The mediocre pay aside, you will be left feeling like a whore of the worst kind: Dirty and devalued. Never again.