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“Karma first, cash will follow”… Why, when and who should work for for free Written by Wilken Bruns on 14. September 2012

Wilken Bruns is the COO of Startupbootcamp and Board Member of the Entrepreneurs Club. He works with young hopefuls looking to make it in the startup scene every day. Here he argues why it’s important that they *should* offer up their services for free…


The short answer: If you don’d like it, don’t do it

But I imagine VentureVillage expected something different when I told them I’d like to write a follow up on Christoph Rhaetkes article titled Screw the karma, give me cash!” Why free labour is the unfair fuel of the startup scene“.
Although I agree with most of Christoph’s points, it might leave you feeling slightly stingy about working for free; and I’d like to counter-balance that a little. So instead of getting into a discussion about whether we’ve reached the limits for free work in the Berlin startup scene I decided to ask some people around the office what they thought about working for free first…

Screw fairness! Are you happy?

Some well-known authors such as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (37Signals), Seth Godin and Stephen Covey, have looked into why and how people become successful. One of the points they seem to agree on, which is underlined in the interviews, is that it’s not relevant what others think, earn or do.
If you’re happy, success, however you define it, will follow. I agree. You’ll always encounter inequality and unfairness in your life. The question is, are you going to let it influence the decisions you make? If yes – get a job in a big company and crawl your way up the ladder. If not – welcome to living the dream.

Why limit yourself?

There’s no way to tell where the limits to working for free are on a broad scale. Different people see different value in different things – be it intrinsic (eg feeling good about yourself) or extrinsic (eg cash rewards). Rather than taking money as the benchmark for work, you should ask you self “Would I do this work for free?”. If the answer is “yes”, then you might have just found one of your life’s callings. Christoph himself is one of the people who follows this philosophy.
Jörg Rheinboldt’s last words summarise the importance of this “unfair” fuel very well: “Knowledge grows if you share”. I’d add “…and this benefits everyone”. Yes, some benefit more than others, but who cares as long as you’re happy doing it? I hope Berlin can can keep running on the “who-cares-if-it’s-unfair” fuel of the startup scene, since that’s much of what remains should bubbles start bursting. I also hope however, that we’re going to see more super high-value speakers that someone has the money to pay €10,000 for before that happens.
If you want the right attitude in working for free as an intern and get back to work with a smile on your face, watch our test flash interview with our cost-efficient, but priceless, super motivated intern Stephan:
Btw Linsey, am I getting paid for this? [Editor’s note: Er, no]

What do you think of the whole working for free debate? Let us know in the comments below…