Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Better Incentive Model for Startup Advisors

As the founder of Ascendo and VidaLingua, I am occasionally asked to give talks at startup incubators such as U.lab and District 3. Participants ask me heaps of questions and the ambitious ones continue by email.

I enjoy these events immensely and the exchanges that follow, but I'm often frustrated by the end result. Many budding entrepreneurs are enthusiastic about the ideas presented but lack the confidence or persistence to see them through. I'm very busy with my own startups so I don't have the time to push them over the top. 

Over the past decade, I've advised numerous entrepreneurs with mixed results. Not only in financial terms, but in human terms. I've seen startups fail that could have been successful and the toll that takes on its founders.

For these reasons, I've decided to go Freemium. I will continue to give advice for free, when time permits, but for those who are are serious about starting their own business, I'm introducing mb+ premium service as a startup advisor.

With mb+ we'll define a project that addresses the key pain point your startup is facing. We may focus on defining the core features of your MVP, recruiting passionate partners with limited resources, lean development, growth hacking or monetization strategies. As these topics suggest, my specialty is bootstrapping. If you think raising money is your primary pain point, think again. If you come to the same conclusion twice, I'll refer you to somebody else.

mb+ isn't for everyone. I am already working on several ventures, so if you want me to invest in yours, you will need to convince me you are passionate enough to succeed and your mission is worth my time.

If I am convinced of both, I'll invest between 5 and 10 hours making the project a success. In return, we'll agree to an hourly rate that reflects my opportunity cost. In most cases, I won't ask for payment up front. The time I invest will be considered a loan with two payout events.

If your startup achieves an agreed upon revenue rate, I can opt to be paid back in cash, at at rate not to exceed 1% of revenue. For example, if I invest $2,500 worth of my time in a project and the startup makes $100,000 in annual revenue, I would have the option to get paid $1,000 and the remaining $1,500 at a later time.

If your startup enters into an agreement with an equity investor, I can opt to convert my time investment into equity at similar terms. For example, if a VC (Venture Capital) offers $1m for 25% of your company, giving it a valuation of $4m, I would have the option to convert my time investment into 0.06875% ($2.500 / $4,000,000 * 1.1) of the equity.

This model combines the benefits of Sweat Equity with Convertible Debt so I've named it a "Convertible Sweat" agreement.

If you are 100% committed to starting your own company and you want to take the next step, gmail me marcbolh@ explaining your mission, motivation and primary pain point.

To discuss the Convertible Sweat model for startup advisors, tweet me @marcbolh.


  1. Nice! I like it, straight forward to the point, cut the crap and be serious! I'm bootstrapping in The Lean Startup mode so this is great information for me as to what I can offer. Great article!

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    2. Glad to hear you like the article! Have you been able to implement this methodology with advisors to your startup, or as advisor to other startups? -Marc

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.