Why I’m embracing the equity economy — Sam Robinson explains a contributor’s view

As the Vestd community grows and we see more contributors helping more startups on their journey, we’re always keen to find out how these collaborations come about and what’s motivating everyone involved.

For founders the benefits are obvious — instant access to skilled professionals, contributors who are vested in the longterm success of the business, speed to market… (we could go on, but we won’t). But for contributors the reasons are more myriad, from belief in the startup’s proposition to a desire for a new challenge to the wish to simply contribute back into startupland.

The only way to find out is to speak directly to our contributors and ask them — what motivates you? To kick off, we chose one of our first collaborations and grabbed ten minutes with Sam Robinson. A professional photographer and filmmaker, Sam is currently collaborating with Crafted Crate on Vestd but previously helped us shoot and edit our latest Vestd video in return for equity. We’re blisteringly happy with the outcome, but is he?

Hey Sam, first of all let’s get a bit of background on what you do and why…

I’m a photographer and director. My obsession is people, their diversity and the narratives that surround photographing and filming them. So through my business I’ve grown a hugely diverse client list ranging from airlines (Lufthansa) to tech companies (Skype, Vodafone, Sony, Dell), sports brands (Adidas, Nike) to kids clothing and fashion shoots (John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Next) to portraiture — basically, if it involves people I’m excited about the project.

This obsession probably comes from growing up in a free-thinking family from two vastly different cultures — an English father and Catalan mother who always encouraged me to be creative and build, draw and do things. And all that amongst the ever changing drama of two different cultural worlds.

As a family we travelled between London and Barcelona for the first 15 years of my life and I spent almost all of that observing and photographing the people and cultures around me. I’ve never really stopped and so it was a natural step to funnel this passion into a professional outlet and make it what I do every day.

Sam directs his team on set in a scene from the Vestd video shoot.

You took on our video project when Vestd was still in beta with only equity as payment. It was a big commitment of your time and resources, so why did you do it and how did it go?

In honesty yes, it was a big commitment of my time and a large investment of my business resources! But the simple answer is that I really believe in the idea and the company. For me that’s the driving factor — being inspired by something and then making the effort and finding time to get involved, because when you work as a trade for equity there really is only one way to do it — to your best ability! Essentially the more successful my input, the more success can come for the business, which for me is an exciting concept, an exciting way to work and, I think, something that brings out the best in people.

The scale of the project did get a little extended as I became more and more carried away with my input, and I did have to reign it all in a little towards the end but essentially that creative freedom is a huge part of the reward for working like this.

Do you have a track record of working for potential reward rather than definite payment? If so, what’s in that for you?

Actually I’ve done quite a few jobs like this before, yes, although not in such a structured, regulated way as this project with Vestd. I always referred to it as work for trade rather than expertise for equity, but I guess it’s much the same thing (if a little less catchy!). Generally it was with friends and friends of friends, so was more promise based than contractual and was often more awkward to iron out the finer details such as asking when I’d see some evidence of what I’d get in return, or specifically when I’d get my shares.

Mostly though, I love working like this. It brings out the best in people and if you’re someone who can manage expectations and the core things like project expenses, there’s a real sense of satisfaction to helping bring a new company or brand to life and to help it grow through your own work and input. And in exchange be rewarded yourself with its growth.

Shooting on location with lots of extras (including Team Vestd) was a big undertaking… but worth it for the equity and experience, says Sam.

Surely there must be passion projects you could work on for cash though. Why would you use the equity economy as an alternative?

I don’t see it as an alternative. It’s an added extra. And if I’m honest there’s an element of the gamble that’s exciting to me — I like the idea that if we all achieve our goals then there’s the possibility the reward far outweighs the value of what we put in at the early stage. It’s an investment in the long term rather than the short term.

As much as I like the risk, it’s also the challenge I relish along with the freedom to use my experience to forge a new company and bring something exciting into the world.

I feel in my normal (cash paying) work my creative input is not always fully used as there are too many people involved in advertising photography. Clients, agencies and creatives often have such varied views that you end up not taking full advantage of ALL the people involved, whereas the equity economy is a great opportunity to try a new way of working — and that’s exciting for both contributors and early stage businesses.

How did you reach a point where you were comfortable working in the equity economy as well as the cash economy?

I guess I’m well enough established now that I have the ability to take that risk — to invest more than just my skills as a director and photographer. Working like this I can utilise more — if not all! — of my creativity in lots of different ways. And that feels good, which is sometimes all the reward I need.

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