Scripps Howard News Service has an article on PeopleConnect, an exectuive search firm that actually has a branded program called "Employees Without Paychecks" that focuses on placing executives and tech professionals who are willing to work at start-ups without pay until the clients' VC funding comes through.
PeopleConnect is the first search firm to market a program of recruiting employees who will work for equity. "A friend of mine calls them 'angel employees,'" (PeopleConnect CEO) Max Shapiro, said, comparing them to angel investors, who fund early-stage companies.
... Shapiro markets the Employees Without Paychecks program to early-stage companies that, like Commendo Software, are just a few months away from seeking venture funding. He selects client companies carefully to avoid placing candidates at ventures that have no chance of success.
Candidates are initially treated as independent contractors and paid with stock options, with an understanding that they will become salaried employees when the company gets VC funding.
PeopleConnect charges a contingency fee of 25 percent of the candidate's first-year earnings. It takes a small portion of that fee in a combination of cash and stock options right after the candidate starts. But most of the fee is due when the candidate goes on salary. If the client company never obtains the resources to hire the person, PeopleConnect doesn't get paid.
"In a way, we're investing in the companies as well and hoping they get funding," Shapiro said.
UPDATE: Jeff Cornwall cautions entrepreneurs on the potential dangers of recruiting "angel employees"
While this is a great way to save cash and lower the breakeven point, it does have the potential to make things complicated. All of these managers are now shareholders and have legal rights. The more partners in the deal, the more complex things can become. I would only recommend this strategy for businesses with a clear and relatively quick exit plan. I would not recommend this for entrepreneurs who plan to build and hold their business. It is a recipe for too many headaches with so many added equity holders.
Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.