Perspiration to Inspiration: From sweat equity talent to startup founder

Perspiration to Inspiration: From sweat equity talent to startup founder

EntrepreneurshipTalent ResourceSweat Equity

Jazreena Harlow was thriving in the dynamic world of fashion buying and merchandising for 13 years, living in Amsterdam and London, working for international brands such as Ralph Laren and Tommy Hilfiger. However as her family grew, she found herself torn between the demands of corporate culture and yearning for a more harmonious work-life balance. Born and bred in Birmingham, the call of home and the promise of a more grounded existence beckoned. What followed was a three year voyage of self-discovery where she developed skills in life coaching, sound healing and brand design. 

I got into life coaching purely because I felt like I needed it for myself. I feel like that's where most things start, and then it developed into a wellbeing and spiritual journey. I’ve landed at this place where I'm a bit of a multihyphenate and working as a life coach, offering sound healing and creative brand design. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many industry brands like Soho House, Urban Veda, Beauty Stack, sharing my expertise and services. 

The universe threw a curve ball at me!

I hadn't planned to get back into the world of working for someone else. I was working for myself, and had no plans to extend it out into a team. But a role appeared in an area I was exploring, offering me an opportunity to explore the expansive possibilities aligned with my creative vision. All the legwork that I would have needed to get to this place was already done, and it felt like I could come in and help this company grow at expanding their idea based on my past corporate experience and skills, business, acumen, etc. And then, of course, taking on board all the new skills that I've developed as a solo-preneur and business owner. The job was advertised as a sweat equity opportunity, which was a completely new term to me at the time. 

Sweat equity was a completely new term to me

Sweat equity was a completely new term to me at the time but it was mentioned during the interview process as potential remuneration in the future. Whilst the company was a startup, it was a fully functioning company; the cogs were turning and a growing paid membership base.  I wasn’t being paid but we had some benefits including free access to their services. 

I laugh because whilst that was the title given, it was a strange scenario. The company was looking to fill various roles but, essentially the founder didn't actually like the idea of titles but it was an operational manager role: setting up the team functions, running the day to day tasks and whilst I haven't had that title before, I guess my experience of running my own business and working within team environments for big corporate companies made sense. So all those elements sort of connected. The intention was to create what the role looked like, but for all new startups you're doing a bit of everything. It's never just defined as one thing, right? 

The founder wanted to move away from traditional systems

He wanted us to come in and collaborate together to build his vision. But most of us who joined thought ‘Oh, this is a bit of an experiment’. So we were a bit more open to things that didn't feel clear. When I accepted the role, there was no contractual signing of agreements or exchanges as such. And so I took on the responsibility of the role pretty much straight away, just through integrity and seeing that other people were also contributing. I split my time; 3 days on my own business, 2 on this company.  The plan was to be working towards a structure for the company and to eventually get a contractual agreement in place but no agreement or equity was received.

In hindsight, It was not the best setup. Some of the things that I was identifying and kind of seeing - some of the factors that made it quite tricky, is the company was based in Southeast Asia, and I'm UK based. We had people based in the US, Canada and across the globe. So as the operational manager, trying to manage all the different time zones was quite tricky. 

I think that the founder wasn't necessarily clued up on sweat equity

Everyone, like me who joined the company, was giving their time voluntarily. But there was no real structure around that. And there was pressure from the founder to get everyone to work together.  I asked myself, ‘Okay, how do we get everyone to work together when there is no structure, no clear plans or equity agreement? 

Transparency and clarity are really important to me. We have to be on the same page, when we are working towards a goal, even one that can shift and change. I noticed that not everybody was on the same page. When I say everybody, I'm talking more about leadership as opposed to the people who joined the team because it starts from the top, and I've been there so many times where the top is not clear. And then everyone underneath this frazzled. I wanted to be able to create an infrastructure to support them. 

I'm open to being expansive and not following the typical corporate protocol. However, structure, while I know can be disabling for some people, gives us room to manage things and for things to flow. A rigid framework can allow us to ‘play’ and gives us a sense of freedom to do our work. If I'm leading this and supposed to guide the journey of how we operate, it feels really important for me to have a clear structure and vision. 

I'm not about creating chaos for other people. I'm somebody who loves a bit of pressure, working to a last minute deadline like that galvanises me but one of my biggest lessons from joining this company was recognising that it was not aligned with my values. Remembering my own values and why I left corporate life made me realise that staying with this company was a step backwards for me.

This experience has galvanised me now to set up my own startup using sweat equity

I love working in teams. I love helping people and understanding what their strengths are to get the best out of them. What makes people tick? What's their big vision? It opened my eyes to the fact that I can create something using a sweat equity model. I have a picture of how I would definitely utilise it in the future. I've already started mapping out what that could look like for my own company as I start growing my team. Asking myself questions like: How much would I want to portion to equity? What is ethical, what's morally correct? What percentage do I need to leave available for future investment? What do I have to be aware of legally?

If I could go back in time and visit past-Jazreena, about to begin that sweat equity journey, I would say, it's okay to question everything.

Question anything that you’re unsure about or don't know the answer to. It’s okay to say that you don't understand and ask ‘Can you explain that? It keeps the other person accountable to the things that they say and on the flipside do your research, go down the rabbit hole and get those answers. Yeah!

Follow the next chapter in Jazreena's entrepreneurial journey here:

@jazreena_harlow on Instagram


Do you have experience working for equity? Whether they were formal agreements or more casual arrangements, we'd love to hear your story so we can learn and grow as a community of entrepreneurs. Get in touch with us here


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