What Is Sweat Equity And How Can It Benefit Your Company?

February 15, 2023

Sweat equity is a funding model commonly used by start-ups. It compensates a stakeholder for the work and time they contribute by giving them an ownership stake in a company.

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Sweat equity is a funding model commonly used by start-ups.

It compensates a stakeholder for the work and time they contribute by giving them an ownership stake in a company.

It can be a useful way to fund a start-up and attract top talent, but before deciding if it’s right for your business, you need to understand how it works.

Luckily, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most important questions when deciding to use sweat equity as a funding model for your business.

 These include:

🔹 What is sweat equity?

🔹 How does it work?

🔹 How do you calculate sweat equity?

🔹 What are the benefits and disadvantages of sweat equity shares?

🔹 What are sweat equity agreements, and what should they cover?

Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

What Is Sweat Equity?

Sweat equity is the exchange of ownership for work and time contributed that adds value to the company.

The term ‘sweat equity’ originates from real estate investors, where it refers to the work done by an owner to improve the value of a property before selling it.

In this case, the owner would exchange their actual sweat, in the form of manual labour done in renovating a house, for value added to the house when reselling it.

However, the term is now more commonly used in the corporate world, specifically in the start-up sector.

Let's look at an example to understand sweat equity in the start-up sector better.

💡Case Study:

Olivia is a software developer with an idea for a great new mobile application.

Olivia decides to start a business and develop her application. She invests her savings of £100,000 to cover costs during the product development phase.

Once the app is ready to launch, the business will need to hire people with additional skills like marketing and business development, and it will need a way to pay them.

Olivia, as the founder, now has the option to offer potential hires a salary, but this requires her to have or acquire the necessary upfront financial capital to pay those salaries.

Or she has the option to offer them sweat equity (or a combination of a lower salary plus sweat equity).

With the sweat equity option, Olivia can offer employees a percentage stake in the business in the form of shares instead of paying a salary.

With this option, Olivia doesn’t have an upfront cost, but she is giving up potential future value by decreasing her ownership stake in the business.

If the potential employees believe the stake they receive will be more valuable than the time and work they contribute, i.e., they can sell their shares for more than they would’ve received in wages, or they will be willing to exchange their “sweat” for equity.

How Does Sweat Equity Work?

Sweat equity works by issuing shares in an early stage business.

Shares can be issued as a direct exchange for a non-monetary contribution, like knowledge or work, or issuing shares to existing employees at a discounted price.

Issuing discounted shares is typically done to retain existing talent and does require the employee to purchase the shares.

How to Calculate the Value of Sweat Equity

To calculate the value of sweat equity, you will first need to know the value of your business.

If you have received outside equity funding, valuing your business is easy.

If you haven’t, valuing your business will be more complex, but there are several ways to do it.

These include doing an asset valuation, using your price-to-earnings ratio, or using industry rules of thumb.

Once you know the value of your business, you can calculate the value of sweat equity by subtracting the total cash investment made by the founders from the business valuation.

What Are the Benefits of Sweat Equity?

Using sweat equity also has several benefits.

🚀Increased productivity.

Employees are often motivated to be more productive if they have a stake in the business.

🚀Aligned Incentives.

Founders and employees are nicely aligned toward the long-term success of the company.

🚀It can help to recruit and retain top talent.

Talent that the business might not otherwise have been able to afford might be willing to work for cash equity if they believe the business has a lot of potential value.

🚀It can reduce employee turnover and increase loyalty.

Employees are less likely to leave the business if they own shares.

What Are the Disadvantages of Sweat Equity?

There are also some disadvantages that start-up companies should be aware of before using sweat equity.

🚨High administrative costs.

There are short-term costs to getting a sweat equity agreement drawn up and approved and long-term costs to managing the scheme and keeping records.

🚨Unrealistic financial expectations.

There is a risk of creating unrealistic expectations of financial rewards for employees, which can cause disgruntlement if they are not realised.

🚨Dilution of share ownership.

As more shares are issued, the value of existing shares decreases. This can create a situation where founders lose control of the business if their ownership percentage drops below a certain threshold.

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

What Is a Sweat Equity Agreement?

A sweat equity agreement is a contract between a business and the stakeholder to whom they are issuing shares in exchange for work.

It is important to have a contract in place, as this protects both parties and establishes clear terms for what needs to be provided from both sides.

What Should Be Covered In a Sweat Equity Agreement?

At a minimum, this written agreement should cover the following:

🔹The amount of equity to be issued to the stakeholder.

🔹Milestones and performance criteria.

The agreement should establish the criteria involved in the equity being issued.

For example, it could specify that an employee must complete a project, complete delivery of a product, or work for a specified period before being granted equity.


Clauses that govern the conditions under which either party can terminate the agreement should be included.

It’s important to note that sweat equity agreements are legal documents, so it is advisable to consult a lawyer when drawing one up, but there are templates available online that you can use to get started.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

How Can MOHARA Help Your Business with Sweat Equity?

As we have seen, sweat equity can be an excellent fit for cash-strapped start-ups that need to attract top talent for lower upfront costs.

MOHARA pioneered this approach and has many years of experience in providing sweat equity to high-potential start-ups.

For the right start-ups, MOHARA can provide sweat equity (reduced rates in exchange for equity) to help the company build out world-class technology.

Why not get in touch and tell us about your idea and your business plan to see if we would be a good fit as a partner?

Let's be pioneers together!