At the beginning of 2015, I started my gap year (a year I had planned for travelling and adventuring, starting immediately after I finished Grade 12). My plan was to start university in 2016 to do a computer science or software engineering degree. I had been doing freelance graphic design through high school but my parents did not consider it a "proper job" and so I was pressured into finding a "proper job", all the restaurants positions were full and that's when I stumbled upon something very interesting... The next day I went for an interview for the role of a graphic designer for a small online store, it was a full-time job (8am-5pm Weekdays Only) and changed the initial plan for my gap year (this was in February 2015).

Fast forward to now, my boss and I are working on a big project with big plans, my graphic designing didn't last long because we decided to start a new venture, I am currently working as a web developer alongside my boss. So far there has been one other web developer who has worked with us, he quit 3 months ago and since then my boss and I have rewritten the project in an improved way.

The workload is tough, I decided to put off university until the end of 2016, if the project is not showing real promise by then I am going to go and study and happily walk away with the experience I have gained. I am hoping the project will go according to plan and that by the end of this year we will be in Silicon Valley (currently in South Africa), might as well aim high, right?

Now I will get to the point of this post; my parents moved, I was presented with the option to move with them, to leave my current job & still be able to get another job and live with my parents with free food. I decided against this, I had and still have unfinished business & my boss told me I could come stay with him rent free, it was the perfect plan to see the project through.

Over the past 5 months, I have lived with my boss & his roommate, both academically qualified individuals (Law & Molecular Biology). They are older than me (30s) but I learn a lot from their past experiences and I really do enjoy the conversations we hold and have. I have no animosity towards either my boss and roommate, I consider my roommate my friend, but my boss has remained just that, and I don't think I am comfortable with it.

I don't want to make circumstances sound bad, they really aren't. I don't pay rent (I don't have a room either, though, my own space is confined to a mattress on the floor, in the corner of the lounge). I think it is worth mentioning that my boss's roommate does not pay rent either, and he has a room, which I completely understand since I got here after him, but there are a few things that I do not understand...

My Expenses

I don't get paid by the hour, I get $450 USD a month. (+-$1.6 USD per hour)

There are some expenses I have somehow become responsible for that I battle to justify to myself, they include the following, I have included the percentage of my monthly salary that each expense accounts for as a bold number in brackets:

  • Milk for the office and home (5 people), we drink a lot of coffee. (7%)
  • The actual coffee for the house and workplace. (6%)
  • Electricity for home, it's summer here, my boss recently bought himself an air conditioner which he keeps in his room with the door closed, to himself unwilling to let it just cool down the whole house. This has pushed up the electricity price, am I unreasonable for not wanting to pay for my boss's air conditioner that he won't even share with his roommates? It's a small house, and the temperature sits at around 40 Degrees Celcius/104 Fahrenheit. My boss sleeps with it on at night and really just wastes electricity on a bill I am paying. (12%)
  • Other random groceries like paper towels, dustbin bags, food sauces, the cleaning service that my boss orders (5%).

Total: -30%

My Work & Sleep Hours

I really don't want to sound like I am being unwilling to work or lazy, but something that I really do not like is when we get home from work at 5pm, my boss takes a nap until 9pm or 10pm, and then it is work time until like 1am or 2am again, it really does bother me because I find it very inconsiderate as it is usually when I am ready to go to sleep because I would prefer to be fresh for the morning.

Why can we not just rather work when we get back from work and then have a proper sleep? Work hours are around 60-70 hours a week. I am free on Friday nights and Saturday, as well as until about 5pm on Sundays, then it is work time again.

Don't get me wrong, I am loving the experience I am gaining and I want to make the absolute best of it. But I also want to be able to perform at my best in terms of work. I feel like something needs to change because I am not happy with the way things currently are.

My boss told me at the start of the project that I would have a 20% profit share, this has never been reaffirmed and I have never asked since I prefer to take his word, if he doesn't keep it, I still walk away as a web developer before university. However, it would really be a hard one to swallow if I was kicked out upon success. I am confident in saying that I do at least 50% of the work going into the project.

I really would love to hear what you think of the situation from your perspective. I feel that it is worth mentioning that working like this is really the more difficult option compared to if I had just chosen to go to university, I am sacrificing my comfort for the project as I really want it to succeed but I feel like I am getting near nothing in return.

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    this situation sounds very bizarre. should you be living with your boss? no. as far as I can tell you aren't even being paid very much and you don't have a formal contract. – user29055 Jan 4 '16 at 19:31
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    Sound like you're being exploited and should cut your losses and move back in with family who'll actually be happy to see you. That said, I'm not seeing a question here, just a rant. Voted to close. – Lilienthal Jan 4 '16 at 22:28
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    Not to offend you but you sound more like a slave than an employee. I'd drop this "project" immediately and go back to university or find real, actual work (where you get paid like an employee and pay your own costs). According to your own description, you have nothing in writing about your compensation if the project is a success so you have no guarantees other than the little money you receive for a lot of work. – xxbbcc Jan 4 '16 at 23:17
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    At the very least, get your 20% in writing. If you don't, there's a good chance that you'll end up with nothing even if the project succeeds. The reaction you get just from asking will give you a good indicator of whether or not you'll ever see anything. – Hannover Fist Jan 5 '16 at 0:40
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    @throwawaylivingwithboss are you still a house elf or have you moved on? – RedSonja Feb 15 '17 at 15:39

I have a feeling this question is going to be closed, as the situation you're in is far too unique / difficult to read based on a simple post. But here's some general suggestions:

1. You Made Your Bed

You chose to get sucked into this venture, and accepted the terms of the deal. The situation is rough, and I don't envy you, however if they payback is worth it than you may wish to tough it out for a little while longer.

2. Your Goals

Write down what it is you wish to get from this venture. What is your system supposed to accomplish? What is the vision for the company? Are you in it purely for the experience, or also for a percentage of ownership in the company? Are you looking to gain experience and simply move on?

3. Get It In Writing

With those goals in mind have a conversation with you boss. Ask for those things, and stick to your guns. The guy clearly couldn't have done it all without you, so you have some leverage here.

From the big sticking points to the little things, ask for clarification, and do it in writing:

  • Who is responsible for the milk? Get it in writing.

  • Who pays for which expenses? Get it in writing. Maybe the electricity bill should be split between the three of you within certain percentages, for example?

  • If you were promised 20% profit sharing then ask for it in writing.

  • If you feel that your contribution should count toward some shares in the company then ask for it in writing.

4. Consequences

You need to think about your situation very realistically.

  • What are the chances of this venture hitting pay-dirt?

  • What are the chances that your boss will carry you to fame and fortune if it does, vs kicking you off the wagon and taking all the credit/profit?

  • If you sacrifice another year of your life on this venture and get nothing out of it other than the experience, how will that affect your career path?

You also need to draw a line and be prepared to walk away if certain conditions are not met.

  • If he doesn't sign a contract (under supervision of a lawyer), walk away.
  • If he's not willing to make you a partner (even only 20%), walk away.
  • etc.

You have to keep your own interests in mind. As good as the experience of working on this project is, is it worth delaying your schooling by this much? Is it worth living like you do, if there's no promise of a reward if it all pays off?

Make the decision which gives you the best chance for success.

5. Draw Boundaries

When it comes to the working patterns simply use this opportunity to tell your boss that you are not going to be joining him for late night programming sessions. Come up with a schedule and stick to it. Remember that he needs you: not just anyone would be as dedicated to his vision as you.


I don't understand your "question". Is there really a question? If your question is should you stay or should you go - well that is up to you and nobody on the internet is going to be able to really help you without 40 more pages of detail.

Now what should you do either way? First I would have a conversation with boss about the arrangement and venture. If it were me I would tape conversation.

After the conversation I would follow up and ask boss to help write up a simple contract for venture ownership and milestones. So if you quit now what would you be entitled to? What would you get if your boss cashes out for $1 million in 3 months? You should have something in writing - and that is why you might want to tape conversation before bringing up putting things in writing. I don't know your boss at all but it sounds like you don't know him well enough to be convinced he has your best interests covered.

After this things will probably be clearer to you on whether you should stay or go. If things are contentious after you mention getting things in writing... well you know where you stand. The problem is you are not an employee you are a partner. But you are a partner with no money, working long hours and putting up with partners with more stake. So they can basically do whatever they want. They don't even have to pay you. Really the only way you are promised anything in things like this is if the product of your work were sold or taken from you. It isn't worth anything right now.

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    The OP really has no promises as nothing is in writing, not the 20% thing, not the salary, etc. – mikeazo Jan 4 '16 at 21:04

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