Well, if you are maxed out on time, then the choice seems clear. You can offer what you can offer and either they accept it or they don’t. You have to take care of your family and you only have so many hours. You can’t take every opportunity. Maybe this one slides by.
Some of the things you are saying make me question how strong this opportunity is.
out of other “employees” or 75% of volunteers have been there for 3+ years,
What, what? This is a startup that’s been going for 3+ years and they aren’t generating any revenue? How many people are working there? That seems like a very long time. Maybe I’m jaded by my proximity so Silicon Valley, but that seems like a long time to be developing without hitting the market.
is it common for your contact to mention hes flying back and fourth having “board meetings” what is the point of sending that to a potential developer… selling me my own pipe dream?
Yeah, that would make me worry, too. I’ve known too many guys with “big ideas” and lots of flash that like to sweep up talent in their tornado of histrionic enthusiasm. These guys can be quite seductive. And some of these guys go on to do amazing things. But a lot of them just burn out the people around them before they move on to the next batch of dupes. To me, the impression I get is that these people are like the magician waving their silk scarf to dazzle you and distract you. They are pied pipers. Maybe that is a little unfair (I’m sure most of them believe their BS) but I would be wary.
As others have commented, I’d definitely want an agreement. Would you accept a job where they didn’t tell you what the salary is? “Sure, we’ll pay you something. Just start working, we’ll figure it out later.” When you accept a “sweat equity” job, you are accepting equity in exchange for work. You are gambling. To put it another way, would you make a bet if you didn’t know what the payoff is? Sure, give us $100 for 1/100 odds. What is the payout? $.01? $1,000,000?
That is what you are doing here, you are making a bet with tough odds. But the potential payout is big. But what percentage of that payout will be yours?
I would be very wary of a company that’s been running for 3+ years with no formal equity agreement. They don’t even seem to be able to answer the question. It should have been automatically part of the offer. If it were a regular job, it would not be inappropriate to ask what the salary is before accepting (if the company were incompetent enough not to have included it in the offer) and I don’t think it would be inappropriate for you to ask here. Frankly it seems a little unprofessional them not to have mentioned it.
For example I was recently forming a company with a couple friends. At the first meeting we outlined exactly what was expected from each person, what the areas of responsibilities were, what kind of time commitment was expected of each, and how equity would be divided. This should be automatic.